“The American Spirit” is the latest in David McCullough’s writings on the lineage of American history. There are few authors I run to the bookstore for to acquire their latest work, but he is one of them.
The book contains 15 speeches of McCullough given before Congress, at the White House and to college graduates.
Each contains historical matter relevant to the location of the speech, beautifully intertwined to a larger historical theme - America’s history - for which this author has a passion.
Readability is a vital part of McCullough’s works. He is a storyteller using the history of where he physically stands at the moment to weave the tales of past to present.
He is an optimist on his country, but not blindly so. Consider these words from one of the graduation speeches:
“Let’s do something about public education. Let’s stop the mindless destruction of historic America. ... let’s clean up our language -- private and public ... Let’s stop the dumbing and degrading and cheap commercial exploitation of American life ... please ... cure the verbal virus that seems increasingly rampant among your generation. I’m talking about the relentless, wearisome use of words ‘like’ and ‘you know’ and ‘awesome’ and ‘actually’ ... (Imagine) if in his Inaugural Address, John F. Kennedy had said, ‘Ask not what your country can, you know, do for you, but what you can, like, do for your country actually.’ “
He addresses the lack of historical knowledge in the U.S. and why that matters to the future.
“Read. Read, read! Read the classics of American literature...you’ve never opened. Read your country’s history. How can we profess to love our country and take no interest in its history? Read into the history of Greece and Rome ... of science ... medicine ... ideas. Read for pleasure to be sure. I adore a good thriller or a first-rate murder mystery. But take seriously - read closely - books that have stood the test of time. Study a masterpiece, take it apart, study its architecture ... and after a few years, go back and read it again.”
While some compilations of speeches into book form can be just an easy way to generate a book, that is not so here. These are thoughtful essays on local and national histories of our country from a man who understands that history matters.
“Study the past if you would define the future.” - Confucius
Check out the 30 best books to read this summer, a list from Estelle Tang of Elle, assuming summer arrives.
Gary Thorne is the play-by-play voice of the Orioles on MASN, and the 2018 season is his 12th with the club and 33nd covering Major League Baseball. His blog will appear regularly throughout the season. The Orioles and Sarasota County, for the 7th consecutive year, have partnered on the Big League Reader Program, which rewarded kids who read three books in February with tickets to a Grapefruit League game at Ed Smith Stadium in March. 180 children participated last year.
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