This week is July 4th and most of us will be thinking about barbecues and fireworks. Don’t forget that we’ll be closed on Wednesday, July 4th, but if you happen to stop in any other day this week, you might want to read up on why this holiday is so fascinating. Our country, the sweet land of liberty, is about to turn 236. For the rest of the year, we can complain about the economy, taxes, and health care, but on our country’s birthday, let’s celebrate all the things we like about America. If you get tired of fighting the crowds and prefer to spend the day relaxing on a boat or in the backyard, a good way to appreciate where we live is by reading some history. Here are some options to remind you what’s cool about the good ol’ U.S. of A:
1776 by David McCullough: You might not know that Americans nearly lost their battle for independence, but we very nearly did. This bestseller focuses on a crucial aspect of the year of America’s birth, when George Washington got involved in the creation of the Continental Army. Washington faced an ongoing struggle to build a working military and defeat the British. The victories that his fledgling effort met outside Boston were fleeting and followed by brutal losses as they reached New York and the series of defeats and retreats were near disastrous. Washington’s men had lost faith in his ability to lead them. It wasn’t until their victory over the British at the Battle of Trenton that Washington became a respected leader. McCullough offers an irresistible narrative that demonstrates how the spirit and willingness to learn and improve helped make the beginning of our nation’s independence possible.
Benjamin Franklin by Walter Isaacson: Franklin has always seemed the most human of the founding fathers, and by Isaacson’s account we can see why. It’s hard not to love this guy and remain in awe of him. The narrative follows Franklin’s life from Boston to Philadelphia to London and Paris and back, demonstrating how Franklin’s adventures and accomplishments as a writer, inventor, scientist, diplomat, and political leader helped influence the events of his time. This book goes beyond autobiographical details and explores the cleverness behind Poor Richard’s Almanac and the wisdom behind the Declaration of Independence among other important documents, and how compromises influenced the creation of the Constitution. Franklin was passionate about democracy and believed in middle class values and the wisdom of the working people, and this biography manages both to entertain and engage us as well as demonstrate how his commitment to America helped shape our national identity.
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow: Here’s a book that does much to take us beyond our preconceived notions about Hamilton as a difficult and turbulent character. Chernow’s biography aims to set the record straight and give Hamilton the respect he deserves, and he does it by demonstrating how Hamilton’s passion and sacrifices played a key role in the politics and economy of America today. Hamilton wasn’t eligible to become president because he was born in the Caribbean, but he was an American patriot through and through and it’s impressive how he grew up an orphan, educated himself, and somehow rose up to become a key force in Washington’s Continental Army. His other accomplishments included coauthoring The Federalist Papers, founding the Bank of New York, leading the Federalist Party, and becoming the first Treasury Secretary of the United States. Alongside his impressive professional accomplishments, Hamilton carried on countless tumultuous relationships, affairs, and feuds with friends and colleagues, all with his loyal wife Eliza by his side. One of the best parts of the book is the detailed and dramatic account of Hamilton’s death in a duel with Aaron Burr in July of 1804. (If you like this book, you’ll enjoy Chernow’s biography of Washington too.)
Paul Revere’s Ride by David Hackett Fisher: We all learned about Paul Revere’s midnight ride back in fifth grade, and to many the cry of “The British are coming!” is the first thing that springs to mind when we think of the founding of America. Open this book and you’ll quickly learn that chant is mostly a myth, since most people didn’t join in because they thought they were still British. The alarm worked though, and by the next day people weren’t so sure. The events of the night of April 18, 1775, are actually much more complex and interesting than what we learned back in elementary school, and this book goes beyond a dull academic narrative and shares great insight into the build-up to the revolution and the creation of the American republic. Revere himself is a compelling subject, and the narrative explains how he wore many hats in the community, from organizing local mechanics to mingling with the likes of John Hancock and Samuel Adams to organizing more than sixty men and women to help him sound the alarm on that fateful night.
So that’s my shortlist for the upcoming holiday. Did I miss anything? What will you be reading?
Have a great Fourth of July from all of us at Island Books!