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Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Pursuit of Happiness in Times of War by Carl M. Cannon

A Truly Enjoyable Meandering History

Publishers Weekly criticized this book The Pursuit of Happiness in Times of War for not truly exploring the meanings behind Jefferson's famous phrase from the Declaration of Independence that lists among the rights of all people the rights to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." To be fair to Cannon, he does explore that and both explicitly and implicitly tells the reader that the genius of the phrase is that it is so hard to define. It can be used by people from all over the political landscape to define their goals and they are all using it correctly (I think he does this rather brilliantly in the chapter concerning anti-war protesters vs. George W. Bush.)

The Publishers Weekly review correctly points out that Cannon's focus is, at times, lacking. However, the text is still informative and well-written. I would compare it to a pleasant conversation that strays a bit from its original focus but eventually does return.

Franklin, Adams & Jefferson
editing the Declaration
of Independence.
Cannon pulls quotes from a great multitude of sources and he correctly, in my mind, expounds on his thesis that one of the Great Themes of the American experience is expanding the concept of the "pursuit of happiness" and making it apply to more and more people within our own society and also throughout the world. His view that this is one of the goals of the invasion of Iraq is so consistent with Bush's own statements and my own observations that it shocked me to read it in print. Why was I shocked? I was shocked because this was the first time I read it in print - he is the first journalist I've seen to analyze it in this way and I feel that he is one of the few who actually has an intellectual grasp of what Bush's goals are in Iraq (be they successfully reached or not and Cannon really does not address the correctness or not of the war in Iraq - he is merely looking into motivations).

His quotes from leaders of nations that were once part of the Soviet Bloc and are now part of the Coalition of the Willing in Iraq are so concise and insightful that I was struck dumbfounded in many ways.

On a pet peeve note, Cannon has lots of endnotes - many with excellent additional commentary. I wish his publisher had seen fit to make them footnotes so that I would not have had to keep two bookmarks in the book and continually have to flip back and forth.

I rated this book 5 stars out of 5.

Reviewed on September 22, 2004.

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