American History Can Be A Pain To Absorb. This Historian's Work Is Anything But

The Long March

I think I have read almost every book David Hackett Fischer has written, including the one on economic history and his rather obscure doctoral dissertation on the Federalist Party after it lost power in 1800. (OK, I haven’t read his book on New Zealand or the one about growing old in America. But I probably will eventually.)


But what stands out about him for me is that I have read two of his books twice. (And one of those is verrrrry long — Albion’s Seed.)

I thought about this the other day I finished reading his Washington’s Crossing for the second time. I first read it in 2005, as the war in Iraq was getting very messy. I know this because I quoted from the end of the book in my own book Fiasco, which I wrote that year. His account of the fighting in New Jersey in the winter of 1776-77 illuminated the Iraq war for me back then.

As I was putting down that Washington book, I thought about what I appreciate so much about Fischer. Four major reasons came to mind:

  • His books are packed with facts. Just layer upon layer. Want more? Check out the great appendices.
  • He doesn’t spend a lot of time quibbling with other accounts. He will say where he thinks the historical consensus is wrong, but you don’t get a lot of stuff about “Where Professor Gummybear could be more nuanced is in his overly cohesive assessment of blah blah blah.”
  • He isn’t afraid to tell a story. Today narrative history is out of fashion in academia. I think that’s a mistake, and I am glad he didn’t follow that fad. Personally, I think humans are the narrating animal, and creating a meaningful narrative is a very humane act.
  • He shuns jargon. You don’t get a lot of the latest gobbledygook, this year’s fashionable academic buzzwords and microdebates.

That said, on second reading, I did put down Washington’s Crossing thinking that Fischer goes too easy on the American Revolutionists in their treatment of British and Loyalist prisoners. As I read the concluding section on “The Policy of Humanity,” I remembered reading recently that the death rate among British PoWs was pretty high, perhaps as bad as those of the poor American PoWs held on hulks in Wallabout Bay off Brooklyn. And the political prison for Loyalists in Connecticut was just awful — they were held at the dank bottom of an old copper mine.

Wikimedia Commons/Metropolitan Museum Of Art
(Courtesy of Jackie Melendrez)

Editor's Note: The following story highlights a veteran at Iron Mountain. Committed to including talented members of the military community in its workplace, Iron Mountain is a client of Hirepurpose, a Task & Purpose sister company. Learn more here.

Jackie Melendrez couldn't be prouder of her husband, her sons, and the fact that she works for the trucking company Iron Mountain. This regional router has been a Mountaineer since 2017, and says the support she receives as a military spouse and mother is unparalleled.

Read More Show Less
Photo: U.S. Army

Master Sgt. Larry Hawks, a retired engineer sergeant who served with 3rd Special Forces Group, is being awarded the Distinguished Service Cross on Friday for "valorous actions" in Afghanistan in 2005.

Read More Show Less

The Iranians just blasted one of the US military's most sophisticated and expensive drones out of the sky as tensions in the Strait of Hormuz reach the boiling point.

Read More Show Less
(Reuters/Lawrence Hurley)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A 40-foot-tall (12 meters) cross-shaped war memorial standing on public land in Maryland does not constitute government endorsement of religion, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday in a decision that leaves unanswered questions about the boundaries of the U.S. Constitution's separation of church and state.

The justices were divided on many of the legal issues but the vote was 7-2 to overturn a lower court ruling that had declared the so-called Peace Cross in Bladensburg unconstitutional in a legal challenge mounted by the American Humanist Association, a group that advocates for secular governance. The concrete cross was erected in 1925 as a memorial to troops killed in World War One.

The ruling made it clear that a long-standing monument in the shape of a Christian cross on public land was permissible but the justices were divided over whether other types of religious displays and symbols on government property would be allowed. Those issues are likely to come before the court in future cases.

Read More Show Less
(Associated Press/Facebook)

A relative of the man who opened fire outside downtown Dallas' federal building this week warned the FBI in 2016 that he shouldn't be allowed to buy a gun because he was depressed and suicidal, his mother said Thursday.

Brian Clyde's half-brother called the FBI about his concerns, their mother Nubia Brede Solis said. Clyde was in the Army at the time.

On Monday, Clyde opened fire with an AR-15-style rifle at the Earle Cabell Federal Building. He was fatally shot by federal law enforcement. No one else was seriously injured. His family believes Clyde wanted to be killed.

Read More Show Less