In Memoriam: Forrest McDonald, 1927-2016

22MCDONALD-obit-master675Publishers are only as good as the authors they publish. Having the opportunity and honor of publishing–multiple times–Forrest McDonald, who died on the 19th of January, 2016, at the venerable age of 89, was a noteworthy feather in the cap of the University Press of Kansas. To be sure, publishing Forrest has enhanced our reputation in the world of scholarly publishers, but his life demands more than any insular recognition of what he accomplished in the six of his twenty books that he published with our publishing house.

Few if any historians of the early national period have read as widely and deeply as Forrest, who as a novice scholar lived in his car to enable his prodigious reading of the papers of the founding fathers located hither, thither, and yon. Drawing on this bedrock of knowledge for which he had an uncanny recall, the youthful Forrest overturned the accepted interpretations of senior scholars like Charles Beard. His subsequent lengthy career followed the same path, always adhering to his commitment to finding the truth.

Over a thirty-year period, 1974-2004, six McDonald books appeared over the University Press of Kansas imprint. His first two, on the presidencies of Washington (1974) and Jefferson (1976), imparted significant momentum to the launching of our now widely recognized American Presidency Series. His next, Novus Ordo Seclorum: The Intellectual Origins of the American Constitution (1985) was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the all-time bestselling scholarly book published by us. Forrest’s next successful book to appear on our list was The American Presidency: An Intellectual History (1994), which added considerable heft to our emphasis on the chief executive’s office. Forrest then turned his interest to States Rights and the Union: Imperium in Imperio (2000). His final book, Recovering the Past: A Historian’s Memoir (2004), which he co-wrote with his wife Ellen, merits a careful reading by anyone interested in the demands of historiography. As one of Forrest’s publishers, we fully agree with those of his academic colleagues who think of him as a “giant.”

Outside of teaching, scholarship, and bookmaking, this “giant” was full of life. In his seventies he could still summon the disappointment of his injury-shortened baseball career, luxuriate in his wife Ellen’s classical piano, and commingle with the backyard deer on his farm unclothed, the same state of undress in which he told Brian Lamb on PBS’s Booknotes that a visitor would find him if he were writing one of his books.

Forrest, R.I.P., and our deepest appreciation.

–Written by Fred Woodward, University Press of Kansas, Director Emeritus

Publisher’s Pick: In “Broken Trust,” Griffin Points To Precisely What Americans Don’t Like About Government and Politics

9780700621224In our Constitutional Thinking series we publish books that ask important and sometimes uncomfortable questions about our Constitution. In “Broken Trust: Dysfunctional Government and Constitutional Reform,” Stephen M. Griffin asks whether the low levels of trust in our government can be tied to weaknesses in our Constitution. Most of us think that our Constitution is virtually holy writ. While it creates the structure for the protection of a wide range of rights and liberties, it also establishes a system of government that seems designed to generate political conflict. Griffin points us to the considerable body of research that shows that this is precisely what Americans don’t like about government and politics. They object to the give and take of politics, the involvement of interest groups and parties, and the inevitable compromises that happen as those who seek to make government work navigate the many aspects of the system that make it easier to frustrate action. So what if the distrust Americans feel for their government is the result of the way our government is structured? He shows that constitutional changes has been one way that states have sought to overcome cynicism about politics. He asks us to look at constitutional innovation at the state level where processes such as direct democracy have been adopted in order to give voters a way to circumvent institutions (such as legislatures) that they feel are hopelessly corrupt and ineffective. Do we need to amend the Constitution in order to make it more responsive to citizens and increase their confidence in government? We might look at innovation at the state level for ways to rethink our national system of governance.

–Written by Chuck Myers, Director of University Press of Kansas