In this collection of previously published pieces, Morgan's sweeping gaze extends far: from John Winthrop's diaries of Colonial Boston to the Hollywood version of Arthur Miller's play The Crucible, from Francis Parkman's dramatic portrait of Rogers's Rangers to the American National Biography's sketches of Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson, from the Old South's code of honor to the bloodless disputes of modern academia. Morgan describes this book as ''a kind of intellectual autobiography''; it also offers a masterly quarter-century of commentary on the discipline of American history.
The New York Times
Even in his 80s, Morgan continues to be one of the wisest and most eloquent interpreters of early American history. Because we have come to expect Morgan to provide deeply insightful and original readings of the American past, this new book at first disappoints, for it consists of review essays that first appeared in the New York Review of Books. On the other hand, the 24 essays represent a Morgan miscellany and function, he notes, as a kind of intellectual autobiography, tracing the development of his scholarly career. In the earliest of these essays, on Puritan New England, Morgan measures the value of various studies of Puritanism against the classic work of his mentor, Perry Miller. Later essays reveal the brilliance of Morgan's scholarship as he examines topics ranging from Puritanism and sex (sexual pleasure was an "entitlement" of marriage, for women as well as men), witch trials and slavery to the significance of the publication of the 24-volume American National Biography (in an essay co-written with his wife). In various essays, Morgan argues that John Winthrop was America's "first great man" because he, like Washington, Franklin and Lincoln, "pursued and accomplished radical ends by conservative means" and that George Washington was "the founding father" because of his pursuit of power by honorable means. Morgan's essay on Benjamin Franklin provides an outline of his acclaimed and bestselling 2002 biography. Morgan's elegant prose and critical acumen shine brightly and remind us how deep our debt is to his illuminating readings of early American history. (June) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Author of the best-selling Benjamin Franklin, Morgan (Sterling Professor, emeritus, history, Yale Univ.) is one of the most respected authorities on American Colonial and Revolutionary history. His new work consists of 24 book reviews originally published in the New York Review of Books over the past quarter of a century. But these are more than mere reviews; they are discursive essays that range far and wide over two centuries of history. As Morgan notes in his preface, these essays amount to an intellectual autobiography, as they trace his evolving interests through a career of over five decades. The first section deals with New Englanders, the second with Southerners, and the third with Revolutionaries. The many topics covered include sex (which the Puritans enjoyed more than one might have guessed), women, witch-hunting, slavery, John Winthrop, the Seven Years War, and numerous others. Morgan is a member of that rare species: the academic who can write with authority and grace, offering insights valuable for their common sense, perspicacity, wit, and persuasiveness. This book belongs in every library; they don't come any better than this. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/1/04.]-Thomas J. Schaeper, St. Bonaventure Univ., NY Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
A venerable historian considers and reconsiders topics ranging from slavery to the Constitution to the Founding Fathers. Morgan (Emeritus History/Yale; Benjamin Franklin, 2002) displays in eminently impressive pieces (all of which appeared over the past 25 years in the New York Review of Books) not only his vast knowledge of early American history but also his transparent style and his generous reviewing philosophy. In only one of these 24 essays-the penultimate one, dealing with the Library of America's 1999 collection of American sermons-does he wax wholly negative. (He calls it a "strange work" whose selection criteria baffle him.) Generally, Morgan endeavors to understand the author's intent and then, in true NYRB fashion, expatiates. Nobody does it better. Divided into four parts (for each Morgan provides a sketchy, and perhaps superfluous, introduction), the collection begins with searching assessments of the Puritans. Acknowledging repeatedly his debt to former teacher Perry Miller, Morgan insists on the enduring importance of these folks in American culture and politics but reminds us (in a piece from 2002) that it is inaccurate to call the Massachusetts Bay Colony a theocracy: "The existence of real theocracies in the Near East today should call our attention to the care that New England Puritans took not to create one." He discusses slavery and race with refreshing frankness ("The Big American Crime") and describes clearly how, during the Seven Years' War, the American Indians horrified their European allies with their ferocity (and cannibalism). Unsurprisingly, Morgan writes eloquently about Benjamin Franklin and the other Founding Fathers, offering an especially cogent pieceon the significance of George Washington, who, after all, did not really distinguish himself on the battlefield and did not participate much in the creation of those seminal American declarations and documents. (A single caveat: the thematic-rather than chronological-arrangement can make it difficult to follow the evolution of Morgan's remarkable mind.)First-rate thinking and writing. (6 b&w illustrations)