Many of us have just spent the Fourth of July cooking burgers, drinking beer, and watching fireworks. Some of us may have been at Monticello witnessing the swearing-in of new U.S. citizens; some of us may be those new citizens. Some of us may have been at cemeteries placing flags on the graves of loved ones. Some of us may have been working because our jobs don’t accommodate many holidays; some of us may have been working because the work we do to serve others doesn’t ever take a holiday. Some of us may have been talking with our children about what freedom means. Some of us may have been arguing with our friends and relatives about the state of our country today. All of us are Americans.
Patriotism takes many forms: some quiet and some bold, some gentle and some heroic, mostly it’s just regular folks living their lives. Today’s suggestions may help broaden our definition.
Hidden America : from Coal Miners to Cowboys, an Extraordinary Exploration of the Unseen People Who Make This Country Work by Jeanne Marie Laskas
An award-winning journalist, Laskas does her usual in-depth research to introduce us to some of the folks who make our lives run smoothly every day. Starting in the coal mines of Ohio, she then goes on to an Alaskan oil rig, a migrant labor camp in Maine, the air traffic control center at LaGuardia Airport in New York, a beef ranch in Texas, a landfill in California, a long-haul trucker in Iowa, a gun shop in Arizona, and the Cincinnati Ben-Gals cheerleaders. Eminently readable, Laskas’ stories not only reveal the world of work that supports our society, but also open up the worlds of the individuals who do that work. Comparisons have been made, rightly, to the writings of Studs Terkel.
The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For by David McCullough
This latest offering from renowned historian David McCullough is a collection of speeches he has given over the past quarter century. McCullough, winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom as well as numerous other awards, has spoken before Congress, universities, historical societies, and the White House. In this collection, he reminds us of the core values and principles which are particularly American with themes such as “What’s Essential is Invisible,” “History, Lost and Found,” ” The Love of Learning” and “The Summons to Serve.”
Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team by Steve Sheinkin
What could be more American than football? Yet, the early days of the game were a far cry from the professional endeavor it is today. This latest book by young adult historian Sheinkin traces it back to the start, when burly college men punched each other on the field and the aim was to pile on as many bodies as possible regardless of broken bones. Then the legendary combination that would change the whole game came together at the Carlisle Indian School: the visionary coach Pop Warner and the invincible athlete Jim Thorpe. This is a great book for fans and non-fans alike and, as so often is the case in history, there’s so much more to the story. Sheinkin also tells of the deplorable treatment of the Indian children torn from their families and forced into a world that was completely foreign to them. This attitude and behavior was reflected in the treatment of the Carlisle football team (and its star player) even as they were transforming the sport. A well balanced look at a shameful part of our past which still has repercussions today.
A Patriot’s Handbook : Songs, Poems, Stories, and Speeches Celebrating the Land We Love selected and introduced by Caroline Kennedy
The more than 200 selections, spanning centuries, presented in this anthology were chosen by Kennedy herself and include her personal commentaries. This hefty volume includes excerpts of Supreme Court decisions, the Gettysburg Address, Woody Guthrie’s songs, Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Walt Whitman poetry, presidential inaugural addresses, and the complete texts of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. You’ll also find works by Alice Walker and Susan B. Anthony, Frederick Douglass and H.L. Mencken. As Kennedy says in her introduction “I realized that I want my own children to know more about the ideals upon which this country was founded and the sacrifices that have been made to pass them on to us. This book is intended to help families explore the foundations of our freedom and to celebrate our heritage.”