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G. L. Rowsey (benicia, ca United States)

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Son of the Morning Star: Custer and The Little Bighorn
Son of the Morning Star: Custer and The Little Bighorn
by Evan S. Connell
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 20.00
36 used & new from CDN$ 13.87

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars MORE CUSTER PUFFING?, July 7 2003
I enjoyed Son of the Morning Star so much I just finished a second reading. Others enjoying the book a lot should check out Black Sea by Neal Ascherson and And No Birds Sing by Mark Jaffe. The three books are similar, although it isn't easy to say in what way. The best I can do is to call them non-academic histories that are so well written, and have such compelling central themes, that you just can't put them down. They're also similarly filled with digressive narratives and descriptions of subjects peripherally related to their main themes, meanderings dear to the heart of fact-freaks like myself.
A good short example from Connell's work begins with: "Then along came Blanche Boies, disciple of Carrie Nation." And Connell relates how in 1904 Blanche took a woodcutter's ax to a copy of Otto Becker's 1895 lithograph of Custer's last stand, which at the time was hanging in the Kansas State Historical Society in Fort Riley (the Seventh Cavalry's home fort). The reason Blanche axed the picture was that it had upon it an advertisement for Anheuser-Busch beer, Mr. Busch having come into possession of the picture before the Historical Society did. In less than a page, Connell decribes the law's attempts to dissuade Blanche from doing her duty to the lithograph and how she persisted and succeeded in the end. A very funny little story, painted with the strokes of a master.
I do have one problem with Son of the Morning Star, which in fact was described as a "masterpiece" by Larry McMurtry in a letter to the New York Review of Books in 1999, a long fifteen years after the book was published. Evan Connell has a lot to say -- and a lot with little good -- about soldiers, the U.S. Government, Indian Agents, indians themselves, settlers and gold rushers, and the American public. As a dedicated misanthropist, I thought I had recognized a fellow soul in the author. Until I read Connell's characterization of the "constellation of traits in Custer. . (like). . .a demigod. . .Siegfried, Roland, Galahad." Now, I can go with Siegfried and Roland, but Galahad? Of the very few references to women other than Elizabeth Custer in the book's Index, there's Clara Blinn, a kidnapped white who with her infant son was in Cheyenne Chief Black Kettle's village when the Seventh massacred it in 1868. Subsequently, the Blinns' bodies were found near the village, the mother shot twice through the head, the infant's body so "little marked" that Connell surmises he was slung against a tree. Mrs. Blinn had got out a note to the U.S. Army pleading to be rescued but as Connell writes: "If Custer knew about this frantic plea, it made no difference. . . .His concern was . . .the destruction of an enemy stronghold." Custer loved children and animals, fine music, books, and battle, but from the evidence in Son of the Morning Star, he paid little attention to women, including his dear wife Elizabeth. And that's not my idea of a Galahad.
Maybe I'm picking nits here, maybe that's the way it was out West then, maybe the author's subject was really the battle in some sense, and not George Armstrong Custer. But my overall impression remains: Connell treated Custer considerably more favorably than the groups mentioned above. Accordingly, I think the book contains Custer-puffing and I'd hold back the word masterpiece from describing it.
Nonetheless and howsoever, this almost-materpiece by Evan Connell is some kind of a read, and I give it a high four stars.

The Miner's Canary: Enlisting Race, Resisting Power, Transforming Democracy
The Miner's Canary: Enlisting Race, Resisting Power, Transforming Democracy
by Lani Guinier
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 35.92
32 used & new from CDN$ 27.70

5.0 out of 5 stars This Book Recalls Ellison's Invisible Man, July 4 2003
Because it's the best book about race relations in America since Ellison's masterpiece of fifty years ago. By "race relations" I mean blacks and whites, as Ellison would have meant the words. But The Miner's Canary is about much more, it's about all-minority-cultures and whites in America. And in direct opposition to the "color blind solution" the Supreme Court has decided the Constitution requires, the book's authors esteem and celebrate and find strength, including political strength, in their separate cultural identities, including the separate (non-oppressive) cultural identities of whites.
When I put The Miner's Canary down, I wished I had read the Acknowledgments first, then the chapter "by" Torres. It is a difficult book, it has many authors, and the book's voice I identify as Ms. Guinier's seems sometimes to address grade school students and other times to address law professors. So the book has many levels of analysis, and it treats its central topic -- political race -- from many angles. These are not shortcomings, but they add up to a demanding book.
The book's real-life examples are all one -- compelling and utterly elucidating. And the long illustration of how Greek democracy in action would look if it followed American districting and apportionment rules is surpassing wonderful.
Then there's the book's immediacy. Prominent economic historian Robert Fogel has emphasized the roles of technology and religious activism in America's movements for social justice, relegating progressivism to the status of an adjunct to the latter. The Miner's Canary, on the other hand, puts the struggle for social justice squarely within the politics of progressivism. This is not necessarily inconsistent with Fogel (whatever one thinks of the validity of his argument), assuming Fogel's subject is movements in the past before about 1980 when the Big Sleep set in -- which it is -- and assuming The Miner's Canary is describing developments since about 1980 - which it is. The book says something new has been happening, and it started being more than unrelated occurrences about twenty five years ago. This new thing Guinier and Torres call political race.
The ambition, originality and insights of this book far outweigh its difficulties due to multiple voices and an "un-ironed out" presentation. I give it five stars.

Kennedy and the Promise of the Sixties
Kennedy and the Promise of the Sixties
by W. J. Rorabaugh
Edition: Hardcover
46 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars An Opening Chorus Closed?, May 7 2003
This is a short, well-written and most welcome history of prominent social, cultural and political developments during JFK's almost-1000 days, most welcome to persons like myself who graduated from college to "come of age" from 1960 through 1964, and who have seen our coming-of-age-time, over all, largely considered an un-event. The book was for me a memory lane experience and thank you, Mr. Rorabaugh, for unearthing us.
Only tiny minorities of "us" were SDS or SNCC activists or right-wing radicals in college. Probably 98% of us were too torn by the hopes and disillusionments you describe to commit to choices we correctly perceived would affect the rest of our lives. Escalating Vietnam, of course, changed all that. And contrary to how much history has portrayed the tumultuous later sixties as influential (one way or another), the war decided the overwhelming majority of my influential peers to stick to their fast tracks. Graduating from an elite college in 1963, I was in a (miniscule?) minority that fell off that track, temporizing in effect to join the anti-war, sex-drugs-and-rock-and-roll counterculture. Moreover, I suspect we '60-'64 graduates were much more disillusioned than those we joined; not communists, then, we were also much more appalled at, for example, a Chicago Seven defendant becoming an insurance salesman.
The only problem with your popular history, as I see it Mr. Rorabaugh, is that its Conclusion goes nowhere. Evidently you, or more likely your editors, were precluded by historical orthodoxy from asserting that the anti-war movement of the middle sixties was a logical development from radicalism in Kennedy's times; and it was a Good and Necessary Thing; and if this GNT hadn't occurred, in 1968 we likely would have got not Nixon but Reagan.

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