Freedom: A History of US
Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, 2002/2003.
£30.00/$40.00, 406 pages, ISBN 0-19-515711-7.
SUNY Oswego, Oswego NY
Joy Hakim has achieved a marvelous thing in her series of books about American
History: literate, interesting writing about what is usually considered a dull
subject. The latest of that series, Freedom: A History of US fulfills
the promise of the earlier books. It is a gorgeous thing from its richly-colored,
embossed dust jacket to its excellent selection of illustrations. Ms. Hakim
has been a newspaper writer, editor, and elementary school teacher. She holds
degree in government from Smith College and a masters degree in education
from Goucher College.
Believing that to find the story in a subject is to discover its essence, (Dust
jacket) Hakim has retold American History through stories of its various peoples.
She outlines the larger issues such as the American Revolution, then proceeds
to bring them alive by telling stories of individuals. Additionally, the book
is lavishly illustrated with pictures, cartoons, photos, newspaper ads, billboards,
all period pieces. The text is full of sidebars that tell stories of various
historical figures such as James Forten, an African American who fought on
an American privateer during the Revolution.
One of the best things about this book is its truthfulness.
Hakim explores the issues that have troubled our nation
since its inception. Regarding the
she rightfully points out that when the framers said We the People, they
didnt mean all the people. They didnt mean women, Native Americans,
or those enslaved (38). And yet she points out that the Founders, though
idealistic, were also practical and that they knew they were writing for the
future: those three small words, we the people, were powerful;
they would keep pushing the nation to include all peoples (38). The ways in
which our country has responded over its history to those three small words
the book as Hakim explores their ramifications.
The history of the Civil War is covered in depth in War, Terrible War,
an earlier volume. The war and its causes are presented here because
it is the pivotal moment, thus far, of our nations history and could not be
left out. But Hakim balances it with an honest look at the Industrial Revolution
its effects on the pre-Civil War culture and economy. The cotton gin, the steamboat,
and the Erie Canal are presented along with an overview of American trade and
its growing textile industry. All these factors come together in the lead up
to the Civil War. Additionally, Hakim gives us a clear picture of the first
wave of feminists and their attempt to gain rights for women in the 1840s and
Under all these seemingly unconnected histories lies the connection
of the Constitution and its greatness. As she guides
us through a chronological
history of the United
States, she uses the Constitution as her main stream, detouring into
the tributaries of womens rights, Civil Rights, immigration, the Red Scare, the Scopes
Monkey Trial. She is more than fair to Lyndon Johnson, crediting him with the
tremendous contribution he made to the Civil Rights movement and perhaps being
exceedingly more than fair on his role in the Vietnam War. Very late in the
book, Hakim address the right to protest, covering not only Civil Rights but
rights of women in the second wave of feminism, the rights of migrant workers
and native peoples. She always returns to the Constitution as a way of charting
the maturation of the people of the United States in relation to a document
they were in their infancy not prepared to fully understand.
It is a brilliant scheme and it is lovingly accomplished. I
have a minor quibble. She writes in the present tense,
in a rhetorical attempt
and to involve the reader, I would guess. Still if one of the aims
of the book is to present history, which is always in the past, the
that reality. Hakim believes that people learn best from stories
and sets out to present our complex history through the
medium of telling
a story. Overall,
I love this book and the series of those that came before. It is
thoroughly documented and includes a copy of the Constitution.
the book provides
an excellent overview of the United States struggle with its past
and how we have, at least until now, been protected from
the worst excesses
character by the Constitution.