Attendant Cruelties: Nation and Nationalism in American History

Patrice Higonnet, Author . Harvard Univ. $25.95 (378p) ISBN 978-1-59051-235-7

This frustrating book offers an interpretation of American history as an enduring conflict between inclusionary and exclusionary impulses. Harvard's Higgonet (Paris: Capital of the World ) has his sights set on the Bush administration, which he places among the exclusionists—those who try to retard the incorporation of all peoples within the American dream. And he has no warmth for those who, like Theodore Roosevelt and Bush, accept as necessary the cruelties and costs attendant upon forging a nation and becoming a world power. Higgonet's broad knowledge of French history is on display as he emphasizes the telling absence in the United States of European anticlericalism and anticapitalism. But as a work of history serving as contemporary criticism, the book largely fails. Yes, the nation's history has been marked by shifting attitudes—inclusionary during the Civil War era, exclusionary for the first third of the 20th century. But that binary division scarcely exhausts the complexities of our history. Higgonet's scheme will appeal to those who want their national history to conform to a lazy, contemporary kind of feel-good liberalism. But few readers will be challenged to think afresh about their country's past. (June 19)

Reviewed on: 04/02/2007
Release date: 06/01/2007
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