Book Reviews

Teaching Social Studies Summer/Fall 2018

Book ReviewsUSA-NYC-Jersey_Historic_Train_Station_cropVisit our website, www.njcss.org to download the pdf file of our Teaching Social Studies Journal.  You can also become a member of the NJCSS for only $35 and gain access to our archives of previous journal articles.

Joe Clement and Matt Miles, Screen Schooled (Review by Margaret Crocco)

Here are just a few examples of the alarming research they present: A study that found that children who have more than “one to two hours per day of screen time show a 50 percent increase in psychological disorders” (p. 149); A study showing that “a person’s ability to develop friendships is biologically diminished the more he or she replaces face-to-face human interaction with screen interaction” (p. 150); Read more…

Harriet Hyman Alonso and Elizabeth Zunon, Martha and the Slave Catchers

Martha and the Slave Catchers was written for middle grade children and is a story of the effects of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 on the lives of two children living in the northeastern area of Connecticut. Here is a brief synopsis of the tale: Danger lurks in every corner of almost fourteen-year-old Martha Bartlett’s life—and all because her mama and papa, agents of the Underground Rail-road in Liberty Falls, Connecticut, decide to claim as their own the orphan of a runaway slave who died in their attic hideaway. They name him Jake.
After the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 is enacted, two hired slave catchers, Will and Tom, kidnap Jake and take him south to the plantation of Robert Dawes. Always ambivalent about her demanding, mischievous, and learning impaired brother, Martha nonetheless feels guilty about his disappearance. Read more…

Alan Singer, New York’s Grand Emancipation Jubilee, by Mary Liz Stewart

This foundational principle ties together the essay topic choices and their content in Alan Singer’s newest book New York’s Grand Emancipation Jubilee published in May 2018 by SUNY Press. This sequel to New York and Slavery: Time to Teach the Truth, published by SUNY Press in 2008, is an engaging, hard to put down collection of essays that had a previous life as panel and workshop presentations and as articles prepared for academic journals. Revised and collected together in one volume, they offer an eye-opening, critical examination of slavery, resistance, abolition, emancipation, race and public memory from a New York City and State perspective that is applicable to the entire nation. While re-examining the past, Singer seamlessly weaves throughout his discourse the challenge of what do we do with this new knowledge, how do we use it to better understand who we are today, both as individuals and as communities, and as a nation, and how will we use this knowledge to move forward into the future to be a more just society.

Stephen Breyer, Active Liberty: Interpreting Our Democratic Constitution (Review by Mark Vasco)

Stephen Breyer’s Active Liberty: Interpreting Our Democratic Constitution (NY: Vintage, 2006) provides an insight on the decision-making process of a United States Supreme Court Justice. Breyer lists several factors that are examined in this process, including language, history, tradition, precedent, purpose, and consequences. Among these factors, Breyer considers purpose and consequence to be the most important. His thesis is that, “courts should take greater account of the Constitution’s democratic nature when they interpret constitutional and statutory texts” (Breyer, 5).
Breyer’s stance is primarily based upon his belief that the original constitution is too exclusive. He rejects the textual approach taken by many other judges because a literal reading of text can inhibit progress (Breyer, 101). Breyer understands the Framers’ goal as to, “secure the public good and private rights against the danger of (factionalism), and at the same time to preserve the spirit and form of popular government” (Breyer, 29). Accordingly, Breyer attempts to identify how a decision will impact active liberty, before he makes a ruling. Read more…

Thomas B. Allen, Tories: Fighting for the King in America’s First Civil War (Review by John Staudt)

Thomas B. Allen’s Tories: Fighting For the King in America’s First Civil War (New York: HarperCollins, 2010) takes a more universal approach then the books previously mentioned. In his work, Allen provides a tremendous amount of information about the Loyalists from the political protests in the 1760s through the post-war period. Although his book examines the lives of Tories across all of North America, his greatest focus is on their experiences in the middle and northern colonies as well as across the frontier. His main premise is that the American Revolution was in reality America’s first civil war which tore families, communities and church congregations apart. What began as a hotly contested debate over who should wield political power, the King and his ministers or the Continental and provincial Congress, eventually deteriorated into an agonizing “savage fury” of pillage, devastation and murder. Allen estimates that American Loyalists numbered nearly half a million out of a colonial population of around 2.5 million including a half million enslaved people. Read more…

Michael Adas and Joseph Gilch, Everyman in Vietnam by Michael Adas and Joseph Gilch (Review by Hank Bitten)

In my reading of the first pages of Everyman in Vietnam (Oxford University Press, 2018), I found the personal narrative of Jimmy Gilch, a young man from Runnemede, New Jersey engaging me with fresh perspectives about the conflict in Vietnam. The new perspectives are likely to motivate high school and college students in asking questions about the effects of colonialism on America’s foreign policies, the influence of domestic events, and the reasons for a fragmented foreign policy, and the failure of American intervention in Vietnam. Personal letters offer a perspective that is different from studying historical documents, viewing a film, or reading about battles and events in a book. Read more…