But I'm telling you about this eye-opening little collection of four essays by Frederick Jackson Turner for a shopping list of reasons:
1) The man came from that great age when historians could write.
2) It's a commonplace now that the American frontier had closed by 1890, but Turner said it in 1893, and he teased out the implications of the centrality of the frontier back to the first European arrival in what later became the United States. Great ideas haven't always been around. Someone had to think them first.
3) The format. The book is a slim volume, part of a Penguin series called Great Ideas. It dispenses with introductory material, footnotes, end notes and bibliography. It permits intimate, portable, easy acquaintance with one of the great historical thinkers ever. What a great idea.
4) The essays, written between 1893 and 1910, are full of statements and propositions that remain richly suggestive today. Here's my favorite:
"So long as free land exists, the opportunity for a competency exists, and economic power secures political power. But the democracy born of free land, strong in selfishness and individualism, intolerant of administrative experience and education, and pressing individual liberty beyond its proper bounds, has its dangers as well as its benefits. Individualism in America has allowed a laxity in regard to governmental affairs which has rendered possible the spoils system and all the manifest evils that follow from the lack of a highly developed civic spirit. In this connection may be noted also the influence of frontier conditions in permitting lax business honor, inflated paper currency, and wild-cat banking."Hmm. Maybe this post is about crime and crime fiction after all.
(Read Turner online here.)
© Peter Rozovsky 2009