In the daily swirl of classes and students I sometimes slide into easy ruts and forget the disciplines that will yield the greatest results. This lucid book is a bracing corrective. It’s also short, providing a tremendous benefit-to-length ratio.
Tuchman explores Western civilization as it stood before the lightning strike of World War I. Political and cultural controversies, innovations in the arts, and the machinations of aristocrats, socialists, and anarchists created upheavals too soon forgotten once the war began. Revealing anecdotes abound, such as the one about the German Kaiser telling a composer that he was conducting his own music all wrong.
As DeVoto says in the first chapter, “This book tells the story of some people who went west in 1846. Its purpose is to tell that story in such a way that the reader may realize the far western frontier experience, which is part of our cultural inheritance, as personal experience.” DeVoto accomplishes his purpose brilliantly. In a riveting narrative he tells of manifest destiny, the Mexican War, explorers, politicians, mountain men, and settlers (including the Mormons and the Donner Party).
Economists sulk in the background of history and society. Adam Smith and Karl Marx are often invoked but seldom well understood, and figures such as David Ricardo and Thorstein Veblen lurk even deeper in the shadows. But from this obscurity they exercise great influence, and Heilbroner shines on them the needed light of historical context and clear explanation. The narrative is entertaining and the ideas are stimulating.
Where to find these books? You can always check your local public library. If you want to purchase your own copies, BookFinder.com is a great place to start. It searches all the major online booksellers and gives the best prices for both new and used books.