Thursday, February 13, 2014

Choice Review of The Cult of Individualism

Choice, a publication of the American Library Association, publishes 'postcard reviews' for use by academic libraries. The point is to give a quick overview of the book, an idea of the appropriate audience, and a sense of whether the book can be useful to any particular library. I write reviews for Choice and love doing so, even with its limitations in size and purpose. The word limit, for example, prevents grandstanding by a reviewer and forces her or him to aim for a succinct description. Taking to heart the old saw, best expressed by Mark Twain as “I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead,” reviewers are
expected to put time and care into these pieces, not just dash them off.

What I like best, however, is that Choice surprises me each time a book arrives. Each has related to my areas of experience and expertise, certainly, but none has been a book I would likely pick up on my own. I don't have to accept any assignment--if a book is just too awful, I can simply ask to be excused--but I have never had to do so. In each case, I have learned something; in one case, I ended up using the book as a source in a book of my own.

The latest issue of Choice contains its review of that book, The Cult of Individualism: A History of an Enduring American Myth. It is by an emeritus professor of history at Brooklyn College named Robert Muccigrosso and, for me, it creates a model of what a Choice review should be, a model I hope my own reviews live up to.

Muccigrosso begins by referring to Rodney Dangerfield's "I can't get no respect" as an apt description of my subject, the Scots-Irish "Borderers." He writes:
Despised and derided both in the Old World and the New, these mostly poor and uneducated uprooted Protestants brought with them their anger, a serious distrust of authority, and an abiding sense of the strength of individual endeavor.
That's it, as it should be, in a nutshell. Muccigrosso ends with this:
This book provides a sensible plea to include the Borderer experience more fully into the national heritage for the benefit of all. 
If that ever happens--and happens in small part because of my book--I will be extremely happy.

No comments: