Wednesday, October 11, 2006

A Hopeful History

I have just purchased Bill Bennett’s new history book America: The Last Best Hope (Volume I). This 573-page tome covers America’s history from 1492 to the run up to WWI. Presumably, at least a second volume is planned. I am not a rapid reader. I tend to read books over weeks and months rather than over days. I plan to post my insights on Bennett’s book after I complete it, so it may be a long time in coming.

Bennett introduces his book by outlining six reasons for writing it.

  • “The need for hope…. An abiding sense of American greatness, of American purpose, of American exceptionalism has long characterized many of our leaders and tens of millions of the rest of us as well…. I believe America is still that hope….”

  • “[T]o give Americans an opportunity to enjoy the story of their country, to take pleasure and pride in what we have done and become.”

  • “[T]o give thanks and to remind my fellow citizens of their obligation of gratitude to those who made it possible for us to lead free and happy lives.”

  • “[T]o tell the truth, get the facts out, correct the record, and put forward a reasoned, balanced presentation of the American story.”

  • “[T]o encourage a new patriotism—a new reflective, reasoned form of patriotism.”

  • “[T]o kindle romance, to encourage Americans to fall in love with this country, again or for the first time. Not unreflectively, not blindly, but with eyes wide open.”
Bennett suggests that some of our current civic apathy stems from deplorable, “dull,” “dumbed-down” history texts. He writes, “Many books about America not only fail to counter cynicism and hopelessness, they don’t encourage anything positive in their place.” He also suggests that history texts should not only convey correct facts, but should be pleasurable to read as well.

Rather than putting forth some kind of Pollyanna, cleansed history, Bennett purports to paint America “warts and all. But,” he writes, “I will not follow the fashion of some today who see America as nothing but warts.” That should certainly be refreshing. Bennett suggests that we become great partially by learning from our mistakes, but he takes umbrage with the thought that our country is chiefly one big bundle of mistakes.

Several notables are quoted in the book’s introduction, including (of course) Ronald Reagan, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and Bernard DeVoto (a Utah native). Bennett seems to particularly like DeVoto’s quote where speaking of America he says, “Ours is a story mad with the impossible, it is by chaos out of dream, it began as a dream and it has continued as a dream down to the last headlines you read in a newspaper….”

Bennett concludes the introduction by writing, “America was, is, and—we pray—will continue to be the place where more than anyplace else, dreams actually do come true.” This is the America I have always believed myself to be a part of.

I hope the book lives up to the billing Bennett has given it. I will report what I find—eventually.

1 comment:

Bradley Ross said...

Sounds like an interesting book. If you give it a good review I will probably want to check it out. I'm going to watch "Liberty! The Story of the American Revolution" from my NetFlix queue.