Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Book Review: America the Last Best Hope

In 1921, the English writer G.K. Chesterton came to America to travel and speak. He, like other foreigners I mention in Volume I …saw us better, in many ways, than we saw ourselves. What he saw here, what he found here, is a reaffirmation of what I attempt to recapture about our country – describing it as Abraham Lincoln did: “the last best hope on earth.”

This passage is how Dr. William “Bill” Bennett opens America, the Last Best Hope Volume II. This volume covers U.S. History from 1914 to 1989 (or from a World at War to the Triumph of Freedom as the book is subtitled.) I think Dr. Bennett does a good job of capturing that essence Chesterton saw in America and that Lincoln described.

I chose to start in the middle of Dr. Bennett’s series because it covers a time period that I wasn’t taught much about in high school or college. Most of what I know about our own history since World War I is because of my own reading. I thought this would be a great way to expand on that knowledge. What I found was Dr. Bennett covered such a wealth of material that calling it “expanding my knowledge” probably doesn’t do it justice.

Dr. Bennett devotes a lot of time to the different Presidents and their policies from WW I to the Cold War. One would expect that in a history book, but Dr. Bennett does a good job of examining each President critically. He points out the success of each President, and also illustrates their failures. However, far from dwelling on our countries failures (of which we have our share) he spends an equal amount of time on those things our country should celebrate (of which there are many).

Dr. Bennett has argued in other venues that we must build up our history program in our school system. He states in this book, “It is sad but true that American students know less about American history than any other subject they study.” Dr. Bennett describes American history as the “glory and romance” of our nations story. The quote comes from the National Archives: The glory and romance of our history are here preserved in the chronicles of those who conceived and built the structure of our nation. Dr. Bennett’s book is the type of patriotic examination of our history that should be used in schools to teach American history. His book lends a romantic feel to our history.

I would recommend America the Last Best Hope to schools but also to anyone who is curious about our history. Dr. Bennett breaks the topics in his book along major time periods in our history and provides a good overview to each chapter. I enjoyed reading it from cover to cover, but it would also serve as a useful reference book to someone who was writing about prohibition, FDR, World War II, Vietnam, or the Cold War. Finally, anyone who wants to know more about America would benefit from reading America, the Last Best Hope.


Jayne d'Arcy said...

A very good review. My husband (a history buff) happens to have both those books and I might just go and have a second look at them.

Andy D said...

Thanks for the compliment. I really enjoyed the second book in the series. I think I am going to go back and buy the first one and read it. If you try them out, I hope you enjoy them.