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Despite the lowbrow title, these are intelligent, opinionated essays on America between 1600 and 1800. Morgan, a revered historian and the bestselling author of Benjamin Franklin, wrote the earliest chapter in 1937, the latest in 2005. Many describe obscure events but pack a surprising punch. In "Dangerous Books," the author tells the story of Yale (where he is professor emeritus), founded in 1701 as a bastion of Puritanism, but with a library of works by English Enlightenment intellectuals. In 1721 six members of the faculty, including the rector, horrified the community by publicly renouncing Calvinism. The last official American execution for witchcraft occurred in 1692, but the popular belief in witchcraft continued well into the 19th century: in a marvelously recounted vignette, Morgan describes Philadelphia in 1787, where a few miles from the halls where America's elite were debating our Constitution, a mob abused and finally killed an old woman accused of witchcraft. Three of the 17 essays are previously unpublished. Happily, all are up to the standards of this wise, venerable (now 93) and deeply thoughtful historian. (May)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
This book is a perfect gem. None of the 17 essays here has been published previously in book form, and three of them appear here for the first time. Morgan (Sterling Professor Emeritus, Yale; Inventing the People), the winner of just about every major book award, including the Pulitzer, ranges from Christopher Columbus, to the Puritans and sex (which they liked, providing it was in marriage), William Penn, the Anti-Federalists, and historian Perry Miller. Two characteristics that tie the essays together are Morgan's penchant for taking contrarian views of accepted orthodoxies and his admiration for individuals who stood up against authority. His piece on the development of Yale's library in the 18th century demonstrates that books are valuable because they keep alive the memory of dissident voices that otherwise might be drowned out by official, hagiographical versions of a nation's past. His chapter on George Washington and Benjamin Franklin points out that one of the traits that made them great was their ability to say "no" when popular opinion wanted them to act in one way or another. Both specialists and general readers will find this book both authoritative and fun to read. Highly recommended.
—Thomas J. Schaeper
Part 1 The Conquerors
Chapter 1 The Conquerors 3
Part 2 Puritans, Witches, and Quakers
Chapter 2 Dangerous Books 23
Chapter 3 The Unyielding Indian 39
Chapter 4 John Winthrop's Vision 54
Chapter 5 The Puritans and Sex 61
Chapter 6 The Problems of a Puritan Heiress 75
Chapter 7 The Case against Anne Hutchinson 90
Chapter 8 The Puritan's Puritan: Michael Wigglesworth 102
Chapter 9 The Courage of Giles Cory and Mary Easty 112
Chapter 10 Postscript: Philadelphia 1787 130
Chapter 11 The Contentious Quaker: William Penn 139
Chapter 12 Ezra Stiles and Timothy Dwight 177
Part 3 Revolutionary Leaders
Chapter 13 The Power of Negative Thinking: Benjamin Franklin and George Washington 197
Chapter 14 The End of Franklin's Pragmatism 209
Chapter 15 The Founding Fathers' Problem: Representation 222
Chapter 16 The Role of the Antifederalists 241
Epilogue The Genius of Perry Miller 251
Posted May 9, 2009
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This book is outstanding. Like all of Morgan's writing, this is proof positive that often less is more.
The key to Morgan's writing is its efficiency. Unlike so many in contemporary academia, who are flat-out guilty of shameful self-indulgent over-writing (not to mention often doing so incoherently), Morgan's works are cogent. The flow of his narrative is nothing short of superb.
These essays largely stick to what Morgan does best: Provide a structural analysis of an area of historical inquiry, pick out the main two or three themes, and stay keenly focused on them.
His writing should be mandatory reading for all college students, not just for its content, but as a modicum of how to write clearly and effectively.
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Posted December 6, 2009
Is it possible to give a book fewer than one star? If so, I would nominate this book for that score.
The book has many serious problems. First, it is marketed as though it were an original piece of work. In fact, it is merely a collection of essays that the author wrote for various historical publications over the past many decades. (A small number are listed as "not previously published", which , considering the poor quality, likely means that no publication would accept them).
Second, the essays are symptomatic of the worst sort of political correctness. In them, we learn that American Indians were better Christians than the Christians themselves, and that the only true patriots were those opposed to the cause. We also learn the shocking fact that libraries are good! My, that was worth the cost of the book, wasn't it?
Finally, the writing is poor and the author's arguments are facile. To cite just one example, he finds it inexplicable that settlers would have disapproved of the Indians' idleness, claiming that their "non-materialism" was in fact the highest Christian virtue. Perhaps he is unacquainted with the Seven Deadly Sins, one of which is sloth. And this is a Princeton professor? I shudder for his students.
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Posted July 9, 2013
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Posted November 25, 2009
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