Friday, July 06, 2007

The Glory and the Dream

The Glory and the Dream

By William Manchester

Book Review

By Richard E. Noble

The Glory and the Dream is a two volume set of over 1600 pages. Mr. Manchester calls it a narrative history of America. It covers the years from 1932 to 1972. And I mean “covers”. There are 37 chapters, almost one for each year - not just lumped together in decades.
These two volumes, as with all history books, contain a wealth of information, but Mr. Manchester’s books seem to contain more information, if that is possible, than other history books. He is overwhelming. All the books I read, other than novels and fiction, I read with a highlighter in hand. In fact if I don’t have a highlighter I don’t read nonfiction. But in William Manchester’s historical accounts it seems that you could highlight every line - if you were so inclined - which would of course defeat the purpose of reading with a highlighter.
My purpose in highlighting is so that I can re-read any book at a later date without being forced to re-read every line and paragraph. I highlight to synopsize and turn a wordy tome into my personal notebook. Sometimes I do well and sometimes I don’t. I don’t do all that well with William Manchester because he is just too much.
Every time I pick up one of his books I end up re-reading the whole thing. And for some reason the man’s style is always able to keep my interest. I got a little bored with his Kennedy stuff and his book on Rockefeller was rather boring. But Churchill, Mac Arthur, Krupp and others were outstanding. And I enjoyed reading them not because I considered the author totally objective or entirely, accurate or all encompassing. I guess what I liked was the man’s style and passion. His feelings and intensity come through and not necessarily with his prejudices attached. He is just a good writer, plain and simple.
This set begins in the year 1932 with the Bonus Army marching on Washington D.C. When I picked up this set of books many years ago, I had never heard of the Bonus Army. It is a fascinating and tragic tale.
The year 1932 was “rock bottom” for America and the Great Depression. And that is how William begins - at the bottom. He even entitles his prologue “Rock Bottom”.
When I picked up this first volume I thought it was the most radical thing that I had ever read. I thought that the book contained every corruptible thing about America that had ever been written. But now I realize it is, more or less, plain old American History. Since that time I have read more and more corruptible things.
I think reading William Manchester’s account of things is what set me off on reading history. Many of the things that he said in his books I just couldn’t believe. So that sent me off hunting for the “truth”. On some things, like all historians, I didn’t think that William had the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. But upon verification I always found that if he didn’t have the whole truth, he had a good portion of it and was heading in the right direction.
William was a marine and served in the Pacific in WWII. He refused to become an officer - which has to say something for his character.
Clearly WWII affected William because after he got home and into college on the GI Bill he began studying all about why he had been where he was. He wrote about Rockefeller, Churchill, MacArthur and Krupp Industries. I was always waiting for a volume on Stalin but I guess he got sidetracked when his good friend John F. Kennedy got his political career going. The last book by Manchester that I read was about the Renaissance of all things and I found it to be fascinating - certainly one of his best.
These two American History volumes certainly are not all flag-waving and “Remember the Alamo”. They are loaded with stuff that really happened, that filled the newspapers of the day and made us all shake our heads sadly. On the lighter side we get to remember hula-hoops and John Wayne movies. Mr. Manchester calls these volumes “a Narrative History”. I interpret that to mean like a story-telling as opposed to a list of facts. It is certainly not preaching. It is obvious that this man is on a path to personal knowledge.
I have read both volumes and now reviewed them briefly but I still can’t tell you what the “story” is. It is an interesting story and a lot of fun to read but if it has a moral or a theme, I don’t know what it is. It is a funny story and it is a sad story. I guess the unhappy fact is that it is just a true story - with an opinion here and sarcasm there and maybe even a misinterpretation or two. It was truly an awesome endeavor.
From my point of view you have really got to admire these aspiring or established historians. The amount of research and work they do in order to accumulate all this information is just unbelievable! I’m impressed.