Friday, March 22, 2019

Historian makes difference: Grandin's End of the Myth

“The End of the Myth” has a shadow theme. How is it, Grandin wants to know, that the symbol of America was once a boundless, beckoning frontier and today is a dark and forbidding wall?
That is from the New York Times review of The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America by Greg Grandin, history professor at New York University, previously the author of the prize-winning Fordlandia and other books on large themes.  This new book seems really to have touched a nerve, presenting a large, sensitive, plausible interpretation of where the United States of Donald Trump stands today, based on a profound historical understanding of where it has come from.

The Toronto writer Rick Salutin writes today:
I had an older friend, dead many years now, who spent the chaotic 1940s in China. That decade there blended revolution, civil war, a war with Japan and World War Two. He said that once, hiding under a bridge as bombs exploded all around, he came upon a pamphlet that illuminated the pandemonium. It actually made sense of it, and he felt grateful.
I feel this way about Greg Grandin’s recent, End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America. I don’t think I’ve marked and highlighted a book as much since my undergrad days, when far too many volumes looked like that.
Can history enlighten us in difficult times?  Yeah, maybe, sometimes. And this Guardian review of Tim Mackintosh-Smith's Arabs: A 3000 Year History may be drawing to our attention another example.

Speaking of Arabs, Toronto's Aga Khan Museum this week opens an exhibit marking the fiftieth anniversary of the moon landings. What's that got to do with a museum of Middle Eastern and Islamic history and culture, you want to say at first glance.

It is the moon, dummy, you think only the West looks at the moon? Evidently the exhibit is a remarkable exploration of the moon in Islamic science, art, and culture over the millennia.  The Aga Khan's ability to startle and reorient makes it the best museum in Toronto over and over.

[Full disclosure: haven't read either book or seen the exhibit. Not yet, anyway.]
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