Learning history once seemed so easy. I would go to college for four years. I would teach history for a few years. Then I would go to college some more. Then I would teach some more. Somewhere around age 30, I would know history.
Nothing like that happened. Well, I did go to college for four years, and I did go back to college at nights and in the summers and add on graduate hours. But I have never reached the point where I know history. I am still laboring to learn, re-learn, and un-learn history. I feel like I am almost ready to begin–if I could begin over. But beginning might mean beginning my teaching career over. Or it might mean beginning college over. Or it might mean beginning elementary school over (but that only if I could be socially and physically less awkward).
Here I am facing yet another stack of history books. I will share with you some readings that I am finishing or anxious to start.
When I heard about this book last fall, it was an immediate “I must have it or I will perish.” That was no exaggeration. It was critical for me to get the book. I should finish it today. I has been a long, hard slog to get through it, but it has been worth it. This is not a beginners’ story of the war or a narrative highlighting the drama and personalities of World War II. It is a detailed analysis of the Allied and Axis powers in terms of weapons, manpower, effectiveness of tactics, and leadership. Great book. Watch for my upcoming review.
Two events conspired to cause me to want the book Theater of a Separate War: The Civil War West of the Mississippi River 1961-1865. First, it is a history book and not just any history book, but a book about The War and not just any book about The War, but a book about a part of The War that gets overlooked–the Trans-Mississippi theater. Second, I met the author. Now, I would like to say that I met him in some scholarly setting where we were exchanging ideas about history, but that is not the case. I met him in a store where I was buying a light for our bathroom (that has not yet been installed).
Last month, I read the introduction to this book and was hyped to get it started. I should be diving in this next week. Watch for a review soon.
Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates: The Forgotten War that Changed American History is by the duo history authors Brian Kilmead and Don Yeager. Their books are best sellers and are popular histories. I have yet to read them to be able to give my take. I should have read this book before last week when I talked about the Tripolitan War in class. This book looks good and is a short read. I will be reading it this next week.
John Witherspoon’s American Revolution is by Gideon Mailer. I suspect this book is going to be a challenge, meaning this is not an easy read for the midnight hour. That is fine, for I have plenty of midnight reads and usually fall asleep before that time. But John Witherspoon is, after all, John Witherspoon. Sometimes called “the Forgotten Founding Father,” he is the man most dear to the heart of Calvinists who love history. I desire anything and everything I can find and read about him.
Another book I should have read prior to my recent classroom lectures is Thomas Jefferson: Revolutionary: A Radical’s Struggle to Remake America by Kevin R. C. Gutzman. This book was published some time back, but just came out in paperback. Jefferson is a pivotal and key figure in understanding American history. He is one of the few U. S. Presidents who would still be a major figure even if he had never served as the Chief Executive. Last year I read Confounding Father: Thomas Jefferson’s Image in His Own Time by Robert M. S. McDonald. That was a surprising and delightful book. It seems like there is no end to fascinating studies on Jefferson.
Another book that is not quite so urgent is Sons of the Father: George Washington and His Proteges, edited by Robert M. S. McDonald. This book consists of essays about some of the key figures in Washington’s life and career, including the military men, like Nathaniel Greene and Henry Knox, and the political men, like Jefferson and Hamilton (who was also a military man) Being a collection of essays, this book lends itself to being read in part based on which figure one wishes to study.
Like Washington and Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt was a man who dominated his times and extended his influence into our times. Loved and hated by the left and the right wings of political folks, he had a personality and style that transcends mere political likes and dislike. The book The True Flag: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and the Birth of American Empire by Stephen Kinzer explores the political differences between two titans–Roosevelt and Mark Twain. Having the proverbial meal with famous people would not go well if your choice guests were TR and Mark Twain. They would likely pick back up with an argument that set them at odds back in their times. Can’t wait to start this one.
Reading history is not all fun and games. I am duty bound to labor over a weighty collection of essays titled What Is Classical Liberal History, edited by my friend Michael J. Douma and Phillip W. Magness. I read Dr. Douma’s opening essay which warns me of the depth of water I will be swimming in. I am not in the camp of classical liberal historians, but I think I am very sympathetic to them and their approach. By the way, don’t confuse the term “classical liberal” with our current political discussions concerning folks we call liberals.