A Renegade History of the United States by Thaddeus Russell

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Synopsis

In this groundbreaking book, noted historian Thaddeus Russell tells a new and surprising story about the origins of American freedom. Rather than crediting the standard textbook icons, Russell demonstrates that it was those on the fringes of society whose subversive lifestyles helped legitimize 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—insiders versus outsiders, good citizens versus bad. The more these accidental revolutionaries existed, resisted, and persevered, the more receptive society became to change.

Russell brilliantly and vibrantly argues that it was history’s iconoclasts who established many of our most cherished liberties. Russell finds these pioneers of personal freedom in the places that usually go unexamined—saloons and speakeasies, brothels and gambling halls, and even behind the Iron Curtain. He introduces a fascinating array of antiheroes: drunken workers who created the weekend; prostitutes who set the precedent for women’s liberation, including “Diamond Jessie” Hayman, a madam who owned her own land, used her own guns, provided her employees with clothes on the cutting-edge of fashion, and gave food and shelter to the thousands left homeless by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake; there are also the criminals who pioneered racial integration, unassimilated immigrants who gave us birth control, and brazen homosexuals who broke open America’s sexual culture.

Among Russell’s most controversial points is his argument that the enemies of the renegade freedoms we now hold dear are the very heroes of our history books— he not only takes on traditional idols like John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Carnegie, John Rockefeller, Thomas Edison, Franklin Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy, but he also shows that some of the most famous and revered abolitionists, progressive activists, and leaders of the feminist, civil rights, and gay rights movements worked to suppress the vibrant energies of working-class women, immigrants, African Americans, and the drag queens who founded Gay Liberation.

This is not history that can be found in textbooks— it is a highly original and provocative portrayal of the American past as it has never been written before.
 

About Thaddeus Russell

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Thaddeus Russell is Visiting Assistant Professor of History at Barnard College. Born and raised in Berkeley, California, he graduated from Antioch College and received his Ph.D. in history from Columbia University. He lives with his wife in New York City.
 
Published September 28, 2010 by Free Press. 402 pages
Genres: History. Non-fiction
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Unrated Critic Reviews for A Renegade History of the United States

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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,...

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Publishers Weekly

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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.

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BC Books

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“In the summer of 1957, a Baptist preacher in the segregated South issued a series of fier...

Sep 28 2010 | Read Full Review of A Renegade History of the Uni...

BC Books

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“In the summer of 1957, a Baptist preacher in the segregated South issued a series of fiery sermons denouncing the laziness, promiscuity, criminality, drunkenness, slovenliness, and ignorance of Negroes,” says Thaddeus Russell;

Sep 28 2010 | Read Full Review of A Renegade History of the Uni...

BC Books

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“In the summer of 1957, a Baptist preacher in the segregated South issued a series of fiery sermons denouncing the laziness, promiscuity, criminality, drunkenness, slovenliness, and ignorance of Negroes,” says Thaddeus Russell;

Sep 28 2010 | Read Full Review of A Renegade History of the Uni...

BC Books

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“In the summer of 1957, a Baptist preacher in the segregated South issued a series of fiery sermons denouncing the laziness, promiscuity, criminality, drunkenness, slovenliness, and ignorance of Negroes,” says Thaddeus Russell;

Sep 28 2010 | Read Full Review of A Renegade History of the Uni...

BC Books

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that between the individual and society.” He goes on to say that the founding of the United States “simply began the war [between pleasure and discipline] that continues today.” We recently reviewed a book about the Founding Fathers and the weeks leading up to July 2, 1776.

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Seattle PI

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Scotsman.com

Russell doesn't endorse slavery, but he does write: "The beautiful irony of slavery was that it guaranteed food, shelter, clothing, health care, and child care for the enslaved - and even allowed for the acquisition of luxuries and money - without requiring the self-denial of 'free' labour."

Sep 20 2010 | Read Full Review of A Renegade History of the Uni...

Metro

The first sign that Thaddeus Russell is self-consciously spoiling for a fight is his chosen title, implicitly opposed to Howard Zinn’s famous pageantry of American working-class resistance.

Oct 05 2010 | Read Full Review of A Renegade History of the Uni...

Artswrap

Non-Fiction Robert McCrum The Guardian Read other users' reviews More like this Renegade: Henry Miller and the Making of Tropic of Cancer by Frederick Turner - r...

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Andrew Giambertone

Andrew Giambertone 14 Oct 2014

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