Rediscovering America

In the now-fashionable revisionist tradition, lawyer and architectural historian Roger Kennedy takes a fresh look at some of the major events of American history and at some lesser known occurrences that helped shape current political and social attitudes. The nineteen essays in REDISCOVERING AMERICA review the American Revolution, the Civil War, the age of industrial giants and harsh labor conditions before World War I, and the careers of several curious characters who populated the landscape of the country’s heartland in the nineteenth and early twentieth century.

In the first twelve chapters, Kennedy offers an analysis of each major region in the United States, trying to get beneath received opinion to see exactly how the people from the South, the Midwest, the Mid-Atlantic, New England, and other areas have contributed to the development of the unique nation of which they are a part. The last seven are given over to topics of which the author is fond— largely architectural and political—and from them emerge a strange panoply of heroes: Thomas Jefferson, architect Benjamin Latrobe, Midwest politicians Henry Hastings Sibley and Ignatius Donnelly, madcap Italian explorer Giacomo Beltrami (discoverer of the headwaters of the Mississippi in Minnesota), and Richard Mentor Johnson, Vice President of the United States from 1836 to 1840. The final essay is a riposte to historian Francis Parkman’s francophobic view of American history.

Throughout, Kennedy maintains an informal style that suggests a quiet conversation with a reader who is his equal rather than the sonorous lecturing of a professor indoctrinating his students. Hence, the book has much to offer the educated general reader who wishes to travel with Kennedy down the byways of American history.