I just got back from voting. I can’t say I’m sad to see the Democratic contenders leave the state of Pennsylvania, but it made me think about the rest of 2008 and the conversations we’ll all be having for the next seven months. Because let’s face it – for political junkies a presidential election year is… well… what the Olympics is to curling enthusiasts. I’m sure somewhere people are sweeping the ice with brooms year round, but when do the rest of us really care?
Everyone is going to be discussing Obama, Clinton & McCain ‘s books. Everyone is going to be watching Fox News, CNN, reading the NY Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, the Economist and the New York Review of Books. Everyone (god help us all) will be watching the debates. So how to give yourself that edge? How do you get people’s attention? How do you dazzle them with a point that’s new, thoughtful and independent of the mainstream? Independent thought – can you get any more BookSexy than that?!
You’re secret weapon? American History.
Seriously! stop laughing.
“Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation ” by Joseph J. Ellis is a compact and extremely readable book that’s currently available in trade paperback. It’s divided into six self contained chapters (plus a Preface explaining the point of it all), with each chapter highlighting a crucial event in the founding of our nation. And its pedigree is untouchable. This book won the Pulitzer, thank you very much, so no rolling your eyes. It was on the NY Times best seller list for a reason. Simply, Ellis tells a great story. This is NOT High School American History 101 with decades racing by so fast you barely catch names and dates on the fly. “Founding Brothers” zooms in on the events that really counted and examines them in detail. Learn the behind the scenes story of how a national bank, national capital and federal assumption of state debt after the Revolutionary War were established – more or less – in the course of one dinner (Chapter Two: The Dinner). How slavery persisted because no one was willing to discuss aloud the assertion in the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal (Chapter Three: The Silence). The not so secret, or scandalous, menage trois friendship and political collaboration between John Adams, Abigail Adams and Thomas Jefferson (Chapter Five: The Collaborators). How & why George Washington left office and set the precedent for all those who came after him (Chapter Four: The Farewell). Rest assured, what Ellis lacks in creative chapter titles, he certainly makes up for in entertaining factoids.
But is it relevant? Is it current? Yes! That’s the beauty of it all. Each chapter is short, yet jam packed with information, allowing you to claim limited expertise on any of these events without having to read the entire book. “Founding Brothers” explains the creation of the United States of America from the perspectives of the key players – and gives a glimpse into the difficult choices they had to make. These men made their decisions standing in a minefield of consequences, and they were fully aware of that fact. Constantly they had to weigh the repercussions and choose what they hoped to be the lesser of two evils. What we often forget, and what makes these stories so fascinating, was that these men were working off the cuff. They had nothing to model this new nation on. Everything was improvised. And let’s be honest, it doesn’t really seem like all that much has changed between then and now.
So, over cocktails, when Bill Clinton’s unlikely friendship with Bush’s Sr. & Jr. comes up – reference Jefferson and Adams coming to terms at the end of their lives. It seems presidential rivals seek each other out in twilight years.
Or in between phone calls at election headquarters you can discuss what will be the nature of Hillary’s & Bill’s collaboration should she become the next president. Will he become her cabinet, much like Abigail Adams did for John? And to what effect (hmmm… remember the Alien & Sedition Acts)?
Or watch the exit polls come in while discussing whether McCain is too old to be president or if he is a leader of wisdom & maturity getting a bad rap by his rivals, much like our first president?
Or you can debate with friends whether Obama’s speech on race in Philadelphia was the correct response to sermons made by his church minister – or would it have been better to keep quiet and let the controversy fade. Isn’t that what the Congress decided when they evoked a self-imposed silence until 1808 on the subject of slavery – a subject whose discussion they felt could be too damaging to a fragile nation (or a fragile presidential campaign)?
Now go vote. Go read. Go talk about what you read. Make decisions based on what your reading & your conversations about what you’ve read, not on what you’ve been told. Go impress someone (or really piss them off). That’s what being BookSexy is all about.
The Americanization of Ben Franklin by Gordon S. Wood – How one man (almost) single-handedly started two Revolutions.
1776 by David McCullough – How the hell did we win that war!?