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That reservation aside, this is an excellent series for teaching young students more about some of the most important figures in the Civil War. Martha S. Hewson does a nice job of capturing the remarkable transformation of Thomas J. Jackson, from an odd professor at the Virginia Military Institute into one of the most brilliant leaders of American troops in the nation's history, immortalized as "Stonewall" Jackson. Hewson does an especially nice job of explaining some of the tactical maneuvers that earned Jackson his reputation. When, after Jackson's death, Robert E. Lee contends that the Confederates would have won the Battle of Gettysburg and therefore the Civil War if Jackson had still been alive, young readers will be inclined to agree. This book is illustrated with historic etchings and paintings, but, surprisingly, no photographs. Side-bars explore details from Jackson's life, such as why the Civil War was called "The Brother's War" and the importance of mapmaking to Jackson's campaign in the Shenandoah Valley. This is an excellent series for providing young students more information about the Civil War.
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Amazon listed the book's reading level as "young adult". I have been teaching advanced HS geometry classes with this book for 6 years, and I can report that most bright students find the language challenging without someone to help them along. If you are homeschooling etc, you may want to investigate whether you can get the solution text from the publisher.
I give the exercises in the book 5 stars. Again and again I find myself saying: wow I never would have thought of that. The text that accompanies the exercises gets only three stars.
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The only real eternal verities in American History are the ones originally represented by Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson at the establishment of the US. Simplified to their essence these are a belief in a strong federal government (Hamilton) or a weak one (Jefferson), a desire for wide spread equality (Jefferson) or confidence in the rich and well-born (Hamilton). Positions on these matters change throughout the extent of US history. There is no continuity between either of the two parties. Schelesinger's primary failing is not to recognize this.
Jackson and Roosevelt may have shared a basic vague sense of equality among the populace, but there the similarity ends. Each probably had a radically different view as to what peoples constituted the American nation. Words like "democracy" also changed over time in the 100 years that separate the age of Jackson with that of Roosevelt.
The biggest difference Roosevelt's notions of what government should and should not do would have been an anathema to Jackson. Jackson, who came into office determined to thwart John Q. Adams and Henry Clay's ideas of the federal government funding "internal improvements," would have been appalled by the New Deal. Jackson hated the idea that the federal government was funding roads and canals, the WPA and PWA would have sent a shiver down his spine. Roosevelt and Jackson had to radically differing views as to the role of the federal government. Arguments for any kinship between the two break down when one compares and contrasts their respective goals and visions. Jackson has more in common with Ronald Reagan than he did with FDR.
Another shortcoming in this book is its coverage of Jackson and the Indians. Were he to live in our own time, Jackson would be the most appalling racist and a large measure of his prejudice was focused against indians. While a number of other people did share Jackson's views, there were also those who did not and were appalled by the forced removal of indians from their property in Georgia for the discovery of gold there. Jackson did love the people, particularly if they were white and land speculators. Indians were not part of his calculation.
While Jackson is an interesting and important president, this is not the first book I would recommend. More useful is Robert Remini's three volumes on Jackson which is better at putting Jackson in the proper context.
This book has several serious problems. The most important is the incredible bias of the author. This bias is evident, to some extent, throughout the book, where Schlesinger's very liberal views taint almost everything he discusses. The last section of the book is particularly outrageous. It is, essentially, a very biased, distorted attack on legitimate policy views held by some moderates and conservatives. (By the way, I am not an arch-conservative; I'm a moderate who agrees with Schlesinger on many political and policy issues, but who doesn't think they should warp his account of history so much.)
Still, the book is a classic, and not without reason. It's well-written (unlike a lot of history I've been reading lately), lucid, and thoughtful. The story of Jackson and the politics of the first half of the 19th century is fascinating and very important to ones understanding of the development of the U.S. At the time at which this book was written, it advanced significantly our understanding of Jackson and this period -- even if subsequent research and analysis has improved on it. And, it's a good read.
So, I recommend this book as long as you go into it knowing its weaknesses and understanding that a lot in it is colored by Schlesinger's own political views.
Schlesinger twists and bends and stretches American history in his attempt to show how the national saving grace of liberalism has continued in one uninterrupted line from Jefferson to Jackson to Lincoln to Wilson and, finally, to FDR, even though the issues, parties and arguments have changed radically. (Had this book been published in the late- rather the mid-twentieth century, I'm sure the author would have demonstrated the role Johnson, Carter and Clinton played in that continuum.)
Schlesinger saves his most impressive feat of historical casuistry for explaining how and why the Democratic Party wasn't "really" the political party of slavery and oppression. By 1848, in Schlesinger's analysis, the two central parties, Democrat and Whig, existed in name only. All the radical (read "truly liberal") elements of the Jacksonian tradition had joined the Republican Party by 1858 (conveniently allowing them to take credit for the Civil War and destroying American bondage), but were back in the Democratic Party by the time big business usurped the GOP during and after Reconstruction.
With such a contemptuous and sarcastic review, you might be wondering "so why the 4 stars"?
Well, it has been said that the field of economics progresses one funeral at a time - and I would argue the same holds true for the study of history. Whatever this book's faults, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. is one of the most influential historians of the twentieth century and this book shaped the minds and ideas of a generation of liberal intellectuals, including senior Democratic statesmen. For anyone interested in learning more about Jacksonian America and understanding one popular, albeit controversial, interpretation of its roots in modern American liberalism, this book is essential reading.
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