David Detzer’s new book “Dissonance” completes his trilogy about those fateful weeks and months of 1861, when the American republic was beginning to tear apart.
No one knows for certain who first uttered the notorious statement that “the only good Indian is a dead Indian.” General Philip Sheridan, commander of the U.S. Army on the Western Frontier, often gets the dubious honor for a remark he reputedly made to a Comanche chief in 1869.
Academics often say that there are two ways to use history: As a means to understand the past, or as a means to understand the present.
“It seems to have been universal throughout North America. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, abductions by Indians were common along the eastern seaboard, especially in colonial Massachusetts and Virginia. A large number of those children also came to prefer the natives’ way of life.”
Museums are designed – and public museums are mandated – to act as the stewards of the nation’s or a city’s heritage. The New York Public Library failed dismally in this respect, a failure only eclipsed by the National Gallery, which quite frankly is serving as the bagman for the theft of public art treasures from New York City and Philadelphia.
The hard truth, impossible to dodge, is that this is not Tolstoy’s world. It is more like Hugo Cabret’s world, and from time to time it even flirts perilously with becoming Baz Luhrmann’s world. Tom Stoppard’s script, though consistently bright and entertaining, abridges the story painfully to fit the stylish construct.
Whether one approaches Keats’ life by reading a biography or by the direct study of his poems, there is no escaping the fact that he was obsessed by the nature and effect of beauty in its various forms. He was also haunted by death, the sheer, undeniable, inescapable physical annihilation that awaits each of us, sooner or later. In the case of Keats, death occurred much, much too soon.
As expected, Day-Lewis breathes life into Abraham Lincoln. And, as expected, he’s fantastic to watch, even if this isn’t a “call the Academy Award race for Best Actor over!” performance. From his work alone, Day-Lewis gives a humility and humanity to the ex-President that the script by Tony Kushner simply cannot achieve.
The determination to end slavery may not have figured initially as a Union war aim for most of the young men in Blue who did the fighting and dying. But Masur quotes from numerous soldier letters and diaries to prove that many Union troops were horrified by the conditions that they found in the south, particularly the enslavement of children fathered by their own “masters.”
The course of Curtis’ campaign to document the lives and life style of the Native American peoples is related by Egan with considerable detail and page-turning élan. There were plenty of incidents of physical ordeal and, in some cases, real danger. An Apache medicine man who divulged secrets of his tribe’s religious practices died under suspicious circumstances shortly after Curtis left the reservation. That fate might well have befallen Curtis…
As the 1860’s ended, the steadily growing numbers of Chinese immigrants led to fears that eventually their numbers would outstrip those of California’s white population. And the Chinese themselves became more “Americanized” in their response to insults, assaults and robbery attempts. As attacks by Anglos and Latinos escalated and as factional fighting grew in their own ranks, Chinese in California increasingly armed themselves with Colt 45s. Increasingly, they began to shoot back.
Her measured and elegant style does indeed evoke Austen, and the grace of the writing makes the book all the more chilling. With pitiless clarity, Jenkins limns the process of self-deception by which four people, for the most ordinary of motives, bring themselves to commit murder by deliberate neglect.
Constable’s approach to landscape painting, however, was far more than an exercise in nostalgia. Instead, he rooted his appreciation of nature in the “here and now” of everyday life. Through paintings like Hampstead Heath, Branch Hill Pond, Constable presented scenes of human beings interacting with nature, not despoiling it. With these works, he bequeathed a sense of the precious nature of the world around us, in whatever age and place we call home.