Dr Vaidehi Nathan
American History: A Very Short Introduction, Paul S Boyer, Oxford University Press, Pp 161, $11.95
FOR a nation that is less than two centuries old, America has produced a lot on its history, possibly because it has always been in the forefront of the global affairs. Paul S Boyer puts in a capsule the American History as part of the OUP’s ‘A Very Short Introduction’ series. He begins from brief reference to the Native American settlers and takes the narration right up to Barrack Obama.
American historians who called it a “virgin land” were romanticising it. For, when the early settlers came, they confronted “extensive, complex and long-established societies.” Some going far back into pre-historic period. The confrontation turned violent and ended in the victory of the settlers. People of all countries came to the new land to settle, prosper and most of all to live in religious, social freedom unfettered by the monarchy. There were decades of wars before America finally declared independence.
Each of the presidents who came kept up the spirit of the Constitution of America, strengthening it and adhering to it. In geographic terms they added to what they inherited. The history of America can be easily told by the biography of the men who ruled it.
The civil war in America, sparked off by slavery abolition, is one of the darkest chapters in American history. America did not lag behind in industrialisation. It fought both the World Wars and emerged richer, stronger and a global leader. Then came the Cold War in which America polarised the world into ‘with me-or-against me’ camps. Boyer touches upon the economic reforms, the several political events like presidential impeachment, resignations and the terrorist attacks, and the wars that America fought. “Despite setbacks and periods of inertia and reaction, the United States (along with other nations) has proven itself capable of enlarging the realm of freedom, advancing equality and social justice, and promoting the common good.”
Boyer’s account is a place to begin to learn American history. As he himself puts it, “Anyone who undertakes a brief history of America, one that can be read in a single sitting, faced additional challenges. Much must be omitted, anecdotal digressions regretfully bypassed, and corroborating evidence for broad generalizations left to bulkier studies. Yet the discipline of brevity has its advantages.”
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