The contrast between the importance of the subject of Richard Buel’s new book—New England’s defiance of federal authority during the years of commercial embargo and war with England—and the dullness and conventionality of the narrative reminds us that history is too important to be left to the current occupants of the academy.
To enter the author’s text is to wander a desert utterly devoid of metaphor, irony, alliteration, allusiveness, analogy, or the beauty of a well-crafted sentence. Instead, we have constructions whose meaning lies buried under a pile of sand: “Considerations like these led the Federalists to cling to behaviors their opponents were anxious to discourage so as to limit Republican options as much as possible.” He tries to clear things up in the conclusion by explaining that his maps, though difficult to read, are as accurate as any available:
But describing Federalist behavior has always been subsidiary in my mind to explaining it, even though attempts at explanation beg the question of whether Federalism constituted a sufficiently homogenous entity to be comprehended under any coherent hypothesis.
Reading sentences such as that brought back the sage advice of one of my dissertation advisers: Read only the opening and closing paragraphs of books, just enough to gauge where to place it on the scale of accepted orthodoxy—saves...