Book Review: A Most Imperfect Union by Ilan Stavans

A Most Imperfect Union by Ilan Stavans
Rating: ★☆☆☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: July 1, 2014
Source: Borrowed

Enough with the dead white men! Forget what you learned in school! Ever since Columbus—who was probably a converted Jew—“discovered” the New World, the powerful and privileged have usurped American history. The true story of the United States lies not with the founding fathers or robber barons, but with the country’s most overlooked and marginalized peoples: the workers, immigrants, housewives, and slaves who built America from the ground up and made this country what it is today.

In A Most Imperfect Union, cultural critic Ilan Stavans and award-winning cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz present a vibrant alternative history of America, giving full voice to the country’s unsung but exceptional people. From African royals to accused witches, from Puerto Rican radicals to Arab immigrants, Stavans and Alcaraz use sardonic humor and irreverent illustrations to introduce some of the most fascinating characters in American history—and to recount travesties and triumphs that mainstream accounts all too often ignore. What emerges is a colorful group portrait of these United States, one that champions America’s progress while also acknowledging its missteps.

Sweeping and cinematic, stretching from the nation’s prehistory to the post-9/11 era, A Most Imperfect Union is a joyous, outrageous celebration of the complex, sometimes unruly individuals and forces that have shaped our ever-changing land.

Oh dear, it’s time for another one-star review. When I checked out a pile of graphic novels from the library, I thought I was avoiding this nonsense, but here we are again. I thought this would be an interesting, maybe funny look at U.S. history. I thought I might learn something. I was wrong.

Quite honestly, I’m not sure what the point of this book was.

In terms of historical content… it’s all over the place. It’s sort of in chronological order, until it isn’t, and then at one point the author just blatantly promotes his own Twitter account?? In a history book?? Most topics were barely touched on, getting half a page or so in this 288-page book. Rather than this haphazard account of American history that spends as much time on the fact that Barbie is named after the daughter of Mattel’s cofounder as the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, I would have preferred a book that picked one area of history and gave it the attention it deserved.

In terms of this being a “contrarian” history…. is it considered “contrarian” to point out that Christopher Columbus could not have discovered the United States because people already lived here? Is it considered “contrarian” to say that some of our most revered presidents did not-great things sometimes? Is it considered “contrarian” to mention that history is primarily written by rich white men? None of this was news.

In terms of art and layout… I personally found it distracting. There were fairly detailed black and white drawings with walls of text, and that’s just not conducive to reading a graphic novel. If you want to write walls of text, write a standard non-fiction history book. Don’t just shove some pictures in there and call it a graphic novel.

All in all, I almost DNFed this book several times, but eventually pushed my way through so I could get it out of my house. Definitely not recommended, but I’d love to hear recommendations of similar books that are actually good!

Have you read A Most Imperfect Union? What’s your favorite history-themed book?
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