Tuesday, December 30, 2014

David Krugler

David F. Krugler is Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin, Platteville. His new book is 1919, The Year of Racial Violence: How African Americans Fought Back.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Krugler's reply:
I’m just finishing reading two books, a novel and a work of nonfiction. The novel is a World War II spy thriller by the British author David Downing. Stettin Station (Soho Press, 2009) is part of a series featuring John Russell, a jaded but morally centered journalist. An American by birth, Russell considers himself British—he grew up in Great Britain—but he now lives in Berlin. The novel is set in November and December 1941. The Soviet Army has halted the German advance in the east, the Japanese are preparing for an attack on U.S. naval forces at Pearl Harbor. A combat veteran of the First World War, Russell abhors war, yet he cheers for U.S. entry into this global conflict so that the Nazis can be defeated all the sooner. Russell must tread a dangerous path. He loathes the Nazis, but he must report Joseph Goebbels’ ceaseless hokum in order to keep his credentials as a journalist. As a U.S. citizen, he can leave Germany, but what about his lover Effi, a German film star who shares his anti-Nazism, and his German-born teenage son Paul? Russell increases the risks by meeting secretly with German communists to find out what is happening to Germany’s Jews. What I really like about Stettin Station, and Downing’s other John Russell novels, is that his characters traverse a treacherous landscape in which all actions require constant compromise and the calibration of ‘lesser evils.’ To bond with his son, for example, Russell attends a Nazi military rally. It’s a testament to Downing’s skill as a novelist that we don’t condemn Russell for doing this but rather cheer his efforts to be a good, decent man in a place and time where so few good, decent people can be found.

The other book is by historian and journalist Jill Lepore: The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party’s Revolution and the Battle over American History (Princeton University Press, 2010). I’ve long been a fan of Lepore’s historical scholarship and her work for The New Yorker, so I picked up the book to see how she did in blending the two. Very well, it turns out. The Whites of Their Eyes follows Lepore as she attends and reports on numerous Tea Party rallies held in Boston starting in 2009. Lepore describes the grievances and concerns shared by the rally attendees and speakers, but her primary interest is in what was said about American history at these events. The Founding Founders were popular topics, as was the American Revolution. What concerns Lepore, as a historian, is inattention to historical context and the multiple, changing ways in which the United States has worked to create a more perfect union based on the principles of the Revolution. With that in mind, she frequently takes diversions from the present-day to the past to tell us how Americans since the Revolution have understood (and argued about) what it means to be an American and what a democracy should look like. Her historical review of voting practices and methods, for example, is especially insightful, as is her comparison of enduring myths about the Revolution with historical evidence and accounts. “What was the Revolution about? What is history for?” she muses in her epilogue. If you thought the answers to both questions were permanently fixed, by the end of the book you’ll likely think differently. But you’ll also believe the answers are worth finding.
Learn more about 1919, The Year of Racial Violence at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue