My old friend William Hogeland has an op-ed piece in the New York Times today, on the subject of the history of illegal immigration. By “old friend,” I mean that Bill and I were freshmen at Oberlin together in 1973, and he’s the only person I’m in touch with from those days. A theater major, he played Vladimir in the first production of Waiting for Godot I ever saw.
Bill was an experimental poet, a playwright, and a novelist, and I’ve read many of his unpublished works that deserve wide circulation. Recently he’s reinvented himself with a tautly written history of early American democracy, The Whiskey Rebellion (Scribner). As a detailed story of how this country’s wealthy class brought the bulk of the citizenry under its thumb, Bill’s storyline makes a timely metaphor for the Bush administration, but he never pushes the analogy – he doesn’t need to. If you already thought Alexander Hamilton was the bad guy among America’s founders, you’ll find his deeds in The Whiskey Rebellion so nefarious that you’ll never feel good taking a ten-dollar bill again. The book benefits from a novelist’s touch, and achieves a surprise, last-minute-disaster-averted ending worthy of an action film. So keen are Bill’s insights that the historians are taking him seriously, and he spends a lot of time lecturing on the country’s founders now. Nice to log onto the Times and see his name come up – just as he once opened the Village Voice and was “brought up short” by my name.