No Fun for Slaves

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Why are the Journals of Fanny Kemble not at least as well known as those of Dorothy Wordsworth? Because Dorothy can be viewed as a useful adjunct to Wordsworth and Coleridge, whereas Fanny Kemble makes the men in her life seem like adjuncts to her? Because she left her husband? Because her revelations about life […]

Not Very Nice

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

This stupid, vulgar, fatuous, conceited, half-baked and badly written book will give pleasure to the multitude of Trump haters. Many of these coalesce around the Doonesbury cartoons written by Gary Trudeau, the world’s wittiest cartoonist. For those unaquainted with Trudeau’s stuff (and for them a rich pleasure lies ahead), it should be pointed out that […]

Dark and Troubled Dreamland

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

‘I hope these disparate pieces add up to something’, writes Martin Amis with uncharacteristic diffidence in his introduction to this collection of occasional journalism ‘offered with all generic humility’. No time spent in Mr Amis’s company is ever wasted. He is a fine novelist who turns an elegant and often hilarious sentence. But even at […]

Relations Sexual and Diplomatic

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

  NIGEL HAMILTON’s ACCOUNT of Bill Clinton’s life and early career – up until the Arkansas governor was elected President in 1992 – must surely rank as the most peculiar political biography ever written by a respectable academic author. The book is hvided into fragments (typically a page and a half long), each suggestive of […]

Prophet And Loss

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

IT HAS OFTEN been observed that America is full of faith. When Alexis de Tocqueville visited the United States in 1830 he was struck by what he called the ‘religious aspect’ of the Republic. In a democracy built on the separation of church and state, Tocqueville found a happy accommodation between the two – the […]

The Founding Fathers

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

MORE CLAPTRAP HAS probably been spoken about the US Constitution than any other subject, and the less Americans know about it, the more they use it as an emotive totem. In his predictably entertaining study of the years between the Constitutional Conference at Philadelphia in 1787, when the Founding Fathers drew up the sacred document, […]

Dispatches from Air Force One

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

ON 5 NOVEMBER 1994 Ronald Reagan announced in a letter to his fellow Americans that he had Alzheimer’s disease, probably triggered by a bad fall from a horse in 1989; and for some years he has ceased to attend those occasions when past presidents muster alongside the current incumbent of the White House. Reagan has […]

Columbus of the Woods

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

When Daniel Boone died in 1820, just a few days short of his eighty-sixth birthday, he was already the most famous American on the frontier and would maintain that position, even when challenged later by the likes of Davy Crockett and Kit Carson. His career was coextensive with the birth of the United States and […]

Class Action

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Skinner v Oklahoma (1942) is an important US Supreme Court decision, because, in annulling an Oklahoma sterilisation law, it supposedly inaugurated the modern era of civil rights. As William O Douglas, perhaps the most activist of the court’s liberal judges, observed in Skinner’s opening sentence: ‘This case touches a sensitive and important area of human […]

E Pluribus Unum

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Dave Barry, the syndicated columnist for the Miami Herald, once observed that the authors of American history are nowadays compelled occasionally to throw in the sentence, ‘meanwhile, women and minorities were making great strides.’ Multiculturalism is the grand premise of the modern American story, and while this salient fact hardly deserves the excesses of political […]

American Idol

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Although little known in Britain, Doris Kearns Goodwin is one of the American public’s favourite popular historians. Her career began in bizarre circumstances: as a young White House intern in the Lyndon Johnson years, she became a kind of muse to the troubled president, who poured out his social and political anxieties in a string […]

At the Flickering Edge

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

‘Some stories never end,’ wrote Don DeLillo in 2005, reflecting upon Libra (1988), his account of the life and death of Lee Harvey Oswald. ‘Even in our time, in the sightlines of living history, in the retrieved instancy of film and videotape, there are stories waiting to be finished, open to the thrust of reasoned […]

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New Deal to Raw Deal

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Reading George Packer’s account of the shredding of America’s social contract, it becomes clear that the author, a staff writer for the New Yorker, is no John Dos Passos. That’s not too surprising, since Dos Passos, who died in 1970, was always a one-off, whether as the communist-sympathising novelist whose trilogy U.S.A. remains the great […]

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Steadying the Ship

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

For most of its history American foreign policy has been episodic. In the first century and a half of independence, the governing principle was to stay out of foreign affairs altogether. The United States may have chased down Barbary pirates, huffily engaged in border disputes and intervened in one Caribbean island or another, but even […]

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