Monday, August 18, 2008

Page Smith

Redeeming the Time

By Page Smith

Book Review

By Richard E. Noble

"Redeeming the Time" is volume 8 and the final volume in historian Page Smith's monumental work A People's History of America. I have yet to read all of the volumes entirely but I have completed several.
Volume 8 covers the 1920s through the death of Franklin Roosevelt. The book is over 1200 pages.
This period between the two World Wars is one of the most important periods of the last century.
The 1920's not only marked the end of World War I and the so called Roaring Twenties but the rise of Fascism and dictatorships all over the world. It was not only a turbulent time but a revolutionary time.
The labor movement was strong and controversial with its right, left and center all at adds. The women's movement was bursting, and then the stock market crash of 1929 followed by a decade of depression and poverty. All this tragedy then culminates in a Second World War There is no end to books written about this period. Mr. Smith does a wonderful job.
I marvel at the scope of some people's endeavors. This is quite an achievement for Mr. Smith. Obviously he had a very serious interest in the United States of America.
In reading this series there are many things that I would take issue with but there are so many things that I have learned or that I am now aware of that I had not known previously.
What this series tells me is that my quest to know the truth is endless and may be impossible.
"I have done my best to tell nothing but the truth..." states Mr. Smith in his final chapter but then as, can be expected, he qualifies his attempt. He continues by explaining the Historian; "He can rest secure in the knowledge that he has done his duty when he has done his best to tell what happened."
All historians try to tell us what happened but no historian is without a point of view.
There is no doubt in my mind that Mr. Smith admires Franklin Delano Roosevelt. There is no doubt in my mind that Mr. Smith has an opinion with regards to Sacco and Vanzetti or the validity of the American Revolution, or Communism or anarchism, or woman's right etc. There are many other areas where it is obvious what Mr. Smith thinks - sometimes he even tells you what he thinks. I have no problem with this. I find this to be the case with all historians and all writers for that matter. The difference is that the historian bolsters his opinions with facts. Mr. Smith has facts to support his ideas.
Overall I would say that this book was a very informative and objective analysis of the period covered.
This is a "People's History" but it is not a People's History in the same tone as Howard Zinn's "A People's History". This is a People's History because it tells you about a vast array of people in various areas of life and social class, that you may never have heard about. Many of these people were prominent in their day and their time, but in the vastness of history they all seem to get lost in the shuffle. It certainly takes more than a few well known people to make the history of any country. The Civil War for example was not simply a contest between Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee.
This book includes large numbers of the lesser known along with the famous names but it is more conservative than reactionary or revolutionary. It is nevertheless controversial in that it covers all the major radicals and discontents along with the mainstream and the established.
This series is eight individual, one thousand page volumes and now that I have finished most of it, what I have learned is that I have a lot more reading to do in the future. There is obviously no end to this learning business. I can only hope that I am getting smarter for the effort and not dumber - but I'm really not sure.
What I am finding out is that everything is more involved than I thought it to be. I still don't necessarily know when someone is telling the truth, historically speaking, but I often know when they are not or when they are being inaccurate or insincere. I suppose that can be considered gaining ground.
In reading all of this work by Page Smith I realize that we certainly don't agree or interpret our history exactly alike but I am more than confident that I have much more in agreement with Mr. Smith than I have in disagreement.
When I see and read a multi-volume work such as this, I wonder how many have actually read this man's lifetime effort? I also wonder who paid him to do it. Was this all an act of love or personal commitment and interest? What motivates a man to take up this kind of a challenge?
Once again as usual, I am very impressed.