Miracles and Massacres – Book Review
In his latest book, Miracles and Massacres: True and Untold Stories of the Making of America, political commentator Glenn Beck, along with a small cadre of co-authors and researchers, presents twelve stories from America’s past that “represent the full American experience.” The self-proclaimed “history nerd” quickly lets the reader know that simply memorizing names, dates, and historical facts is not the best way to maintain interest in our nation’s history. Instead, Beck’s stories read like good fiction, complete with interesting characters, interesting events, and heroes and villains on both sides. The heroes, for the most part, are normal, everyday people placed in extraordinary situations. On the other side of the coin, the villains mainly consist of agents of the government: soldiers, prosecutors, corrupt law enforcement and politicians, though two of the stories deal with the modern threat of terrorism as well as a historical example of Muslim “jihadists” who preyed on American ships in the Mediterranean Sea during the early 19th century.
The stories in Miracles and Massacres range from the Revolutionary War period to the modern day, and feature personal struggles as well as struggles that threatened the entire nation. The trial of accused Japanese-American propagandist Tokyo Rose, for example, directly affected only Tokyo Rose, whereas the rebellion of Daniel Shays against the government of Massachusetts was a rebellion that could have spread to the other infant states, had it not stalled. Mob lawyer “Easy Eddie” O’Hare’s attempt at redemption and the personal heroism of his son in World War II stand in contrast to the massacres of women and children at Wounded Knee (Plains Indians Wars) and My Lai (Vietnam War). Overall, each story is well written, interesting, and intriguing, though, as Beck admits in his section on the writing of the book, they may change if viewed from different perspectives.
The biggest disappointment associated with Miracles and Massacres is the section that includes the most information: “About the Writing of This Book.” Beck lays out a painstakingly assembled list of sources he, his co-writers, and his researchers used to frame the stories. Unfortunately, while the sources and information are solid, it becomes apparent that many of the stories included in the book, especially the dialogue and even some of the events portrayed, are completely imagined. While these imagined events allow Beck to present a better story and spark the reader’s interest, it also complicates Beck’s intent to give the reader an interesting, historically accurate book. Which parts are real? Which parts are imagined? Can the reader truly understand how “complex and nuanced our history really is” if the reader is not presented with all sides of the story?
Beck concludes his latest book with an entire chapter devoted to the United States Constitution and the Elementary Catechism on the Constitution of the United States, a type of primer on the Constitution, written in 1828 by Arthur J. Stansbury. Beck, by way of Stansbury, points out that not only is history fast becoming obsolete in the schools, but also the average American knows little or nothing about the primary document that serves as the basis for our entire system of government. After a short preface, Beck reprints some of the Catechism as well as a series of questions Stansbury wrote in order to provide further information to his readers—a type of early 19th-century FAQ. The reader might become confused when reading the “Conclusion” section of the chapter, since it is not immediately clear whether the conclusion was written by Stansbury or Beck. In the end, of course, it does not matter: Beck allows Stansbury’s words to act as his final word on the subject of the Constitution.
Miracles and Massacres is an interesting piece of work that achieves Beck’s stated goal: it presents history “in a much more vivid and real way.” The stories pull the reader in and, even taken together, are short enough to be absorbed in one sitting. The book falls short, however, in presenting a complete picture of each event, as Beck and his co-writers only focus on one side of each story. The source information provided in the “About the Writing of This Book” section gives the reader the option of exploring each story in his or her own way, but Beck could have presented more balanced stories without sacrificing narrative. In the end, Beck’s book will be well received by his fans, ignored or picked at by his critics, and, perhaps, picked up on a whim by those who identify with Beck as a fellow “history nerd.”
Adam Koeth graduated from Norwich University in 2012 with a Master’s of Arts in Military History. He also holds a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in History from Ohio University. A native Ohioan, Adam lives with his wife and two children near Columbus, and enjoys reading everything he can get his hands on, writing, and watching sports—even the Cleveland Browns.