In tomorrow’s San Francisco Chronicle, I’ve got a review of Clarence Lusane’s new book A Black History of the White House. Lusane’s is a subject worth tackling, though he doesn’t always live up to his material. Slavery crops up all the time in presidential biographies — Joseph Ellis, who isn’t anyone’s idea of the perfect biographer, still managed 70 mentions of “slavery” in his prize-winning book on Thomas Jefferson — but Lusane treats the subject comprehensively. And when he maintains that focus, it creates some interesting juxtapositions and powerful arguments.
While I wasn’t able to locate a copy in time for my review, I did want to flag a similar title: Setting the Record Straight: American History in Black & White. This book comes from David Barton, Glenn Beck’s in-house historian. Given Beck’s previous attempts at history, I’d bet it’s safe to say that something more than the historical impulse informs this book’s findings. And that’s one reason we should be glad for a book like Lusane’s. Despite its imperfections, it contributes to our democratic conversation.