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!