Thursday, May 22, 2008

History of the American Frontier, 1763-1893 - Winner, Non-Fiction, 1925

History of the American Frontier, 1763-1893
By: Frederic L. Paxson
Houghton Mifflin Company, 1924

A major theme in the first century, especially, of the history of the United States of America is the freedom to pack up one's life and head to a new, unexplored territory. The first colonists did this and generation after generation sought to expand, to find a better life in the vast unknown. Paxson's History of the American Frontier gives a good overview of this movement westward into the frontier.

The book is divided into relatively short chapters which helps to keep the reader from being overwhelmed by the immense amount of factual information being presented. Interestingly, each chapter could almost be read entirely independently from the others. The chapters are topical and, though they follow a general chronology, sometimes go back and forth in time leaving the reader with a mild sense of vertigo as he/she tries to remember exactly where things fit together.

The information in this book is interesting in small pieces, but as a whole I found the book to be a bit overwhelming in it's factual content.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Main Currents in American Thought, 2 Vols. - Winner, Non-Fiction, 1928

Main Currents in American Thought, 2 Vols.
By: Vernon Parrington
Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1927

In Main Currents in American Thought, Parrington uses the example of important literary figures in American history to show the movement of thought through the years. His main focus is the difference between Hamiltonian federalism (big federal government, focus on capitalism) and Jeffersonian populism (states rights, focus on agrarianism) over time. The interesting thing is that, even though some of the issues might have shifted around there is still a basic divide in our country between those who feel that the federal government should be more involved in our lives and those who believe that that should be left to the states.

Parrington's book is not entertaining in the least. But, it would be a useful tool for research as each literary figure's section is neatly separated from the others and could be helpful to the researcher looking for information on a certain person. The thing that impressed me most was the vast amount of research that Parrington must have done to complete this work. Many of the literary figures he focused on were not necessarily the most famous. Imagine doing in depth research in the 1920s - no Internet, not even easy access between different libraries. This is truly an impressive feat.

Totally unrelated fact - Vernon Parrington was also the second head coach of the University of Oklahoma football team. Just thought that might interest somebody.