A Renegade History of the United States

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Overview

Historian Howard Zinn demonstrated that there are compelling, alternative histories that are both scholarly and valuable. Now, Thaddeus Russell provides a challenging new way of reading history that will turn convention on its head and is sure to elicit as much controversy as it does support.

Russell shows that drunkards, laggards, prostitutes, and pirates were the real heroes of the American Revolution. Slaves worked less and had more fun than free men. Prostitutes, not ...

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Overview

Historian Howard Zinn demonstrated that there are compelling, alternative histories that are both scholarly and valuable. Now, Thaddeus Russell provides a challenging new way of reading history that will turn convention on its head and is sure to elicit as much controversy as it does support.

Russell shows that drunkards, laggards, prostitutes, and pirates were the real heroes of the American Revolution. Slaves worked less and had more fun than free men. Prostitutes, not feminists, won women's liberation. White people lost their rhythm when they became good Americans. Without organized crime, we might not have Hollywood, Las Vegas, labor unions, legal alcohol, birth control, or gay rights. Zoot-suiters and rock-and-rollers, not Ronald Reagan or the peace movement, brought down the Soviet Union. And Britney Spears will win the war on terror.

It was not the elitists who created real revolution in America nor the political radicals whom Zinn credits, but the people on the fringes of society who laid the foundation for change and were responsible for many of the freedoms we cherish today. American history was driven by clashes between those interested in preserving social order and those more interested in pursuing their own desires—the "respectable" versus the "degenerate," the moral versus the immoral, "good citizens" versus the "bad." The more that "bad" people existed, resisted, and won, the greater was our common good.

In A Renegade History of the United States, Russell introduces us to the origins of our nation's identity as we have never known them before.

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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.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
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.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781416576136
  • Publisher: Free Press
  • Publication date: 7/5/2011
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 252,576
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author


Thaddeus Russell teaches history and cultural studies at Occidental College and is the author of Out of the Jungle.

Paul Boehmer, who has appeared on Broadway, on television, and in films, narrated an award-winning unabridged recording of Moby Dick.

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Table of Contents

Introduction ix

Part 1 Making Renegades into Americans

1 Drunkards, Laggards, Prostitutes, Pirates, and Other Heroes of the American Revolution 3

2 The Freedom of Slavery 39

3 The Slavery of Freedom 77

4 Whores and the Origins of Women's Liberation 101

Part 2 How White People Lost Their Rhythm

5 A Rhythmless Nation 127

6 From White Chimps to Yankee Doodles: The Irish 140

7 The Jew was a Negro 160

8 Italian Americans: Out of Africa 181

Part 3 Fighting for Bad Freedom

9 Shopping: The Real American Revolution 207

10 How Gangsters Made America a Better Place 229

11 "Behold a Dictator": Fascism and the New Deal 240

12 Just How Popular was World War II? 270

Part 4 Which Side are you on?

13 How Juvenile Delinquents Won the Cold War 285

14 "A Process of Self-Purification": The Civil Rights Movement's Attack on African Americans 295

15 Gay Liberation, American Liberation 324

16 Almost Free: The Promise and Tragedy of Rednecks and Hippies 332

Acknowledgments 343

Sources 345

Permissions 363

Index 365

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 12 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 13 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 5, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A Must Read for anyone interested in American history

    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.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 27, 2011

    I understand why he got fired

    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

    3 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 29, 2012

    Wonderfully compelling and interesting. It's always refreshing w

    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.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 17, 2011

    Fantabulos

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    Posted March 25, 2011

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