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One long, three short: reviews and reflections

We are, at our core, remembering and story-making creatures, and stories are one of the chief ways we find meaning in the flow of events.

Historical consciousness is to civilized society what memory is to individual will. 

All human beings are flawed, as are all human enterprises. To believe otherwise is to be naïve, and much of what passes for cynicism in our time is little more than naiveté in deep disguise. 

One of the worst sins of the present … is its tendency to condescend toward the past.

The above thoughts appear in the introduction to Wilfred McClay’s Land Of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story, reviewed in the Smoky Mountain News last June. As stated in the review, Professor McClay’s textbook, aimed at high school and college students, is a well-balanced and nuanced history of America, examining the failures and triumphs found in the American story. Moreover, Land Of Hope does indeed read like a story, and as I stated in my review I recommend it highly to all young people.

Now the University of Oklahoma professor, along with master teacher John McBride, has given us another gem, A Teacher’s Guide To Land Of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story (Encounter Books, 2020, 395 pages). This valuable supplement is more than an ordinary guide, for in addition to helpful comments on each chapter of the text McClay and McBride offer many original documents, American songs and poems, questions for testing the students on their reading and for expanding even further their understanding of our history, and short writing assignments. Like its predecessor, this guide to Land Of Hope is a treasure trove of U.S. history.

And as in the textbook, McClay and McBride go to special lengths to emphasize the importance of looking at the past through a telescope as free as possible from our own modern mores and current prejudices. Near the end of the book, they write that ideally our conception of the past should engage us in a dialogue:

“That conversation, to be a real and honest one, must include the good, the bad, and the ugly, the ways we have failed and fallen short, not merely what is pleasing to our national self-esteem. But by the same token, the great story, the thread that we share, should not be lost in a blizzard of details or a hailstorm of rebukes. America is, and remains, a land of hope, a land to which much of the rest of the world longs to come.”

Unlike some historians, McClay and McBride remind us that love and criticism are not necessarily enemies. “Love is the foundation of the wisest criticism, and criticism is the essential partner of an honest and enduring love.” They then quote G.K. Chesterton: “Men did not love Rome because she was great. She was great because they had loved her.”

These days, some among us, particularly those who loot, burn, and even kill, who call for an end to the Constitution and regard the United States past and present as evil, lack that love. Like children throwing a tantrum and screaming “I hate you!” at the mother who has refused to buy them a candy bar, or like some rebellious teen who knows not the cause of his rebellion but turns his back on his parents, these rioters and those who are backing them seem to have lost not only their minds, but any heartfelt affection for their country.

Land Of Hope salutes American accomplishments and critiques its failures, and does so with a real love of America. 

For those who are homeschooling, who are distance learning, or who simply want to enhance their knowledge of the history of the United States, here are two books worthy of your attention. 

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Other books and authors visited this past week:

Having enjoyed Gen LaGreca’s novel Just The Truth, which I recently reviewed here, I raced through Noble Vision, her novel in which she looks at what might take place if New York State socialized its hospitals and doctors under a plan called CareFree. Here we meet Nicole Hudson, a star of the ballet who in a terrible accident loses her sight, and David Lang, the neurosurgeon who believes he can help her see again through experimental surgery. 

With the government controlling all health care, and failing in every way possible to satisfy its budget and the medical demands of its constituents, Hudson and Lang must battle enormous odds to make her surgery possible. 

A good read and pertinent in light of today’s pandemic, quarantines, and masks.

Looking for material for another article brought me to William J. Bennett’s The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood. Best known for The Book of Virtues, here Bennett has collected several hundred stories, essays, poems, myths, and biographical profiles intended to teach readers what a man should be, the virtues he should practice, and how he should live. 

I took what I needed from The Book of Man — my article had to do with men under 30 — and recommend this book as a great gift to young men for the purposes of pleasure, learning, and mentoring. 

I’ll conclude with a mention of James Mustich’s 1,000 Books To Read Before You Die: A Life-Changing List. This collection of short reviews and author biographies I open at least once a week for the sheer enjoyment of Mustich’s style and literary enthusiasm. If you’re a book-lover and your library is missing 1,000 Books To Read, I highly recommend this one. Even if you can’t or don’t read the suggested books, this volume is a delight. 

(Jeff Minick is a writer and teacher. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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