History

Old Statehouse

I lived in and around Boston for several years, and one tradition I rarely missed was the annual Independence Day concert on the Esplanade by the Boston Pops. The highlight was Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, complete with cannons, church bells, and fireworks. A spectacular 4th of July celebration is appropriate for one of the few American cities that relishes its history.

In general, the United States doesn’t seem to care a lot for its history. Don’t think for a moment those MAGA people really know or care about history; what they have in mind is a short-range look through a narrow lens at a mythical golden age that never existed. They could stand to do a bit of reading.

The Oxford History of the United States is a series that covers US history is great detail. The research is impressive and the writing is erudite yet accessible. The series as it stands so far:

  • Robert Middlekauff, The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763–1789
  • Gordon S. Wood, Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789–1815
  • Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815–1848
  • James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era
  • Richard White, The Republic for Which It Stands: The United States during Reconstruction and the Gilded Age, 1865–1896
  • David M. Kennedy, Freedom From Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929–1945
  • James T. Patterson, Grand Expectations: The United States, 1945–1974
  • James T. Patterson, Restless Giant: The United States from Watergate to Bush v. Gore
  • George C. Herring, Years of Peril and Ambition: U.S. Foreign Relations, 1776-1921
  • George C. Herring, The American Century and Beyond: U.S. Foreign Relations, 1893-2014

There are still a few gaps to fill in, most obviously the long period of time between 1492 and 1763. Oxford has been taking its time with this series, so we may have to wait a while yet.

These are all hefty books. Reading The Oxford History of the United States requires a serious time commitment. If you want something a bit less ambitious, but still of high quality, I recommend These Truths: A History of the United States by Jill Lepore. Any single-volume history of the United States, even one with nearly 1,000 pages, must be selective about what is included and what is left out. Therefore, a focus is necessary. The focus Lepore has chosen for These Truths is the question of whether or not the US has lived up to the ideals espoused in the Declaration of Independence. Her answer is a qualified “sort of.” Although there is much to love and admire about the US, it has never truly believed that “all men are created equal” or that everyone is “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.”

Fair warning: Lepore does not hold back her opinions, dosing out extra helpings of opprobrium for southern pro-slavery Democrats, speech restricting liberals of the 21st century, Bill Clinton, and Donald Trump. Even if you don’t agree with her on everything (I don’t), there is much to learn from this excellent book.

Happy reading, and Happy Independence Day!

My Favorite Running Routes

Last time, I talked about running. This morning I am going to continue that discussion by telling you about my three favorite running routes. I’ve moved around a lot (too much) since I first began running, so I’ve run in cities, small towns, and suburbia, in some pretty ritzy areas and some really ugly areas. Coming up with this list was easy. I didn’t include races, or any place that I ran only once due to happenstance. These are three routes I spent some time on, and got to know intimately.

When I lived in Medford, Massachusetts, I could run from my home, around Mystic Lake, and back home to make a circular 6-mile run.  Some of the route was on sidewalks, some was on trail right alongside the lake. It took me through three towns: Medford, Arlington, and Winchester. I became so familiar with this route that I named several landmarks along the way, including the Squirrel Tree.

Also in the Boston area: both sides of the Charles River. At various times I lived in Back Bay, the South End, the North End, and in Central Square (Cambridge), and from each of these locations, my run inevitably took me to the Charles River. I first discovered this route not as a runner but as a walker. I was living in a dorm at the Berklee College of Music, and for the one semester I was there, I spent more time exploring the city than I did attending class. My steps eventually took me to the Esplanade, which runs along the Boston side of the Charles. The Esplanade is a popular tanning spot in the summer, and I logged many hours laying on a towel, reading and baking myself.

Then there is the Chicago Lakefront which is, in a word: AWESOME! My spotty college career began at Northwestern University in Evanston, just north of Chicago. I would ride my bike south from the beautiful Northwestern campus all the way to the Museum of Science and Industry in Hyde Park. There I would get a hotdog and/or ice cream from one of the many street vendors before heading back north. The whole round trip was approximately 40 miles. Later on, I would run along the lakefront, starting from various places. There was always something going on, always some new variation to discover. I especially liked it on gray foggy mornings, when the sky and Lake Michigan would merge into what looked like a big blank spot in the universe, as if someone had erased everything east of the city.

I haven’t run any of these routes for several years now, but I assume they are still there, only no doubt changed a bit since I last saw them.