Saturday, July 6, 2024

Review of A Renegade History of the United States by Thaddeus Russell

This book review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in: 
Book Club Event = Book List (12/07/2024)

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“The only thing that could make men forsake their own freedom and still believe they were free was self-rule.  A government of the people, John Adams argued, would make the people discipled, stern, hard working, and joyless – the qualities he most admired.” – Thaddeus Russell, Chapter 1: Drunkards, Laggards, Prostitutes, Pirates, And Other Heroes Of The American Revoluation, Page 39

“By then many Americans had subscribed to the philosophies of the Founding Fathers and had devoted themselves to the rigors of democratic life.  But despite the best efforts of the nation’s founders to train the people for self-governance, “decadence” and “vice” did not disappear in the early years of the republic.  Drinking increased.  The cities, with their saloons and prostitutes and illicit couplings, grew exponentially.  New, mass-produced goods introduced luxuries to common people.  Poor folk, even slaves, began to dress ostentatiously.  And many of the newly rich resembled the aristocracies of Europe.  Facilitating all of this vice was a new economic order that Adams, Jefferson, and most of the Founding Fathers feared.” – Thaddeus Russell, Chapter 1: Drunkards, Laggards, Prostitutes, Pirates, And Other Heroes Of The American Revoluation, Page 54

“Partly out of necessity, partly for independence, and partly from their devotion to the Protestant work ethic, the first American colonists eliminated many forms of leisure enjoyed by those who remained in England, including various folk dances, singing festivals, communal feasts and games, and scores of holidays.  Work only grew more intense in the eighteenth century, when patterns of labor moved from seasonal to continuous schedules in every part of the colonial economy.  By the start of the nineteenth century, most households had added manufacturing to their grueling agricultural production.” – Thaddeus Russell, Chapter 2: The Freedom Of Slavery, Page 63


Is This An Overview?

American political and moral elite have not thought kindly of the way everyone else behaved.  Too many vices, too much leisure, too irresponsible, too free.  External controls seemed to be too totalitarian, therefore the reformers such as the Founding Fathers wanted to replace them with internal controls.  Self-rule was meant to make people responsible.  As through democracy, would people have an interest in their own future, and therefore change their behavior. 


This is a history of America’s struggle for personal liberties, a moral clash in society.  As there were those trying to make people responsible, there were also those who wanted the freedom to do what they wanted.  These are the renegades.  Activist who changed culture by behaving the way they wanted to.  During a time of repression, renegades fought for various freedoms and made socially acceptable the behaviors that seemed repulsive.  They fought for: diverse entertainment in arts, dance, music, and movies; time away from work and the pursuit of leisure; racial and ethnic integration of establishments; sexual liberty to be with whom they wanted to be with no matter the race, ethnicity, or sex of the partner.  The renegades came from diverse backgrounds and diverse cultures, such as slaves, prostitutes, gangsters, African Americans, Jews, Irish, and Italian.  Renegades who were often mistreated by society, but changed the American culture. 



This book shares a host of socially sensitive topics.  Topics that could have been handled a bit more sensitively.  This book shares a diverse set of values that has changed American culture, but explanations of the events are sometimes given a too simple and one-sided narrative, without caveats.  For a book on renegades and diversity, there seems to be too much homogeneity in how the different sides treated others and were treated themselves.  

Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest this book?
•Who are the renegades?  
•How did drinking behavior change?
•How did marriage and sexual relations change?
•What occupations were women able to have? 
•How did women’s behavior change?
•What did the Founding Founders want of behavior? 
•Was there more freedom under monarchies or democracy?
•How to control people’s behavior?
•How did music of freedom develop?
•What kind of leisure did people want?
•How were slaves treated and how did the slaves respond to how they were treated?
•What was the problem with slavery?
•How did the treatment of children change?
•What did the Reconstruction era want of people’s behavior?
•Why did women become prostitutes? 
•How were the Puritans expected to behave? 
•How did the treatment of the Irish change? 
•How did the treatment of the Jews change?
•How did the treatment of the Italians change?
•How did the treatment of the African Americans change?
•What did the KKK want? 
•How were consumer markets developed? 
•Who were the heroes and enemies of the Prohibition era, 1919-1933?
•How did Las Vegas come to be?
•How did the movie industry change? 
•How much control did government have during the New Deal?
•How much of social life was control by the government during the Depression era?
•Did Americans want to participate in WW2?
•Who were the style hunters?

Book Details
Publisher:               Free Press [Simon & Schuster]
Edition ISBN:         9781416571094
Pages to read:          351
Publication:             2024
1st Edition:              2010
Format:                    eBook 

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    5
Content          5
Overall          5