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Posted February 6, 2010
Great book on a fantastic topic, if you can get past the guilt trips
There are two very notable and distinct parts of this book- 1) Very detailed and fascinating stories about American land acquisitions from the negotiations to the personal motives, and 2) A pushing theory that all such acquisitions were a result of racsim with an unbridled attempt to make modern Americans feel guilty and remorseful for past generations' faults.
To the first point, I will say that it makes the book well worth reading. Though many history buffs know about things like the Gadsden Purchase or the Treaty of San Lorenzo, Kluger has cleary done extensive research on the circumstances surrounding all of the territorial changes in US history. Included are sections of varying size on the most and the least obscure, such as Vermont's land sale controversy and wonderful recant of the Texas war for independence. It is good to note that for the most part, Kluger does not let his racism-drives-all-and-you-should-feel-guilty-for-it theory get in the way of any of the details about negotiations, personal and political thoughts/feelings, or other details.
To the second point, it gets overwhelming, and this is the first time that I actually physically gave a book the finger. Kluger really made me mad by proclaiming that the United States had little justification for any of its post-Revolutionary land grabs other than blatant racism towards blacks, Indians, Mexicans, etc. He somehow makes clear to the reader that the US and the world have in actuality benefitted greatly by our history of land-grabbing, and therefore it was good, but then tries to bash Americans for the reasons why they did so much of that grabbing. It's as if he tries to state that the ends justify the means while at the same time pushing guilt on us for others' faults in those means. Further, he makes quite bizarre connections to George W. Bush and Iraq several times, while totally ignoring comparisons any other Twentieth Century President's controversial actions.
Overall, I recommend this so that one may learn that our acquisitions were not always easy. Further, the reader will come to know some of the less familiar American characters and some of the great feats that they have done. But I warn you to beware of Kluger's bends, because as any true historian knows, one really cannot judge the (wo)men of the past by the moral standards of the present.
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