Title: America 1908
Author: Jim Rasenberger
Genre: Historical Non-fiction
Date Finished: 13 November 2008
My Rating: 4 Stars
One of my favorite time periods to study and read about is the turn of the 20th century through World War I. There was just so much going on and changing during this time period and I find it all very interesting. So when I saw the title of this book it naturally jumped out at me. A whole book about the year 1908? What exactly happened in 1908 to constitute a whole book being written about it? Quite a lot, it turns out.
Rasenberger chronicles the year from the first New Year's Eve ball drop in Times Square to the Great White Fleet, the New York to Paris automobile race (what a farce!), to anarchists in New York and both Cook and Peary reaching the North Pole and each making claims of being the first one there. The Wright brothers (love those boys!) made great strides with the airplane but the first person also died in an airplane wreck in 1908. President Roosevelt served his last term as president and backed Taft as the republican candidate. There was a huge (and sickening) race riot in Springfield, Illinois that would lead to the founding of the NAACP. There was also some crazy baseball played in 1908 and Henry Ford introduced the Model T, which would open the world of automobiles to the masses.
So, yeah, I guess enough happened to warrant an entire book being written. However, on the same note, I think someone could sit down and read the newspaper archives from the New York Times, just as Rasenberger did, for any year and probably come up with enough material to write a book. A lot happened and it was an interesting year to read about but I don't think it was a pivotal as Rasenberger would have the reader believe.
Rasenberger relied heavily on newspapers for his research and it often felt like I was reading newspaper accounts of the events. I also wish Rasenberger would have realized that America is much bigger than New York City. It would have been nice to get some more perspective from people living elsewhere in the country. Maybe a better title would have been New York 1908 because while the events do not all happen in New York there is a very heavy New York slant to the book.
A good, well paced book none the less. It managed to keep me occupied while I sat in a hospital waiting room for several hours. I'd recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading about history.
One of the stories in the book that I thought was really interesting was the New York to Paris automobile race. It showed that people did not really understand the nature of the world around them or the capabilities of this relatively new invention. I thought the whole race was pretty farcical myself. The route had to be changed a number of times because the automobiles were unable to go where they had planned and they had to have horses pull the automobiles on a number of occasions. The winning team won on a technicality, not even being the first to cross the finish line. Then I found this website and video that paints the race as this incredible awe-inspiring event. They are apparently planning on recreating the race. That should be interesting.