Sunday, June 25, 2006

Meacham Reviews Wood and Brookhiser

In today's NYTimes book review, author Jon Meacham (whose recent book American Gospel I have not yet read) examines two recent books on the Framers (or Founders, whichever you prefer). One is Brown historian Gordon S. Wood's Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different, which is still making its way to the top of my reading pile; the other is Richard Brookhiser's deplorable What Would the Founders Do? (about which I've made my hardly positive views known).

Meacham manages somehow to write favorably of both books, while recognizing Wood's as the more important (his phrase, but I agree). Of Brookhiser's, he writes "That sound you hear in the background is the groaning of professional historians. But Brookhiser has written an enjoyable and informative book." On that I'll beg to differ, since I found myself alternately grinding my teeth at Brookhiser's gall at attempting divination and wanting to throw the book across the room for its utter inanity.

Meacham doesn't mind this exercise in retrospective mind-reading: he writes a "judicious examination of what our ancestors confronted and how they handled the challenges of their time can do us no harm, and might just help us, as we make our way through what George Eliot called the 'dim lights and tangled circumstance' of the world." The key word there is "judicious" - which Brookhiser clearly is not; also, Meacham is right in that we can examine "how they handled the challenges of their time" - what makes Brookhiser's book so repugnant to me is that he thinks we can examine how they would handle the challenges of our time.

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