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Monday, June 25, 2012

The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History (Politically Incorrect Guide...series) by Thomas E. Woods

Published by Regnery Publishing in 2004.

As a real history teacher (as opposed to the coach history "teacher" that too many people have had) I was looking forward to this book since I read and enjoyed other Politically Incorrect Guide... (P.I.G.) books.

I have few quibbles or quarrels with the facts presented. Woods has done his research and I would even recommend parts of this book as a supplement to read alongside a regular American History book. He is especially strong on his facts about the Founding Fathers and the Constitution.

However, I do have an issue with the way it is presented. Woods states in his preface that this book is not intended to be an alternative, non-PC history book. But, what is is exactly? I have pegged it as a supplement, but Woods really fails to do so. Sometimes, the book tries to come off as a "Gotcha! Betcha didn't know this!" trivia book, other times it goes into pretty strong detail and nearly is as well-rounded as some high school or middle school textbooks (particularly in the Revolutionary War/Constitution section). The end of the book (Clinton) comes off almost like one of the dime-a-dozen political books that are written by pundits like Michael Moore and Ann Coulter.

This guide to American History does enter a crowded field. There are plenty of other books out there that serve a similar purpose such as Don't Know Much About History. The difference may be in political slant.

Although Woods does a tremendous job with the Founders, I believe he did an very poor write up on the Civil War. Lincoln's racial views were stated too simplistically. Also, they are not exactly secret anymore - textbooks cover Lincoln quite well nowadays. He also overstates the strength of democracy of the South at the time in a rather lengthy argument about the Gettysburg Address. Woods note that he thinks the Address is ironic as a statement of democratic ideals since Lincoln was, at that very moment, destroying the expressed will of the Southern people who were trying to secede. Woods leaves out details such as the aristocratic nature of Southern politics at the time, the fact that uplanders (non-plantation, small farmers in the hills and mountains) were quick to join the Union armies since they felt the aristocratic plantation owners were not representing them in state government and had shut them out of the halls of power. That is how West Virginia was formed and how parts of Eastern Tennessee earned a reputation for being very pro-Union.
Union General Benjamin Butler 

Also, in the same section, Woods mis-characterizes Ben Butler's Order #28, the strength of the anti-slavery sentiment in some factions of the Union Army (although, certainly not the majority of it).

However, I don't want to go through a point by point refutation of each part. Suffice to say, Thomas has a decent supplement of mostly good quality here.

I give this one 3 stars out of 5. Minus one star for the not having a thorough approach to every period of American history and oftentimes relying on a "Betcha didn't know this odd fact" style that I mentioned above. Minus one star for his treatment of the Civil War section.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History by Thomas E. Woods. 

Reviewed on June 20, 2007.

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