Renegade History

This ultrarevisionist work is provocative, often interesting, and often preposterous. It appears to be a case of bottom-up history gone wild. The trend to view history from the standpoint of mass society is well established. Russell, a historian and journalist, has taken this approach much further. He asserts that the driving force behind many historical developments in history was provided by so-called marginalized groups outside the bounds of “respectable” society. So Russell provides a rapid run through some episodes and social movements in U.S. history, beginning with the meeting of the Second Continental Congress. His champions of liberty are not “respectable” men like Adams, Jefferson, and their ilk. Instead, he finds the real thirst for freedom among the drunkards, prostitutes, and slaves who mix socially and have “fun” in Philadelphia taverns. And so on through the abolitionist, feminist, and civil-rights struggles. Russell is hardly the first historian to notice the influence of the bottom of the social strata on culture, but his constant idealization of the lives of these “free” and “fun-loving” groups means readers should take everything with a heavy dose of skepticism. –Jay Freeman

Review 2

“It’s always fascinating spending time with a devil’s advocate, and Russell is one of the best. You’ll shout at this book endlessly, but you won’t be able to put it down, for it’s chock full of startling, upsetting, and entertaining anecdotes” –The Scotsman

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