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Good reads: Books to help us understand our nation's history

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By Diane Parftt

Most Americans probably believe they are patriotic, defined by Webster as “love for or devotion to one’s country.” But there is so much more to patriotism than that. It means supporting and loving our country while recognizing its faults during the bad times as well as the good. It means hanging in there even when the other party is in power, and doing what we can to help our country live up to its destiny. How did we arrive at this sense of patriotism to the United States of America? We learned it in school, from our parents and we read about it in books. Now, in these difficult and challenging times we are experiencing, when patriotism seems to be waning, some well-written, factbased books can help us understand how our country came to be home to the greatest democracy on earth and how we can help preserve this precious gift.

  1. “THE SOUL OF AMERICA: THE BATTLE FOR OUR BETTER ANGELS” BY JON MEACHAM, FRED SANDERS, ET AL.
    Reading history can often be depressing, especially when you think we just don’t seem to learn from it!
    In “The Soul of America,” Meacham shows us that our humanity, what Abraham Lincoln called the "better angels of our nature" has repeatedly won the day. Meacham will surprise you with his insights on Lincoln and other presidents, from Ulysses S. Grant to Lyndon B. Johnson; his portrayal of the courage of activists like Martin
    Luther King Jr., early suffragette Alice Paul, civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks, and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt; and his explanation of critical turning points in American history. His description of these dramatic hours in our national life compels us to look forward rather than back and to assert hope over fear. As Meacham says, "The good news is that we have come through such darkness before" – and time and again, Lincoln’s better angels have found a way to prevail.
  2. “MAYFLOWER: A STORY OF COURAGE, COMMUNITY AND WAR” BY NATHANIEL PHILBRICK
    Where better to start on our journey than at the beginning? Nathaniel Philbrick takes us back to the voyage of the Mayflower and the settlement of Plymouth Colony when the early colonists came to the New World. Philbrick explains that the story of the pilgrims does not end with the First Thanksgiving, but instead, continued for decades that were both tragic and heroic, and still carries meaning for us today. This compelling portrait of the dawn of American history reveals that the pilgrims were confronted with the same controversial issues we still face today – race, violence and religion.
  3. “WASHINGTON: A LIFE” BY RON CHERNOW
    The wonderful Broadway musical “Hamilton” ignited a new interest in the Revolutionary War and the Founding Fathers. Founding father, George Washington is portrayed in many biographies as being without ault, almost god-like. In Chernow’s well-researched and documented book, we see Washington as a real person. It is an unvarnished look at how our nation’s founders somehow won the war against superior British forces and then grappled with issues like slavery while forming a republic where all men are supposedly created equal.
  4. “1776” BY DAVID MCCULLOUGH
    We all have learned what happened in 1776 with the Declaration of Independence. But do we really know how the American Revolution was experienced by the people, American and British alike? McCullough’s book helps us understand that our road to independence was not just difficult but actually quite miraculous. There were
    regional conflicts amongst American soldiers and citizens not yet united. Most of our soldiers were not seasoned fighters but they were impassioned and determined. As told by this master historian, using letters, diaries and
  5. “WHAT UNITES US: REFLECTIONS ON PATRIOTISM” BY DAN RATHER, ELLIOT KIRSCHNER
    “I find myself thinking deeply about what it means to love America, as I surely do.” — Dan Rather
    Many of us watched Dan Rather on TV reporting the news, covering major events in America and worldwide, and helping us understand it all. During many national crises, Rather has emerged as a voice of reason and integrity, reflecting on—and writing passionately about—what it means to be an American. In this collection of original essays, he reminds us of the principles upon which the United States was founded, the freedoms that define us, and the values that have transformed us. As a
    living witness to historical change, Rather offers up an intimate view of history, tracing where we have been in order to help us chart a way forward and heal our bitter divisions.
  6. “FOUNDING BROTHERS: THE REVOLUTIONARY GENERATION” BY JOSEPH J. ELLIS
    The end of the American Revolution was the beginning of the struggle for the fragile new nation. The Founding Fathers worked together as Founding Brothers to combine the ideals of the Declaration of Independence with the reality of crafting a Constitution, the rules for a nation of diverse peoples to live by. Divisiveness was apparent everywhere – the struggles between Federalists and Republicans, the threat of war with France, the thirdrail of slavery, and more. “Founding Brothers” brings to life the vital issues and personalities from the most important decade in our nation’s history.
  7. “SHAKESPEARE IN A DIVIDED AMERICA: WHAT HIS PLAYS TELL US ABOUT OUR PAST AND FUTURE” BY JAMES SHAPIRO
    Shakespeare and America history – really? Yes, in this witty and informative study of the correlation between Shakespeare’s plays and several historical events in American
    history, we come to understand and appreciate each more fully. From Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865 to the 2017 controversy over the staging of Julius

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