The March of Democracy, Vol. I: The Rise of the Union

The March of Democracy, Vol. I: The Rise of the Union, by James Truslow Adams [Scribners, $3.50]
EFFORTS to render American history palatable to the general reader continue. In the after flush of war-time prosperity one publisher found it rewarding to woo the interest of the lay public with a set of fifty volumes. More recently, another publisher has been content to try his luck with An Hour of American History. Mr. Adams, sensing perhaps that upswing toward prosperity so well advertised in the presidential hustings, makes his contribution in the form of two volumes, the second to be issued early in 1933. Mr. Adams’s earlier writings in the field have been so provocative in point of view and engaging in style that a new work from his pen rightly excites high expectations. It is therefore a matter for regret that in both these respects the present volume is disappointing. Dealing with the period from Christopher Columbus to John Brown, he offers a sober, methodical, and, on the whole, quite conventional account of American development. Flashes of vivid writing are few and far between, and he is not incapable of mixing several metaphors in the same sentence. There are many inaccuracies in details; and while these do no damage to his treatment of larger movements and events, it seems unduly careless to imply, for instance, that Algiers and Tripoli are in Europe (258), or to say
that Ticknor, Prescott, Motley, Parkman, Hildreth, and Bancroft were little concerned ‘for the most part with American history outside of their own provincial section’ (333)—an assertion which his own evidence contradicts. The impression of haste in composition is further sustained by the careless proofreading. One cannot help being disturbed by the thought that that commercialization of artistic and scientific effort which Mr. Adams has condemned in his criticisms of American civilization is only too patent in this product of his own pen. It is but fair to add that, despite these shortcomings, he has succeeded in telling his story clearly and with a ruthless excision of unnecessary detail. The illustrations, many of them contemporaneous with the events depicted, add to the value of the work.