Home Politics The U.S. and the Holocaust—A Review

The U.S. and the Holocaust—A Review


The U.S. and the Holocaust—A Review

Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns—not Robert Caro, not Gordon Wood, not Doris Kearns Goodwin—is America’s most influential historian. For over 40 years, his PBS-sponsored interpretations of the American past, available without sticker-shock tuition or pricey textbooks, have offered a core curriculum in a dizzying range of people, arts, and events born in the USA—Father Coughlin, Huey Long, the Brooklyn Bridge, the civil war, baseball, jazz, country and western music, World War II, and Vietnam, to name just some. This coursework is wildly popular not just with the buffs but with the kind of people who hated history in high school (Burns’s 1990 nine-part masterpiece, The Civil War, was a full-blown national memorial service.

Burns’ formula is as simple and solid as a Shaker meetinghouse: forward narrative thrust with clear thematic hook (in The Civil WarHow are the United States governed? These are The United States was founded Is(); a fluid back and forth between the historic currents and the minnows caught up in the riptide; an accessible, but not too simplified style. He leaves FX’s razzle-dazzle and animations and garish reenactments for the History Channel. Burns’s preferred landscape is the black and white photograph, whether from Matthew Brady or the family album—a canvas…

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