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Steven J. Keillor

Stogie Historiography

Buy this book and a good cigar and savor them both in an overstuffed chair at the club or at your neighborhood cigar bar. It is a wondrously good read and a long, slow delight (976 pages plus notes) that flatters your refined taste by associating you with a skilled raconteur as he skewers "the fly-blown philacteries of Political Correctness." This cigar of a book offends your cautious associates, disregards both the old and the new Puritanism, reassures you of your success and independence of mind, regales you with tales of the smoke-filled deeds of great tycoons and politicians, and reeks of all three Nineties: the Federalist 1790s, Andrew Carnegie's 1890s, and Bill Gates's 1990s, especially of the latter. It is a most entertaining bit of what the author calls "club talk" with a decidedly English air to it.

If you lack the time for a cigar, the book, or this review, be content with a brief bottom-line summary of Johnson's theme: Reader's Digest was right all along.

English historian and essayist Paul Johnson has added a very readable, almost novelistic, history of the United States to his earlier Modern Times and A History of the Jews. His History of the American People is great narrative, with a vigorous unifying theme—the greatness of the American people (he dedicates the book to us)—a strong story line that avoids hard-to-explain subplots and focuses on well-known events and leaders, vivid characterizations of major male leaders (and a few female ones), telling anecdotes, and effective satirical sketches. Johnson covers the centuries from Jamestown (1607) to Clinton more compellingly than do the standard politically correct academic texts, partly because Johnson's editor gave him free rein and partly because his book achieves a better fit with the post-Cold War world of global capitalism. Indeed, A History of the American People is often uncannily up to date, as when Johnson focuses on the sexual escapades of Democratic presidents Wilson, FDR, Kennedy, ...

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