If there is a better purpose for an academic blog than to make lists of must-have books and dents in your Amazon budget, I am not aware of it. As the first of what I hope will be an annual tradition, here are ten of my favorite books from the past 12 months. It is obvious that I have particular interests and tastes (early republic, religion, politics), but I tried to expand my comfort zone and include a few titles from other fields. So if you are looking for books you may have missed, need a reminder for books you still need to buy, or require evidence to present to your significant other, you have come to the right place.
(Placing any of these books on your holiday book list, of course, assumes that you have already purchased this year’s “must have” gift for early Americanists, the Aaron Burr/Alexander Hamilton duel t-shirt, seen to the right.)
Todd Andrlik, Reporting the Revolutionary War: Before It Was History, It Was News (Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, 2012).
- This may be my favorite coffee-table history book. A collection of newspaper coverage on the American Revolution which also includes some expert commentary, it is both a fun way to get people excited about history as well as an entertaining read for those who have read more than their fair share.
Bernard Bailyn, The Barbarous Years: The Peopling of British North America: The Conflict of Civilizations, 1600-1675 (New York: Knopf, 2012).
- I hope I can be productive when I am ninety. The most recent offering in Bailyn’s “Peopling” project, this is a readable and well-researched discussion of America in the 17th century. Make sure to read Richard Bernstein’s review/overview of the book here.
Catherine A. Brekus, Sarah Osborn’s World: The Rise of Evangelical Christianity in Early America (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013).
- Ok, so I haven’t read this yet–it was just released last week–but I’ve long looked forward to it, and the article that preceded the book was excellent, so I’m making the assumption that the book will be one of my favorites.
Nicole Eustace, 1812: War and the Passions of Patriotism (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012).
- My dissertation deals with nationalism, so of course I was interested in this book. But I was blown away with how much I enjoyed it. I loved how Eustace balanced national allegiances and local experience, and the subtle approach to depicting nationalism as a practice rather than a coherent identity was close to my own approach (and thus brilliant). While I would quibble with a few of her methods and conclusions, this was a fun and informative read. Highly recommended.
Linford D. Fisher, The Indian Great Awakening: Religion and the Shaping of Native Cultures in Early America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).
- Don’t make the mistake of thinking this is solely a book of religious history. Rather, this is a fascinating look at the porous relationship between Indians and the English settlers from the 1670s and the 1820s. It depicts native populations as agents sometimes using cultural ties for their own use, and repelling them at others in attempt for autonomy. The Great Awakening, and the complex networks created therein, was just one method used to examine such an important topic.
Christopher Hodson, The Acadian Diaspora: An Eighteenth-Century History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).
- Could I be listing Hodson’s work because he was one of my undergraduate mentors and remains one of my favorite people? Perhaps. But this is also an amazingly well-written story that maintains a gripping narrative while still offering smart analysis. A perfect example of using a seemingly small subject to tell a much broader story.
Jill Lepore, The Story of America (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012).
- While all but one essay in this collection has been published elsewhere, and it has become somewhat fashionable to turn a skeptical eye toward Lepore’s popular writing, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I think Lepore is one of, if not the, best writer in the field, and these essays demonstrate her wit and analysis. I am very excited for her biography of Jane Mecom, due out this next year.
Amanda Porterfield, Conceived in Doubt: Religion and Politics in the New American Nation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012).
- Especially helpful because it dovetailed with a project I was working on this last year, Porterfield’s book is both rich in analysis and broad in evidence. Conceived in Doubt is a useful critique of Nathan Hatch’s thesis in Democratization of American Christianity, and I think one could fruitfully assign both books to a course as a means to explore how a different framework can make the same period and same people look very, very different.
James D. Rice, Tales from a Revolution: Bacon’s Rebellion and the Transformation of Early America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).
- I love reception histories. I also love works in memory. So naturally, I loved this book.
Brett Rushforth, Bonds of Alliance: Indigenous and Atlantic Slaveries in New France (Chapel Hill: UNC Press for Omohundro Institute, 2012).
- Though I (unfortunately) never took a class from him, Brett taught at BYU while I was an undergrad, and I have long respected both him and his work. But that’s not the only reason I like the book. Other reasons include his provocative (and I think, pursuasive) challenge to Richard White’s “middle ground” thesis, his subtle and sophisticated analysis of indian difference, and his (sometime implicit, sometimes explicit) argument that France’s role in “Atlantic history” has been undervalued. His book-in-progress on the French Atlantic world, written with Chris Hodson, should be on everyone’s forthcoming list.
What were your favorite books from 2012?
Excellent list, Mr. Park. I would like to second your selection of Todd Andrlik’s Reporting the Revolutionary War. It’s not an academic book, though it has excellent essays by academics. That said, it has a flat-out beautiful layout and design. Best of all, it’s full of eighteenth-century newspapers! As someone who has worked pretty extensively with the newspapers from this period, it’s exciting that some of them are now available to the general reading public, especially with the context that the book, in general, and essays, in particular, provided.
I would also add:
Bremer, Francis J. First Founders: American Puritans and Puritanism in an Atlantic World. Durham: University of New Hampshire Press, 2012. An excellent new synthesis of Puritans and seventeenth-century Massachusetts.
Hruschka, John. How Books Came to America: The Rise of the American Book Trade. State College: Penn State University Press, 2012. A brief but interesting look at the mechanics of book production and bookselling in early America.
Millner, Michael. Fever Reading: Affect and Reading Badly in the Early American Public Sphere. New Hampshire, 2012. A very interesting look at salacious reading material that reminds us that not all early Americans read only the Bible and their local newspaper.
Stanton, Lucia C. “Those Who Labor for My Happiness”: Slavery at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. Charlottesville: Thomas Jefferson Foundation Miscellaneous, 2012. This is the book everyone should be reading instead of “Master of the Mountain.
Stout, Harry S. The New England Soul: Preaching and Religious Culture in Colonial New England. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. A new look at the more public aspects of religion in early New England that acts as an effective complement to Bremer’s book.
Finally, while this book is technically from 2011, there is no more useful book you can buy for a junior early Americanist than Alfred F. Young and Gregory Nobles’ Whose American Revolution Was it?: Historians Interpret the Founding.
I would hasten to add that all of your readers should check out Anne F. Hyde’s Empires, Nations, Families: A New History of the North American West, 1800-1860 and Mark Fiege’s The Republic of Nature. Both are essential.
I can do without Lepore’s condescending emissions from Cambridge. I guess the turning point for me was when she took the opportunity of Howard Zinn’s death to dance on his grave and congratulate herself for her superior wisdom and insight in The New Yorker
This may seem like a small piece, but I really enjoyed Michael Nicholls’ “Whispers of Rebellion” for a “definitive” look at Gabriel’s Rebellion.
Fun list, Ben. There’s some good stuff on here I haven’t read yet and need to. Also, I second Zack’s recommendation of Nicholls’ work.
My two suggestions: William Hogeland, Founding Finance. Written with a more popular audience in mind, but has perhaps the best explanation of what Hamilton was trying to achieve with his financial plans that I’ve come across (I expect to be using that part in class a fair amount).
Patrick Griffin, America’s Revolution. Still making my way through it, but it’s an excellent portrayal of the complicated shift from British to American identity.
I’m honored to be on your list, Ben. Thank you. Best wishes to “The Junto” in 2013.
Great list, I’d also recommend Brian Steele’s Thomas Jefferson and American Nationhood (Cambridge)
My “book” reading has slowed down considerably since quals, but I would definitely second Bailyn, Porterfield and Rice, and thank Benjamin Park for the other fantastic recommendations.
Thanks for the comments, everyone, especially those who added books from their own lists!