“History, I like to think, is a larger way of looking at life. It is a source of strength, and inspiration. It is about who we are and what we stand for and is essential to our understanding of what our role should be in our time. History, as can’t be said too often, is human. It is about people, and they speak to us across the years.”
McCullough, David. The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2017). p. xii
David McCullough, The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For. (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2017).
Defining “The” American Spirit is a challenging proposition given America’s current division. History has been weaponized in support of political positions. Many in the academy have fostered social division to further a political philosophy. With little remnant of a common history remaining we stand at a critical juncture. Is there a common history in which we can rediscover “the” American spirit? If so, can that history heal our present fracture and nurture a promising future? A definition that brings us together, that drives us to our better nature. Few historians have the necessary cache to take on such a challenge. David McCullough is one of only a few historians with enough courage to take on that challenge. He is also one of a few with enough respect for his definition to garner serious consideration.
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Although cliché, it is certainly true that history is the story of intersecting paths. History’s best stories are those whose various character paths originate at points most divergent from each other. One such story occurred in Austria during the final days of World War II. In his book The Last Battle, Stephen Harding successfully informs not only to the historical significance of the point of intersect (the battle); he also relates the backstories (the paths), of the participating characters.
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As I read Here Lies Hugh Glass, by Jon T. Coleman, I was reminded of the brilliant but underachieving genius who turned 20 pages of original material into a two hundred-page book. Somehow, he made it entertaining. So, what do you do when you have one primary source? What do you do with multiple, but unreliable, secondary sources? Coleman provides the answer.
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