Weekly Volcano Blogs: Walkie Talkie Blog

April 26, 2010 at 8:10am

History and magic with Prof. Michael Allen

University of Washington Tacoma professor Michael Allen photographed in his office. Photography by Jen Asaro Cook

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Rainier beer fan. New York Times bestselling non-fiction writer. Corner Bar patron. Magician. Father. Fox News Network endorsed wacko.

Depending on whom you ask, University of Washington Tacoma professor Michael Allen is many of those things - if not all of them.

The truth, of course, is not as cut and dry. It never is.

Allen, a professor of history and American studies at UWT, with his signature Yosemite Sam mustache and matching belt buckles - has become quite a story, and it all starts with a simple 800-plus page book, A Patriot's History of the United States.

Published in 2004, A Patriot's History - written by Allen and right wing religious conservative Larry Schweikart, a professor of history at the University of Dayton - is a seriously right of center leaning rebuttal to liberal Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, an equally massive work published in 1980 that took a view on history that few had bothered with up until that point (or shortly before it, as Zinn and many likeminded liberals were coming to control academia after the '60s). A People's History showed the formation of our country from a working class perspective, history from the eyes of those who were trampled, lost or purposefully forgotten - and it's a monumental work. There's a reason - whether Allen and Schweikart like it or not - why A People's History helped redefine and focus our country's complex story, and why it's now part of high school and college curriculums across the country. There's a reason Matt Damon takes his shirt off every time he reads it.

Allen and Schweikart are rebels of sorts. In the world of academia, non-liberals are hard to come by. Allen is as Libertarian as they come. I have never met Schweikart - and he and Allen have only hung out on a few occasions, once watching Team America World Police in a small hotel room (picture that shit and tell me it's not funny!)- yet Schweikart comes off like your stereotypical, delusional, Fox News blowhard ... at least from my liberal perspective. If you didn't know any better, you'd expect pretty much the same from Allen.

And, really, those last two sentences are the key to all of this. We wouldn't be having this blogular conversation if it wasn't for Fox News, perspectives and perceptions -  liberal and conservative, right and left.

You see, a funny thing happened one day. After selling modestly, as you might expect an 800-page history book with an agenda to, Schweikart appeared on Glenn Beck's show. Soon, after being handed a copy, Glenn Beck had endorsed A Patriot's History, saying, "This book has taught me more about our history than any I've read in years." Naturally, Schweikart made return appearances on the show.

The rest, of course, is New York Times bestselling history. In scared, misinformed, government hating, Fox News worshipping households across the country, Beck is gold - and anything he touches shares the wealth - including little ol' belt buckle wearing, history teaching Michael Allen, right here in Tacoma. Our Libertarian man in T-town doesn't have any reservations about accepting the Beck bump.

Over the last month I've gotten a chance to know Allen, interviewing him at length on two separate occasions in his UWT office. He's even showed me a few magic tricks.

That story is coming in this week's Volcano - and it's one you're going to want to catch.

Comments for "History and magic with Prof. Michael Allen" (12)

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troysworktable said on Apr. 26, 2010 at 9:27am

Twice in the article, the book is mentioned as "800-word" (or more) in length. In both instances, that should be "800-page."

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Matt Driscoll said on Apr. 26, 2010 at 9:59am

Doh! You're right, troysworktable. Damn late night bloggin! Thanks. Fixed. The book is MUCH longer than 800 words.

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RR Anderson said on Apr. 26, 2010 at 1:05pm

Ask him if he has seen my cartoon inspired by his book!


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Manjo Taliban said on Apr. 26, 2010 at 1:14pm

Professor Allen is one of my favorite professors of all time. He even attended my wedding. He taught me to question accepted history and it was an invaluable lesson. I have not yet read this work but suspect the Beck endorsement is one of convenience just like when Hannity had referenced James W. Loewen's great book "Lies my teacher told me". An event that clearly proved Hannity didn't read the book but subversely pointed to it to profligate his own liberal bashing agenda. Surreal! If Beck's only contribution to society is giving Professor Allen's book a bestselling bump so be it! Congrats Teach!

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Matt Driscoll said on Apr. 26, 2010 at 1:59pm

RR - You'll have to read the piece, but he has...

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Matt Driscoll said on Apr. 26, 2010 at 2:00pm

Manjo - I think Beck has read the book. My guess is he's especially fond of the later half.

Again, you'll just have to read the article...

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manjo Taliban said on Apr. 26, 2010 at 2:22pm

I will and I will read the book as well (currently reading The Imperial Cruise). But I have to doubt that this book, though told through a conservative viewpoint, is filled with the type of conspiratorial illuminations that Beck weaves himself. Am I right?

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Frank LeBlunt said on Apr. 26, 2010 at 4:24pm


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Matt Driscoll said on Apr. 26, 2010 at 4:36pm

It kind of depends on your definition of the truth. That's the beauty of it, I suppose. The book spends a lot of time, especially the latter part, interpreting history - and when you're talking about recent history that can be problematic.

For the record, though, there is not a chapter giving credibility to the Birther Movement.

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RR Anderson said on Apr. 26, 2010 at 10:44pm

will the article be fair and balanced Mr. Driscoll ?

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Carv said on Apr. 27, 2010 at 6:03pm

Glenn Beck can endorse my book any time he wants.

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Rev. Adam McKinney said on Apr. 28, 2010 at 3:02pm

Still not entirely convinced that Glenn Beck isn't a performance artist. Have you seen his standup comedy? Have you seen "The Christmas Sweater"? He cries through that whole thing--in the voices of different characters!

He's either absolutely nuts, or he will be reckognized in the future as the Andy Kaufman of punditry.


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