Category Archives: American History

WE THE FALLEN PEOPLE: THE FOUNDERS AND THE FUTURE OF AMERICAN DEMOCRACY

I just finished We the Fallen People. Truly amazing. If I could wave a wand every American would have to read it as part of their citizenship.

Years ago, I developed “Moore’s Law of Worthwhile Reading.” I take the number of pages in a book and divide it by two. If my marginalia exceeds that number it was a worthwhile read. Some books that make the cut are ones I disagree with, but not this one. For this one, I made 321 marginal notes. These can be anything from an exclamation point to a few sentences. I never put one question mark in the margins which is rare.

In any case, I am going to be recommending this book far and wide!

My interview with Tracy will be coming soon…

EDEN’S OUTCASTS

I am writing a book on Ralph Waldo Emerson so I am very interested in his cadre of friends. Bronson Alcott and his more famous daughter Louisa are numbered among the stellar group.

Matteston’s book is fast-paced, well-written, and does a great job in describing two of the indispensable figures of nineteenth century America.

Highly recommended!

WISE WORDS FROM PRESIDENT BUSH ON 9/11/21

It would be a mistake to idealize the experience of those terrible events. All that many people could initially see was the brute randomness of death. All that many could feel was unearned suffering. All that many could hear was God’s terrible silence. There are many who still struggle with a lonely pain that cuts deep within.

Many of us have tried to make spiritual sense of these events. There is no simple explanation for the mix of providence and human will that sets the direction of our lives. But comfort can come from a different sort of knowledge. After wandering long and lost in the dark, many have found they were actually walking, step by step, toward grace.

(Emphasis mine and sounds like it was inspired by Lincoln’s Second Inaugural!)

THE IDEAS THAT MADE AMERICA

Our oldest son and his wife will many times choose a few hors d’oeuvres and then split a meal. They get more variety, and many times find out that the appetizers are better than the main offerings.

I thought of our son and daughter-in-law’s culinary sensibilities as I read Ratner-Rosenhagen’s terrific book. The author does a wonderful job of laying out the seminal ideas that have bubbled up over our country’s history. There are some ideas I wished she unpacked in more detail, but it is a satisfying sampler.

The author is a lucid writer, so any thoughtful person will find much to chew on in The Ideas that Made America.

 

WHY LIBERALISM FAILED

Don’t be misled. The liberalism that the author speaks of is the classical variety that undergirds both conservative and progressive liberal thought. The liberalism the author believes has failed is that of Mill and Locke, the latter a big influence on our Founding Fathers.

I heavily annotated my copy of Why Liberalism Failed because it is the kind of book that makes you think in fresh ways about old ideas.

Much ink has already been spilled debating the merits of this book. I won’t go into detail on those since this brief review is designed to say that I find Deneen’s thesis quite compelling. I plan to read more of Mill and Locke so my view could change some, but right now, I find myself aligning with Deneen’s concerns.

 

DON’T BE THIS GUY

There are many things that make us Americans comfortable giving our opinions on every subject from socialism to Seinfeld’s show.

It feels good to sling out whatever we think. For too many of us Americans these can be thoughts that are not well formed because there is little study that has gone into them.

During times of upheaval it does not seem practical to pull back and study. It is more tempting to register our opinion, even if our understanding of the issue is thin.

I am not on Facebook or Twitter, but I see and hear enough to know that these are not the places where one learns to be thoughtful and sensitive to the complexity of issues.

The radical thing might be reading a serious book, especially by someone who isn’t part of your tribe.