Monday, February 22, 2010

Review: A Century Turns: New Hopes, New Fears

So, what were you doing in 1989? 

I was a newly hired Delta Air Lines corporate ladder-climber, wielding a recent MBA, marriage license and a brand-new baby boy.  I was (and still am) a Catholic, conservative and Republican (in that order). It was the dawn of a new decade, the last of the 20th century and we all had hopes and fears for the country.

For the next 20 years America would experience bad times and good times -- Iraq and Katrina, housing booms and economic busts, deaths of amazing people and births of children saved from abortion, technology advances beyond anyone's imagining.  Our country would move from a white conservative president to a black liberal president with little social upheaval, something that would be considered a miracle in any other country but the US!

But what do we really know about those 20 years -- other than we now have blogs, Wii, text-messaging, and higher national debt and a recession?  Read William J. Bennett's latest, A Century Turns: New Hopes, New Fears, and you will get a very good picture of how we got from there to here, and even a glimpse of where we're headed. 

This is actually volume three of Bennett's American history series titled America: The Last Best Hope .  But this one shifts a bit from the previous two:  Volume 1 and 2 of the series deal with the times 1492-1914 and then 1914-1989.  Dr. Bennett was personally involved in just a bit of the history-making of the last part of volume 2, but very actively involved in the events of the next two decades.  In volume 3 we are given his own personal thoughts and remembrances of the past 20 years in light of American history and politics. 

Dr. Bennett, who held various government jobs (including head of the Department of Education under Ronald Reagan from 1985-88) and currently acts as the Washington Fellow of the Claremont Institute, is a noted conservative Republican who has a great love and interest in American history  and politics; further he wants to ensure that all Americans understand where we were and where we're going.   Because of his life experience, particularly as a Washington insider during the 20 years of this book, the reader gets a clear understanding of not just what happened but why and what it all means.  Now, Bennett's world-view is from a conservative (some would say, extremely conservative) viewpoint and yet his book attempts to give credit (or blame) where it is due, no matter which side of the aisle. 

From Bush Senior's one-term presidency, to the morally-questionable two terms of Clinton, through the war years and domestic issues of Bush Junior's two-terms to the eve of an American president who is not only African-American but is also a fairly unknown quantity in Washington circles (he was serving his first Senate term when he ran for election).  This book reads like a novel.  The writing is excellent, highly readable and informative.

The subtitle of this book is quite appropriate: new hope and new fears.  For the past 20 years we've seen the hope of new technologies which make our lives better and the fears of some of these technologies; we've seen the hope of new democracies and the fear of terrorism; we've lived through the hopes of housing booms and the fear of economic downturns.  And yet, we're still America ... we're still here and working through our problems and celebrating our successes.  As Bennett ends his book on the eve of Obama's first term in the White House ... yes, there is fear but there is a strong hope in the future.

One thing I didn't like about this book was whenever the conservative politicians would err, Bennett always seemed to have a footnote that mentioned he was against the event and warned the person.  Hind-sight is ALWAYS 20-20 and Bennett loses a little credibility in mentioning these, whether they're true or not.  Also, I thought his discussion of Obama's meteoric rise to the White House was a bit soft on information or analysis.  Other than those issues, I would recommend this book strongly to all American citizens who want to understand our Country's last 20 years!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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