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A Renegade History of the United States

Free Press
  • Counterculture

A Renegade History of the United States Overview

“Raucous, profane, and thrillingly original, Thaddeus Russell’s A Renegade History of the United States turns the myths of the ‘American character’ on their heads with a rare mix of wit, scholarship, and storytelling flair” (Steven Johnson, author of Everything Bad Is Good for You and The Invention of Air ). An all-new, stunning, and controversial story of the United States: It was not “good” citizens who established American liberty, declares Thaddeus Russell, but “immoral” and “degraded” people on the fringes of society whose subversive lifestyles legitimized the taboo and made America the land of the free. In vivid portraits of renegades and their “respectable” adversaries, Russell shows that the nation’s history has been driven by clashes between those interested in preserving social order and those more interested in pursuing their own desires. The more these accidental revolutionaries—drunkards, prostitutes, gangsters, unassimilated immigrants, “bad” blacks—persevered, the more American society changed for the better. This is not the history taught in textbooks or classrooms—this renegade book will upend everything you believe about the American past.

A Renegade History of the United States Table Of Content

Introduction ix

Part 1 Making Renegades into Americans

1 Drunkards, Laggards, Prostitutes, Pirates, and Other Heroes of the American Revolution 3

2 The Freedom of Slavery 39

3 The Slavery of Freedom 77

4 Whores and the Origins of Women's Liberation 101

Part 2 How White People Lost Their Rhythm

5 A Rhythmless Nation 127

6 From White Chimps to Yankee Doodles: The Irish 140

7 The Jew was a Negro 160

8 Italian Americans: Out of Africa 181

Part 3 Fighting for Bad Freedom

9 Shopping: The Real American Revolution 207

10 How Gangsters Made America a Better Place 229

11 "Behold a Dictator": Fascism and the New Deal 240

12 Just How Popular was World War II? 270

Part 4 Which Side are you on?

13 How Juvenile Delinquents Won the Cold War 285

14 "A Process of Self-Purification": The Civil Rights Movement's Attack on African Americans 295

15 Gay Liberation, American Liberation 324

16 Almost Free: The Promise and Tragedy of Rednecks and Hippies 332

Acknowledgments 343

Sources 345

Permissions 363

Index 365

A Renegade History of the United States Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Russell's provocative new book argues that America's modern liberties are largely the result of anarchic and frequently selfish desires of outliers. While admitting that a nation actually governed by the outcasts of society would be "a living hell," Russell shows how these so-called renegades have continuously influenced American culture. From the Founding Fathers to the present, the guardians of morality, sobriety, and the Puritan work ethic have historically attempted to destroy the pleasures of life, while the "shiftless"-the singers and dancers, the drinkers, and the cynics-have not only defended the richness of "fun" but freedom itself. Russell (Out of the Jungle: Jimmy Hoffa and the American Working Class) shows how the Boston Massacre was instigated by a "motley rabble," argues that blackface minstrel shows embodied a sort of black lifestyle-envy, and that madams and prostitutes initiated gender equality in the Old West. Noteworthy is Russell's carefully-documented analysis of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal as a quasi-fascist experiment which, originally, was praised by Nazi Germany. While fascinating in content and style, this work unfortunately spends little time on revolutionary political movements and the occasional attempts by "renegades" to move beyond the realm of broadly-defined culture.
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From the Publisher

"Russell writes with force and scathing humor. Narrator Paul Boehmer accurately delivers his tone.... It's hard to put this down. Renegade, indeed!" —-AudioFile

Kirkus Reviews

Sure, you've got your Honest Abe and your steadfast Molly Pitcher, your Daniel Boone and Dale Evans. But how do the vice-ridden rest of us fit into American history?

As Russell (History and Cultural Studies/Occidental Coll.; Out of the Jungle: Jimmy Hoffa and the Re-Making of the American Working Class, 2001) writes, this lively, contrarian work concentrates on the "drunkards, prostitutes, 'shiftless' slaves and white slackers, criminals, juvenile delinquents, brazen homosexuals, and others who operated beneath American society." Such people seldom figure in standard histories, and one of the things in which they engaged and still engage, namely sex, seldom turns up in the pages of earnest monographs. Russell examines the constant tension between preservers of order, such as John Adams, and those who extolled unrestrained personal freedom, such as—well, if not Sam Adams, then perhaps topers such as he, for drinking also figures heavily in these pages. In New York at the time of the Revolution, "there were enough taverns to allow every resident of the city to drink in a bar at the same time," a feat never reached since. In the Virginia of the Founding Fathers, no public business was conducted without a large drink somewhere within easy reach. Taverns, often havens of the lower class, were "the first racially integrated public spaces in America," a democracy of vice. They gave members of different races and ethnicities the chance to study and imitate one another and to indulge in what Russell terms "informal renegade behaviors." The author links advances in personal freedom to these unbridled working-class heroes—and to a few other surprising figures as well, including the mobsters who owned New York's gay nightclubs, the hippies of yore, the "tango boys"and other juvenile delinquents who, by Russell's fruitful formulation, won the Cold War for the West.

A sharp, lucid, entertaining view of the "bad" American past.

Readers' Reviews

A Renegade History of the United States

Book Info

  • Book Format: Paperback
  • ISBN-13: 9781416576136
  • ISBN-10: 1416576134
  • Number of Pages: 400
  • Dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.10 (d)
  • Approx Price: $14.89
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