A Renegade History of the United States

A Renegade History of the United States

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by Thaddeus Russell
     
 

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In this groundbreaking book, noted historian Thaddeus Russell tells a new and surprising story about the origins of American freedom. Rather than crediting the standard textbook icons, Russell demonstrates that it was those on the fringes of society whose subversive lifestyles helped legitimize the taboo and made America the land of the free.

In vivid

Overview

In this groundbreaking book, noted historian Thaddeus Russell tells a new and surprising story about the origins of American freedom. Rather than crediting the standard textbook icons, Russell demonstrates that it was those on the fringes of society whose subversive lifestyles helped legitimize the taboo and made America the land of the free.

In vivid portraits of renegades and their “respectable” adversaries, Russell shows that the nation’s history has been driven by clashes between those interested in preserving social order and those more interested in pursuing their own desires—insiders versus outsiders, good citizens versus bad. The more these accidental revolutionaries existed, resisted, and persevered, the more receptive society became to change.

Russell brilliantly and vibrantly argues that it was history’s iconoclasts who established many of our most cherished liberties. Russell finds these pioneers of personal freedom in the places that usually go unexamined—saloons and speakeasies, brothels and gambling halls, and even behind the Iron Curtain. He introduces a fascinating array of antiheroes: drunken workers who created the weekend; prostitutes who set the precedent for women’s liberation, including “Diamond Jessie” Hayman, a madam who owned her own land, used her own guns, provided her employees with clothes on the cutting-edge of fashion, and gave food and shelter to the thousands left homeless by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake; there are also the criminals who pioneered racial integration, unassimilated immigrants who gave us birth control, and brazen homosexuals who broke open America’s sexual culture.

Among Russell’s most controversial points is his argument that the enemies of the renegade freedoms we now hold dear are the very heroes of our history books— he not only takes on traditional idols like John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Carnegie, John Rockefeller, Thomas Edison, Franklin Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy, but he also shows that some of the most famous and revered abolitionists, progressive activists, and leaders of the feminist, civil rights, and gay rights movements worked to suppress the vibrant energies of working-class women, immigrants, African Americans, and the drag queens who founded Gay Liberation.

This is not history that can be found in textbooks— it is a highly original and provocative portrayal of the American past as it has never been written before.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Russell's provocative new book argues that America's modern liberties are largely the result of anarchic and frequently selfish desires of outliers. While admitting that a nation actually governed by the outcasts of society would be "a living hell," Russell shows how these so-called renegades have continuously influenced American culture. From the Founding Fathers to the present, the guardians of morality, sobriety, and the Puritan work ethic have historically attempted to destroy the pleasures of life, while the "shiftless"-the singers and dancers, the drinkers, and the cynics-have not only defended the richness of "fun" but freedom itself. Russell (Out of the Jungle: Jimmy Hoffa and the American Working Class) shows how the Boston Massacre was instigated by a "motley rabble," argues that blackface minstrel shows embodied a sort of black lifestyle-envy, and that madams and prostitutes initiated gender equality in the Old West. Noteworthy is Russell's carefully-documented analysis of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal as a quasi-fascist experiment which, originally, was praised by Nazi Germany. While fascinating in content and style, this work unfortunately spends little time on revolutionary political movements and the occasional attempts by "renegades" to move beyond the realm of broadly-defined culture.
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From the Publisher
"Russell writes with force and scathing humor. Narrator Paul Boehmer accurately delivers his tone.... It's hard to put this down. Renegade, indeed!" —AudioFile
Kirkus Reviews

Sure, you've got your Honest Abe and your steadfast Molly Pitcher, your Daniel Boone and Dale Evans. But how do the vice-ridden rest of us fit into American history?

As Russell (History and Cultural Studies/Occidental Coll.; Out of the Jungle: Jimmy Hoffa and the Re-Making of the American Working Class, 2001) writes, this lively, contrarian work concentrates on the "drunkards, prostitutes, 'shiftless' slaves and white slackers, criminals, juvenile delinquents, brazen homosexuals, and others who operated beneath American society." Such people seldom figure in standard histories, and one of the things in which they engaged and still engage, namely sex, seldom turns up in the pages of earnest monographs. Russell examines the constant tension between preservers of order, such as John Adams, and those who extolled unrestrained personal freedom, such as—well, if not Sam Adams, then perhaps topers such as he, for drinking also figures heavily in these pages. In New York at the time of the Revolution, "there were enough taverns to allow every resident of the city to drink in a bar at the same time," a feat never reached since. In the Virginia of the Founding Fathers, no public business was conducted without a large drink somewhere within easy reach. Taverns, often havens of the lower class, were "the first racially integrated public spaces in America," a democracy of vice. They gave members of different races and ethnicities the chance to study and imitate one another and to indulge in what Russell terms "informal renegade behaviors." The author links advances in personal freedom to these unbridled working-class heroes—and to a few other surprising figures as well, including the mobsters who owned New York's gay nightclubs, the hippies of yore, the "tango boys"and other juvenile delinquents who, by Russell's fruitful formulation, won the Cold War for the West.

A sharp, lucid, entertaining view of the "bad" American past.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781416571094
Publisher:
Free Press
Publication date:
09/28/2010
Sold by:
SIMON & SCHUSTER
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
400
Sales rank:
196,867
File size:
4 MB

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"Russell writes with force and scathing humor. Narrator Paul Boehmer accurately delivers his tone.... It's hard to put this down. Renegade, indeed!" —-AudioFile

Meet the Author

Thaddeus Russell teaches history and cultural studies at Occidental College and has taught at Columbia University, Barnard College, Eugene Lang College, and the New School for Social Research. Born and raised in Berkeley, California, Russell graduated from Antioch College and received a Ph.D. in history from Columbia University.  Russell's first book, Out of the Jungle: Jimmy Hoffa and the Re-Making of the American Working Class, was published by Alfred A. Knopf in 2001. He has published opinion articles in the Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, Christian Science Monitor, Salon, and Atlanta Journal-Constitution, as well as scholarly essays in American Quarterly and The Columbia History of Post-World War II America. Russell has also appeared on the History Channel and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

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A Renegade History of the United States 4.1 out of 5 based on 1 ratings. 14 reviews.
JohnSH More than 1 year ago
My first introduction to Thaddeus Russell was an article on a blog entitled "Why I Got Fired From Teaching American History." He said his interpretation of history was called "improper," "frightening," and "dangerous." And so it is. As he writes in the introduction, our usual history lessons are from the perspective of the icons of the era, The "Movers and Shakers", political leaders, important industrialists and intellectuals. But nowhere do we get the other side, as Russell describes it: ".history from the gutter up." He posits that the founding fathers, the abolitionists, capitalists, revolutionaries, suffragists, New Dealers, conservatives, liberals, and social activists all held or sought power. The power they sought was the control of people's lives, which means a limiting of their freedoms. This "highbrow" attitude conflicted with the "lowbrow" culture of the saloons, brothels, dance-halls, and nightclubs. He shatters our illusions of what the founding fathers wanted the nation to be. He opens our eyes to see what the people living the history wanted their culture to be. He showed that far from trying to unleash freedom on Americans, they were trying to restrict the freedoms the lower classed enjoyed: they could drink on the job, they could divorce by placing an ad in the paper, and they frequented multi-racial bars, dance-halls and brothels, with no concern with the color or sex of their companions. There were hundreds of bars, tap-rooms and brothels past which the founding fathers had to walk to get to Independence hall and the Continental Congress. Other things that seem strange to us are that women could divorce their husbands for any reason or none; they could own property, and did own bars. Prostitutes and their patrons were not looked upon as sinners, but with such a degree of normalcy that it did not affect their social status. This licentiousness, drunkenness, immoral dancing, inter-racial fraternizing, women's freedoms, and generally having a good time, the founding fathers wanted to stamp out. Russell moves us through history from Pre-Revolutionary days to the present, and describes the outcasts who gave us our freedoms. This book is an eye opener, and very well supports Russell's thesis, that the freedoms we enjoy today, were taken from us by the founding fathers, and championed and restored by the "Drunkards, Laggards, Prostitutes, Pirates, and Other Heroes." Incidentally that is part of the title of the first chapter in "A Renegade History of the United States." Other chapters have equally provocative titles: "How Gangsters Made America A Better Place", "How Juvenile Delinquents Won The Cold War," and my personal favorite, "Almost Free: The Promise And Tragedy Of Rednecks and Hippies." Love it or hate it, it is a fascinating read. If you aspire to be a ne'er-do-well, it is almost a handbook. This is a must read for anyone even slightly interested in American History.
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CS5150 More than 1 year ago
Wonderfully compelling and interesting. It's always refreshing when a scholar will delve past the sanitized version of history that most textbooks will give the reader. As for whoever posted the poor rating, just cause a book is referenced doesn't make it the only source for the reader. If you researched the author, you'd see he has impeccable credentials and is the antithesis of a right-wing loon like Michelle Malkin. Me thinks that reviewer is probably closer in attitude to the prude, repressive men like Adams then those colorful, rambunctious, drunkards that made up a large portion of America back then.
Marian Powers More than 1 year ago
Admittedly i was facinated by the book. That was until i looked at his reference material on one "subject" of this tome,japanese internment during WWll. Both books,one written by Michelle Malkin and the other by Page Smith were both deridded by scholars and witnesses to be false and flights of fancy;to be kind. If this material was used as " research " then all other reseach and therefore the book is suspect. I feel cheated and taken for a ride. Judge for yourselves. M. Rebecca
Joshua Cosme More than 1 year ago