Monday, April 07, 2008


A well-deserved nod in history to Daniel Walker Howe (oddly misidentified here as David Walker Howe!) for "What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848." The best general history of this period of American history I've read in a decade.

I'm currently three-fourths of the way through it, so I won't be able to give a full review yet. But I will say, though this is no "conservative" history a la Paul Johnson, it politely and forcibly corrects the excesses of "progressive" historians like Sean Wilentz. And it has the rare quality, in treating the evangelicals of the times, who were a central force in the national story, with fairness and awareness.

Howe acknowledges (in a quote from another historian) that, whatever historians may make of their vast efforts at national improvement, in terms of class, race, gender, Marxist dialectics, the impact of the communications revolution, and everything else modern secular academics love to write about, that the evangelicals, at the heart of their efforts, were working to spread the gospel and win souls. Unless you've read a lot of history, you have no idea how remarkable that is.

Some other winners touched on here in the last year include Gene Weingarten's piece on violinist Joshua Bell playing in a subway station and the "special citation" to Bob Dylan, "for his profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power." Needless to say, I disagree.