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J. M. Gratale on N. Coles’ s Interpreting Political Events in the United States

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1Norman Coles. Interpreting Political Events in the United States:  Critical Debate and Representative Democracy.  Sussex Academic Press, 2009,  79pp.

2At first glance, two things struck me about Norman Coles’s volume.  The first is its rather long title, whereas the second point concerns the book’s length; including the appendices, bibliography and index, it amounts to only seventy-nine pages.  In the first case, long titles are not necessarily problematic, providing the narrative which follows measures up to the ambitions alluded to on the book’s cover.  Regarding the latter observation, while brevity is always essential and welcome, there is the potential of neglecting coverage of pertinent issues the author sets out to address in his study.

3According to Coles the main concern of his volume is to focus on “important political issues and events which are hard to understand not only because of their complex circumstances, but also because commentary and contemporary understanding are often at odds with the results of philosophical analysis”  (viii).  It seems to me that within the realm of political history there is bound to be ‘complexity,’ nuanced approaches, and a range of interpretation.  I suppose the twist Coles is applying relates to the notion of deploying “philosophical analysis” to a number of case-studies centered on America’s political-historical development.  More troubling is another statement in his preface which I cannot resist from quoting in full.  It reads:  “I’m not a professional historian, what I say should where appropriate be checked and if necessary corrected or even discarded, if scrutiny by historians shows it inaccurate” (xi), (so much for the authority of the author).  It is an unfortunate admission for Coles to make that his book is not the result of rigorous research and attention to the details of history.  Leaving be