Pros: Engaging page-turner ...will give you lots to think about. Heavily 'sourced' content.
Cons: Hmmm ...be prepared to question what you know about the American Revolution.
Ray Raphael is an unabashed, and unrepentant, child of the Sixties. Describing his college years, he acknowledges his official major was philosophy ...but notes "my real focus was on being an activist."
His activist spirit was fueled by two summers of civil rights work in the American South of the early ‘60s. After completing his undergraduate degree he "became a full-time activist working with 'the Movement' on civil rights and protesting the war in Viet Nam." His 'activist ways' continued as he earned a graduate degree in philosophy at UC Berkeley under the tutelage of "a guy in the department who was an expert in Karl Marx." He later returned to college "...long enough to get a teaching credential" so he could "...teach high school and resume his work as a radical."
Not exactly the resumé of a writer you might expect to share the "stories that hide our patriotic past" ...as the book Founding Myths is subtitled.
Amazingly . . .he does the Founding Fathers proud ...even as he slices and dices the shiny basket of apples that are 'the stories' we all 'know' about the early days of our nation.
Raphael had previously written 'oral histories' of Humboldt County, CA and, later, the timber and marijuana 'trade' of the county. He describes these books as "transcribing the spoken word", allowing participants to tell their stories in their own words. He feels his writing has an "accessible style." I found that to be true. Many chapters were 'page-turners'.
Raphael used the same technique of people telling their stories in writing Founding Myths. Of course, finding the written word of participants dead for two centuries plus ...people who were often illiterate ...was a challenging task.
He accomplished it through dogged research and following citations and footnotes from book to paper to journals to newspaper accounts and around again and again. There are over thirty pages of extended footnotes at the end of the book, most of them leading to 'of the times' accounts of events that occurred over two hundred years ago.
From Paul Revere to Bunker Hill to Jefferson penning the Declaration of Independence to Patrick Henry's 'give me liberty or give me death' speech and more . . .Raphael deconstructs the self-serving myths that have been fabricated over the years to 'sanitize' troublesome historical points. These myths create tales of memorable men (and the rare woman) and heroic acts easily digestible and sufficiently patriotic to stir the patriotism of the masses.
As these stories are debunked, Raphael lays out the idea "that our nation was a collaborative creation of the work of hundreds of thousands of dedicated patriots who seized control of their political destiny ...(this) is actually a greater story, better reflecting the communitarian ideals of Revolutionary-era America and the democratic values of today."
The Bottom Line
Even as Ray Raphael paints a broad canvas of determined citizens throwing off the chains of British rule . . .he throws out a few ideas that concern me.
Discussing the Patrick Henry speech cited earlier, Raphael notes that "students no longer recite the speech, but they do learn that it is considered very admirable to march off to war." Not an original thought, but a wee bit insulting to those who make reasoned decisions to serve, in whatever capacity for whatever reason.
Founding Myths also has a very 'democratic' (little 'd') timbre to it ...rather than recognizing the republican (little 'r') form of our government. While the acts of 'hundreds of thousands' of citizens may be important ...they matter little without form, function, and real goals. Nothing demonstrates that more than the cacophonous, discordant, and unfocused demands of today's 'Occupy Whatever' movement.
If you want to fine-tune your understanding of the history of America's founding, this would be a great place to start. Some of your 'valued' stories may need to be re-scripted ...but I think you will wind up at the same point ...knowing an active and involved group of citizens/patriots got it very much correct two hundred-plus years ago.
Certified 'lean-n-mean' review
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Related web site...
An excellent resource for biographical info about the author and extensive resources for readers and teachers.