Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Kevin Baker Offers a History Text For Visual Learners

Novelist Kevin Baker brings his flair for storytelling as well as his renowned research skills to bear in America: The Story of Us, the companion book to the HISTORY series of the same name. (HISTORY is now the name, of course, of what was The History Channel). Baker, a longtime columnist for American Heritage magazine, gives readers a visually-driven journey through American history. While some tradition-minded folks may object to what they perceive as the superficiality of the work, Baker's efforts will probably draw more interest in American history than what other more traditionally-crafted history texts might.

The publisher was kind enough to send me a copy for review, and I found it to be an easy read. It's not the kind of text that a scholar or hardcore researcher would use, but it provides a good overview of our nation's history.

Baker paints a generally positive picture of the American nation, though he doesn't shy away from the darker aspects of its history. He places the birth of America in the desire of white immigrants to escape European feudalism and establish a "New World" that would allow them to "rise as high as their talents and tenacity might lift them." This noble enterprise, of course, was tragically marred by the, at times, brutal repression of Native Americans and the barbaric exploitation of African slaves. Yet, for all its weaknesses, flaws, and struggles over how to properly treat people of various races, both genders, and the like, the American Dream remains a cherished ideal. Baker approvingly quotes F. Scott Fitzgerald who wrote of "the last and greatest of all human dreams."

Baker's coverage of the American Revolutionary period is fair, albeit somewhat shallow. This is understandable for a survey of American history, yet America: The Story of Us still leaves readers with the popular (but mistaken) impression that the American Revolution was mostly about taxes. That is simply not the case.

America: The Story of Us does an excellent job of pointing out that the infamous Dred Scott decision handed down by the United States Supreme Court, under Chief Justice Roger Taney, was completely inconsistent with the vision and spirit of the Founding Fathers. In that decision, which Baker calls "the most disruptive decision in Supreme Court history," Taney wrote that people of African descent were "beings of an inferior order" who "had no rights which the white man was bound to respect." This staggering decree was, as Baker correctly points out, a "willful misreading of history" on the part of Taney and the racist Supreme Court.

As Baker writes, free African Americans in the original United States "had the right to vote in ten of the 13 states, owned property, spoke in public meetings, and sued in court." This explains why Abraham Lincoln so forcefully (and correctly) declared that the Founding Fathers put slavery on "the course of ultimate extinction," never intending to endorse or preserve in the long term what they all regarded as evil.

For those interested in a broad overview of American history, Kevin Baker's America: The Story of Us is a good investment. If you're looking for something scholarly and in-depth, you may wish to look elsewhere.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Planning a Trip to Boston? Check out These Boston Attractions

History buffs know that Boston, Massachusetts is one of the more significant locales in early American history. If you're planning to visit Boston sometime this year, either for business or pleasure, don't miss the opportunity to see some of Boston's significant historic sites.

Here's a great article I came across on some must-see sites in Boston...


"Boston - Top 10 Tourist Attractions"
By Leslie Reitman

A Boston vacation can mean different things to different travelers.

Whether you are visiting this city for the first time, the tenth time or if you are a local resident, there is always something to do.

A couple of factors to first consider are the time of year you are visiting, the weather, and the age of other travelers with you. Most activities listed are open year round. However, some of the activities that involve water may be closed for part of the winter, and if open may be a bit chilly for some.

Here are arguably the  top 10 tourist attractions in Boston.

1. Duck Tour

 This tour takes you around the city in a land and water vehicle. You will learn interesting facts about the city as your guide drives you around town. Then, you see Boston from an entirely different perspective as your vehicle floats into the Charles River.

2. New England Aquarium

Visit marine life in many forms at this great aquarium. There is lots to see and do for all ages here.

 3. Whale Watching

 There a few companies that offer whale watches (one is through the aquarium). Most all companies guarantee that you will see whales or they will give you a free ticket to come back for another try.

4. Walk the Freedom Trail

 Take a step back in time and learn about the people and places that made Boston famous in the American Revolution. You can take a self guided tour with a Freedom Trail map or you can find many different, knowledgeable guides who will take you on a guided tour.

 5. Visit Faneuil Hall

This old, historic marketplace was a gathering place for many politicians and colonists back in the day. Now, you can visit the marketplace and stroll around the surrounding stores. You will find many local street performers in and around the area. You will also find great food, fun and souvenirs here.

6. Eat in the North End

This area is one of Boston's biggest Italian neighborhoods. The restaurants and atmosphere are wonderful.

7. Ride The Swan Boats

These boats are found in Boston Common and grace the waters of the area. Anyone who has read Trumpet of the Swan will be familiar with these boats.

8. The Museum of Science

This museum has some incredible exhibits. Visitors of any age will enjoy learning something new about planets, gravity or electricity- to name a few- at this hands on museum. The museum also has an IMAX theater.

9. Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

This museum boasts the art collection of Ms. Gardner. She was one of Boston's well to do residents in the 1800s and was friendly with John Singer Sargent, the painter. You will find some of his work as well as that of famous European artists there. The Italian architecture of both the courtyard and museum are beautiful

10. Visit Newbury Street

This area has some of the best Boston shopping. You can stroll throughout this street and some of the surrounding streets for great fashion, accessories and home accents.

Certainly, with the many things to do in this city, there is a Boston attraction or Boston event for everyone.

Visit the Lets go to Boston website for more information on these and many other activities.

Article Source: Boston - Top 10 Tourist Attractions