Monday, June 17, 2024

Patriot Presidents: From George Washington to John Quincy Adams (William E. Leuchtenburg)

In Patriot Presidents: From George Washington to John Quincy Adams, author William E. Leuchtenburg highlights the first six presidents of the United States, each of whom charted a critical role and course in America's history as well as the office they were elected to. Leuchtenburg crafts his research into an effective narrative showing how the Presidency evolved over the first 40 years of the office after the Constitutional Convention in 1787.

The first six presidents were deeply involved in the American Revolution and sought to preserve its ideals. While they all had a different vision on how America should evolve, they each gradually changed the scope of how the president should function. However, each held strongly to the ideals of the Constitution without giving them too much executive power.

Patriot Presidents is an important read in discovering how America's executive branch changed over the early decades of America's history and how far the Office of the President has evolved since its formation in the late 18th Century.


Monday, June 10, 2024

The Deerfield Massacre: A Surprise Attack, a Forced March, and the Fight for Survival in Early America (James L. Swanson)

James L. Swanson has written several historical books, most notably Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer. Having read a few of Swanson's books in the past, I was looking forward to The Deerfield Massacre: A Surprise Attack, a Forced March, and the Fight for Survival in Early America. While the book is still a very good historical account of the town of Deerfield, I found myself learning more about the town and myth of Deerfield and its role in colonial history than I did about the massacre itself.

Deerfield was founded in the late 17th Century and was initially a frontier outpost in the Connecticut River Valley, with Native Americans populating much of the region to their west and north and coming into conflict with colonial settlers. A first attack of settlers and militia in 1675 nearly caused the area to be abandoned, but the town gradually resettled. Conflict between France and England in Europe spread into frontier areas separating French Canada and New England, helping lead to the attack by Native American and French forces in 1704.

Much of the book is devoted to the stories of Deerfield residents that survived the conflict, along with the town's history as shaped by the attack. Deerfield, along with many neighboring towns, have become more symbolic for heritage tourism in helping show what life was like in colonial times, perhaps a bit sanitized, but showing early American colonial life as a means of storytelling. 

As I said above, much of The Deerfield Massacre is about the town and those who were shaped by its place in history and less about the event itself. But Swanson does a good job of sharing why the town's evolution is important.


Monday, June 3, 2024

A History of Fake Things on the Internet (Walter Scheirer)

Conspiracy theories and "fake news" have long lurked in the shadows of our mainstream, even before the Internet was created in the late 20th Century. But this new creation allowed for a proliferation of fakery that has become an everyday part of our culture. In A History of Fake Things on the Internet, author Walter Scheirer discusses how technology has played a role in the advances of memes, deep fakes, and other falsehoods to the point where it's sometimes impossible to separate fact from fiction.

Hoaxes and fake imagery have a long history, predating modern computing, beginning in the 19th Century. As technology advanced and the ability to communicate electronic messages developed, sending out fake information became much easier. Creating memes, pranks, hoaxes, and hacks all gradually developed into small cottage industries, and soon bot farms and nations also engaged in the act of spreading false information.

Scheirer makes an effective argument that fake content is less the fault of advancing technology than it is human behavior. However, as technology continues to advance and AI especially continues to grow, the ability to rein in the crazy and imaginary will become ever more difficult.