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Book Review of: The Anxious Years

America in the Vietnam-Watergate Era

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Review of The Anxious Years, by Kim McQuaid (Hardcover, 1989)

(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you want a hardcopy)

Reviewer: Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.

This is an outstanding historical work.

Full disclosure: I decided to read this book after coming across a news item about Dr. McQuaid in my alma mater's newsletter. Dr. McQuaid, Professor Emeritus, teaches history there. I don't know him, so have no "horse in this race" other than what I've just mentioned. I am pleased that he produced such a fine work.

I grew up in the Vietnam era and lived through Watergate. So everything covered in this book has a special significance to me. Before reading The Anxious Years, I was concerned that the author would not meet my need for accuracy (I guess I was a little anxious). That fear was never realized. This book was exhaustively and properly researched. This is evident not only in the bibliography but also where it most counts--in the writing itself.

Another concern I had was the author would interpret events through a liberal or statist lens, skewing everything. That's the pattern that occurs in most historical works, thus rendering them suspect at best and fiction at worst. That did not happen, here.

One problem with historical works is a mere assembly or recitation of facts and events can bore a reader almost to tears. You need some kind of framework for it to make sense, and for the narrative to flow. Thus, the writer must editorialize without sacrificing accuracy or editorial integrity. Where McQuaid editorialized, he did so with no particular rhetorical or political agenda. Instead, his comments helped the reader keep events in context and to understand their meaning.

The book comes alive with detail. I found myself recalling news images as I read. For those who were born after this time, I think McQuaid's vivid portrayal of events will help you get an emotional feel for what the nation went through. It's one thing to read a dry account, but quite another to virtually experience history as it unfolds in the text.

McQuaid looks at root causes and fundamental issues, in addition to the major events, of the Vietnam-Watergate era. He does this in an unbiased, fair way that helps the reader accurately interpret a tumultuous and humiliating period of American history. I used "humiliating" rather than "humbling" because the same hubris at work then is at work today. I don't think actual humbling took place.

Something that struck me early on in the book is that, with a few changes in names and places, this book could have described most of the subsequent presidencies. I'd be fascinated to read Dr. McQuaid's take on subsequent events, but that is obviously outside the scope of this book. However, I think the lessons we can learn from the analysis provided are timeless.

On the inside jacket cover, there's a blurb stating this book has "some useful lessons for the future." Apparently, those lessons went unheeded. Those who fail to understand history are doomed to repeat it. A serious reading of a book like this is helpful to any citizen who cares about the future.

The main text of this book consists of four Parts spanning 305 pages:

  • Part One. 1968: Things Fall Apart.
  • Part Two. Vietnam, Incorporated.
  • Part Three. The New Left and Afterward.
  • Part Four. Watergate.

This is followed by the Epilogue: Learning Lessons, Repeating Mistakes. It's in the epilogue where the author shifts from explanation to interpretation. This is tricky ground for any historian, and it's where most slip and fall. Dr. McQuaid handled this adroitly. At no point did I feel talked down to, betrayed as a reader, or preached to. It just came across as a good summary that made meaning of what preceded it.

The book was written in 1989. That was not long after Reagan's Iran-Contra Affair. If there was a political agenda in this book, it would be commentary on that issue. But I didn't see that commentary as being agenda-driven. All of the points raised were fair and substantiated.

While it's true I like historical works in general, I like this one in particular. It's well-written, accurate, and instructive. While my reading of it is a couple of decades late, I still feel better off for having read it. I recommend that readers pick up this work and also consider other works by Dr. McQuaid.




About these reviews

You may be wondering why the reviews here are any different from the hundreds of "reviews" posted online. Notice the quotation marks?

I've been reviewing books for sites like Amazon for many years now, and it dismays me that Amazon found it necessary to post a minimum word count for reviews. It further dismays me that it's only 20 words. If that's all you have to say about a book, why bother?

And why waste everyone else's time with such drivel? As a reader of such reviews, I feel like I am being told that I do not matter. The flippancy of people who write these terse "reviews" is insulting to the authors also, I would suspect.

This sound bite blathering taking the place of any actual communication is increasingly a problem in our mindless, blog-posting Webosphere. Sadly, Google rewards such pointlessness as "content" so we just get more if this inanity.

My reviews, contrary to current (non) standards, actually tell you about the book. I always got an "A" on a book review I did as a kid (that's how I remember it anyhow, and it's my story so I'm sticking to it). A book review contains certain elements and has a logical structure. It informs the reader about the book.

A book review may also tell the reader whether the reviewer liked it, but revealing a reviewer's personal taste is not necessary for an informative book review.

About your reviewer

  • Books are a passion of mine. I read dozens of them each year, plus I listen to audio books.
  • Most of my "reading diet" consists of nonfiction. I think life is too short to use your limited reading time on material that has little or no substance. That leads into my next point...
  • In 1990, I stopped watching television. I have not missed it. At all.
  • I was first published as a preteen. I wrote an essay, and my teacher submitted it to the local paper.
  • For six years, I worked as an editor for a trade publication. I left that job in 2002, and still do freelance editing and authoring for that publication (and for other publications).
  • No book has emerged from my mind onto the best-seller list. So maybe I'm presumptuous in judging the work of others. Then again, I do more describing than judging in my reviews. And I have so many articles now published that I stopped counting them at 6,000. When did I stop? Probably 20,000 articles ago! (It's been a while).
  • I have an engineering degree and an MBA, among other "quant" degrees. That helps explain my methodical approach toward reviews.
  • You probably don't know anybody who has made a perfect or near perfect score on a test of Standard Written English. I have. So, a credential for whatever it's worth.

About reading style

No, I do not "speed read" through these. That said, I do read at a fast rate. But, in contrast to speed reading, I read everything when I read a book for review.

Speed reading is a specialized type of reading that requires skipping text as you go. Using this technique, I've been able to consistently "max out" a speed reading machine at 2080 words per minute with 80% comprehension. This method is great if you are out to show how fast you can read. But I didn't use it in graduate school and I don't use it now. I think it takes the joy out of reading, and that pleasure is a big part of why I read.

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