20 Following


George Washington: The Crossing - 'Jack E. Levin',  'Mark R. Levin' Jack Levin shows engaging craft as historiographer, interleaving primary sources with his own narrative and with period art. Current maps showing marching paths were a bit confusing to follow, but only because the captions didn't always match the maps well. There is not much here that one can't get in equal detail on Wikipedia, which is not surprising because the American Revolution is a well-structured topic header that will have many serious and fastidious custodians contributing to and policing the pages. Again, the strength of Jack Levin's work is his way of making this into a unified piece of visual/written work, and this separates it from what I could find online. For a patriotic retelling, with some of the complications, historiographic arguments, and uncertainties woven in, I prefer Nathan Hale's graphic novel [b:Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales: One Dead Spy|13591161|Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales One Dead Spy|Nathan Hale|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1343090433s/13591161.jpg|19179194].

The unfortunate part of this well-designed account of the Battle of Trenton is the foreword by Mark Levin. An editor somewhere must have felt that the daytime talk radio personality was needed to market the book to neo-patriots, because he gets clear mention on the cover: "with a preface by his son Mark Levin". In the folksy dinner-table preface Mark Levin works to deny any technique or 'spin' in the historiography, declaring that the story is 'straightforward' and focuses only on the positive, uncomplicating aspects of Washington's personality (i.e., avoiding any kind of revisionist approaches to the 19th-century myth-making historiographic agenda). Jack Levin's work would have stood up on its own much better without this piece of conservative apologetics. I felt like I was reading William Bennett or Lynne Cheney.

A key example of where Mark Levin goes wrong? The Hessian soldiers being asleep because of a Christmas rum binge is contradicted clearly by primary sources from those who spent time with the prisoners of war, as detailed in Fischer's book, [b:Washington's Crossing|1206073|Washington's Crossing|David Hackett Fischer|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1353284022s/1206073.jpg|1773948]. I do not fault Jack Levin for not using these sources, whether he didn't know of Fischer's sources or just preferred the more interesting story of the popularized version of events. It just has to be recognized that Jack Levin's way of arranging the story is loaded with his point of view. In this example, Mark Levin's meaning of 'straightforward' is that his dad's version makes the British look stupid and sloppy (which it turns out they weren't) and Washington look like a paragon of discipline and hard work (which he was). The object of this kind of writing is to be divisive and to create an 'us/them' mentality. The Hessians were likely beat down and tired on Dec 26, 1776 for the same reasons Washington's soldiers were--i.e, they were sitting on their butts in a kind of seige tactic in the dead of winter. So using the story to push virtues and values is part of the 19th-century myth-making agenda we are familiar with from so much writing about the Founding Fathers and the American Revolution, and which is so easy for credulous neocons to buy into. Historians have known and recognized this agenda for decades, yet Mark Levin still wants to cloak his philosophical leanings behind misleading phrases like 'straightforward account' and 'let history speak for itself' (i.e., "believe me, and don't question me because I am good and right"). An edited and arranged story never speaks for itself; someone is always there doing the author's labor. Mark Levin's divisive alarmist agenda has rhetorical and philosophical foundations he is unwilling to explore, to detail, or wear on his sleeve--because it is a kind of salesmanship that has made him wealthy and popular.