Reading history is hard.
There is no math, and there are sometimes even pictures, so it's supposed to be a cakewalk. But it's not. My one guess about the problem is you finish one or two killer books and you begin to realize how dumb you are. History is daunting. There is always further reading to be done.
Here are five books to greet the Fourth of July holiday.
Benson Bobrick has single-handedly changed how we perceive our revolution. Angel in the Whirlwind had a lot to do with Mel Gibson's movie, The Patriot, but that barely touches the density and violence of this book. We perceive World War II, we perceive the Civil War, but the American Revolution might as well be the War of the Roses or as distant as the Westeros of Game of Thrones. Bobrick narrows the distance. About halfway through Angel comes a dawning awareness of the brutality and courage that got America to 1787.
If you did not grow up from sea to shining sea, this is the one book to read. It is fiction but is so immediate, so in your face, that at one point you could reach out and touch Mrs. Lincoln gently on the shoulder. The entire Gore Vidal series of our 19th century is wonderful, but this true and immediate classic is the shortest, readable path to our 16th president. Read Lincoln, then visit Ford's Theater and the outstanding museum across the street, next door to where he died.
This book displays all the craft and intelligence of David McCullough. That is no surprise, but I was not prepared to like President Adams. The majesty of John Adams is how McCullough slowly draws you into the pace, cadence, and daily grind of our most excitable president. We were trained in grade school that our 2nd president was, shall we say, intense. By the end of the book, it is unforgivable that Adams has the audacity to die, and on the same day as Thomas Jefferson, at that.
Warning: You can only read about 12 pages at a time. Rick Atkinson's final volume, covering the last years of the war, from Normandy to Berlin, is beyond heart-breaking. There is no way to describe his style and execution of history other than to say: Just read it. Eisenhower is a saint, Marshall more important than imagined. Montgomery is Montgomery. Patton is not George C. Scott. After Antwerp, you will never speak to a Canadian the same way again. Ever.
Finally, there are two groups of Americans—those who memorized each and every word of this iconic effort and those that await the pleasure. Stan Freberg simply changed the language of laughter in America. This audio book is his foundation work. It starts strong and gets ever stronger. His influence on two generations of "the yout of America," as Fredberg would put it, is immeasurable.
Clink your glasses and discuss.