Classified as a history book, A Century Turns: New Hopes, New Fears by William J. Bennett is not a complete chronicle of United States history during the last two decades of the twentieth century. Instead it is an explanation of both Presidents Bush terms of office, and chronicle of all that was wrong with President Clinton’s presidency.
History is often written around the politics of the time period or country. But there is more to the history of any nation or time period. To base history on the political events leads to a narrow and biased viewpoint.
Bennett served as Secretary of Education under President Ronald Reagan and was President George H. W. Bush’s drug czar. Although his political life began as a Democrat, in the mid-1980s he switched affiliation to the Republican party. He is well-known for his conservative political and cultural viewpoint. That viewpoint is not missed in A Century Turns.
The chronological listing of events is full of stories, which at times reads as though clipped from newspapers and magazines. Bennett also quotes from memos and correspondences of the people involved. Sometimes there is a lack of connection between incidences that are reported. The text is richly footnoted and there is a lengthy list of the sources of information.
Much of the “history” is a defense of policy decision made by both George H.W. and George W. Bush. While much is made of the misdeeds of President Clinton. This telling centers almost entirely on Washington D.C., with a few ventures out for such “historical” events at the O.J. Simpson trial.
Unlike his previous history books, America, The Last Great Hope Volumes 1 and 2, A Century Turns does not read as a thoughtful piece of writing. Nor does it include pieces of societal and cultural history that add color and depth to a history.
In the Introduction, Bennett writes that he only wrote this book at the continued request of history educators who happen to be using the curriculum that accompanies America, The Last Great Hope. He claims to have tried to fend off the request, but those who urged the next volume “remained persistent and unconvinced.” I suspect many of those who urged this premature volume are disappointed.
Many who consider themselves cultural conservative deride liberal slants to history. With important historical figures and events being written out of school textbooks, the complaint has validity. However, if A Century Turns was written with the intent of also being a textbook, it does the same type of historical re-writing, only from conservative slant.
If a reader is looking for explanations and criticisms of policies of the final three presidents of the twentieth century, this may be the book to read. If a teacher is looking for the narrow telling of history from inside the D.C. Beltway, and from a conservative retelling, this may be the book to use.
But, for the reader who is looking for a readable and interesting historical look at the end of the last century, A Century Turns is not the book to invest in.
William J. Bennett