“I am told thee has been dancing with the queen.
I do hope, my son, thee will not marry out of meeting.”
—American Quaker mother in a letter to her son following the Coronation Ball in 1838
Here are three very excellent books, two on the subject of America, the third substantially so. One of the three authors is an Englishman who has spent many years in the United States, another an American who has lived long in England. The third, a native of Hungary, is an adoptive American since the age of 22. These books may—indeed, should—be read together as thematically related works, and so I have decided to review them that way. (Significantly, all three are published by Yale University Press.) For my purpose, the keys to understanding the relationship are offered by the first-listed volume, John Lukacs’s Last Rites: a sequel to, or extension of, his “auto-history” of 20 years ago, Confessions of an Original Sinner, intended “not [as] a history of my life [but] . . . a history of my thoughts and beliefs,” and published when the historian was in his 66th year.
Lukacs has argued for decades against the notion of mechanical causation, insisting that human intelligence intrudes into and complicates the structure of historical events. “To this,”...