Encyclopedic Knowledge and Rapier Wit

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Woods' new best-seller, 33
Questions About American History You're Not Supposed to Ask
is a blockbuster. Here, the author of such works as The
Politically Incorrect Guide to American History
his burgeoning status as the cleanup hitter of popular libertarian

For those
familiar with Woods' work, the encyclopedic knowledge and rapier
wit on display here will come as no surprise. How fresh, invigorating,
and just plain fun it is, however, to see him turn his gifts to
some of the reigning misconceptions, distortions, and just plain
idiocies pock-marking popular (and, in many cases, scholarly) understanding
of the past.

So, for
example, one of the chapters of 33 Questions considers the
question whether Herbert Hoover really sat back and did nothing
during the Great Depression. The answer, developed in dismaying
detail, is "Alas, no!" Far from letting the American economy
recover from the government-induced disequilibrium that brought
on the Depression, Hoover took several steps to artificially prop
up wages in various sectors, for example, which could only make
the situation worse.

response to the Great Depression was not so destructively interventionist
as that of his successor, Franklin Roosevelt, then, but Hoover should
be "credited" with being bad enough; and, of course, for
reasons exactly opposite those developed in the standard history
textbook, in the popular media, and by Doris Kearns Goodwin on NPR
and PBS.

randomly-selected chapter of this book is in response to the question
"Did Bill Clinton really stop a genocide in Kosovo?" Anyone
who depended for information solely on run-of-the-mill American
newspapers or newsmagazines or on American TV in the 1990s will
instantly respond "Yes, and thank God for Bill Clinton!"

But the
answer is "No, there was FAR more ethnic cleansing after Clinton's
intervention than before. And the people Clinton helped in the Balkans
did not exactly turn out to be friends of the United States."
(I will not spoil the surprises here, but the two chapters on American
intervention in the former Yugoslavia are among the book's finest.)

considers various other shibboleths of the Left (that Franklin Roosevelt
ended the Depression, for example) and the Right (that Martin Luther
King, Jr., favored non-discrimination, to take one illustration)
in due time. Some of his chapters (such as the one on the debt American
workers supposedly owe to the union movement, say, or the one on
the "wildness" of the "Wild, Wild West") are
non-partisan, as they deal with myths that virtually everyone in
government, the media, and academia — not to mention the general
population — accepts. He explodes them all. And, again, what FUN
it all is!

Tom Bethell
says on the dusk jacket that, "Every chapter taught me something
new and unexpected." The same goes for me.

23, 2007

R. C. Gutzman, J.D., Ph.D. [send
him mail
], Associate Professor of History at Western Connecticut
State University, is the author of The
Politically Incorrect Guide to the Constitution

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