The Textual Vibe

The Textual Vibe

The Last Innocent Year:
America in 1964:
The Beginning of the “Sixties”
by Jon Margolis
William Morrow & Company, 1999 401 pp $25

I have been thinking a lot, lately, about what it is history professors do, what journalists who write history do, and what the difference is. Recently, I wrote a profile of the Stanford historian David Kennedy, whose Freedom From Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945 is the most recent volume in the monumental Oxford History of the United States series. Two of the rare historians who enjoyed the esteem both of their professional community and the common reader, Richard Hofstadter and C. Vann Woodward, around 1960, endeavored to institutionalize their accomplishment by commissioning major synthetic treatments of American history that married gripping narrative to scholarly rigor. Kennedy’s volume is a masterpiece, fulfilling in every way Hofstadter and Woodward’s grand vision—delightful enough to take to the beach; rigorous enough to turn to for reference in any dozen topics in financial, social, diplomatic, military, cultural, and legal history. Freedom From Fear is the series’ fourth book. The history profession so militates against producing scholars willing and able to write this way, a ninety-year-old C. Vann Woodward told me when I reached him by phone, that he doesn’t expect to live to witness the publication of another volume in the series.

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