A Renegade History of the United States

[Amazon Link]

I was enticed into reading A Renegade History of the United States by a few mentions in Reason, including Nick Gillespie's pick of the book as one of the best of last year. I've just about always wanted to be as cool as Nick Gillespie, and (as it turned out) the library at the University Near Here had just procured a copy, so…

Russell's thesis is that many of the social liberties we take for granted today were originally demanded and fought for by "renegades." Or as Russell puts it: "drunkards, prostitutes, 'shiftless' slaves and white slackards, criminals, juvenile delinquents, brazen homosexuals, and others who operated beneath American society." And (obviously) they were opposed by just about all decent folks.

If you suspend all your moral judgment, the book is immensely entertaining, and completely politically incorrect. Sorry to use that cliché, but it's pretty much on target. Russell shows no concern or respect for liberal sensibilities, middle-class values, or bourgeois morality. There's something to offend everyone.

Some of Russell's story I'd heard before (although I'm not much of a history buff.) His take on how various ethnic groups (Irish, Italians, and Jews) climbed out from under prejudice to gain general respectability echoed a lot of Thomas Sowell's work, for example, Ethnic America. (The difference being that Sowell sees "respectability" as a pretty good thing, and Russell views it as a sad sellout.) And there's a chapter on Fascism and the New Deal that reads pretty close to Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism. (And I would guess it would make your typical liberal's head explode.)

Russell's book invites a healthy amount of skepticism. I'm kind of a fan of bourgeois values myself, and I'm dubious that the renegades' struggle against them was as simple as Russell portrays. The Bellesiles story tells us to be skeptical of history written to support a thesis, so caveat lector, friends.

Russell blogs at the Huffington Post, where you can find an overview of the book's take on history, and his (self-promotional) story of how his unconventional style and substance got him denied tenure at Barnard College. (He's nowadays an adjunct at Occidental College.)

Last Modified 2014-11-30 11:00 AM EST

The Thin Man

stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

As promised, I've put a few William Powell/Myrna Loy movies into the Netflix queue. This is one of their classics. I had to pretend it wasn't based on a book written by an unrepentant Commie, Dashiell Hammett.

Powell and Loy play the legendary Nick and Nora Charles; he's an ex-cop, she's an heiress, and they're pretty happy to live in luxurious drunkenness on her fortune.

The "Thin Man" of the title is not Nick; it's the eccentric inventor Clyde Wynant, who's gone missing. Unfortunately, when Wynant's ex-"secretary" is murdered, he becomes the most likely suspect. Wynant's daughter (Maureen O'Sullivan!) implores Nick to investigate to find out what happened to her dad and who really did in the secretary.

Powell and Loy have a rare chemistry, and it's easy to see how this pairing turned into five more "Thin Man" sequels and many other collaborations.

Last Modified 2012-09-27 11:46 AM EST