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Hawaii: a history, from Polynesian kingdom…
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Hawaii: a history, from Polynesian kingdom to American State

by Ralph S. Kuykendall

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Some older history books stand up well because they preserve the context of the time while being genuinely interesting; others preserve the time almost too well and feel bland and almost generic in their coverage of events. This book is the latter.

Mind you, reading it is not a complete waste of time. I read this for novel research, and I did jot down some notes. I found some new insights on the sugar cane industry to be fascinating. However, the organization of the book is odd, as it sticks with themes for some chapters and therefore jumps back and forth in time. The tone is bland, too; it's easy to tell this was written before modern 'narrative nonfiction.' This is the sort of book that would make students fall asleep.

The blandness goes deep into the content as well, as the book often ignores racial issues or diverse racial experiences. It only addresses immigrant sugar cane workers' experiences at the end and not in detail or with their own voices. It does go into more detail about some of what citizens of Japanese lineage endured during World War II, and speaks very highly of their contributions. Mind you, I've read several histories of Hawaii at this point, so the gaps really stand out. The native perspective is mostly lost, as are the voices of non-white immigrants. Instead, the authors' voices intrude more and more as the book culminates with Hawaii achieving statehood (which was happening as the book was first published) with an almost gushing tone of 'Look how far we've come!' It made me feel uncomfortable, like it had become state-sponsored tourism propaganda.

As an example, there's this line in a chapter on sugar cane and pineapple harvesting: "Nowhere in the world has science been applied to agriculture to a greater extent than in Hawaii, and the results are evident in the sugar cane production record." As a native of the salad bowl of California, I read this and found my eyebrows arching high in disbelief at such a definite opinion being stated as fact in a history book.

If you read this book, drink some caffeine and approach with a thoughtful perspective; there is some good information to be found. But don't let this be the only book you read on the history of Hawaii. Definitely seek out other sources. ( )
  ladycato | Dec 21, 2016 |
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