PDA

View Full Version : Education What are the essential books about America?


Jenson71
06-09-2009, 12:41 AM
Read the first post for directions. I will keep this post as our running canon.

Listed in chronological order:

Alexis de Tocqueville - Democracy in America. 1835. Perhaps no foreigner has ever summed up America's system, customs, and people as well as Tocqueville, a French aristocrat who visited the country about a half a century after the Founding. Tocqueville saw the emergence of democracy (which he believed was cause for a "new political science") and the future emergence of America as a great power (also predicting Russia's future prominence as well in the same book). Tocqueville's two volumes leave almost no aspect of America untouched -- from a look at the Constitution and political parties in America to majority tyranny and civil associations to "the progress of Catholicism in the United States" and "How literature appears in Democratic Times". His influence and importance today is as steady as ever. Almost everyside has sought to claim Tocqueville. Recent discussions of the importance of civil associations ("Bowling Alone") prompted Tocqueville to serious political scholarship, and Allan Bloom mentions Tocqueville's vast insight plenty in The Closing of the American Mind. "If the number of times an individual is cited by politicians, journalists, and scholars is a measure of their influence, Alexis de Tocqueville -- not Jefferson, Madison, or Lincoln -- is America's public philosopher," wrote Isaac Kramnick in the Penguin Books Introduction to Democracy. Suggested by SNR

Henry David Thoreau - Walden, or Life in the Woods. 1854. "Let us consider the way in which we spend our lives," wrote Thoreau, and for him, a more than two year life outside of society in the woods was the ideal way to examine life. "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived." Thoreau, a leading figure of that particular 19th century American school of thought, Transcendentalism, believed strongly in the individual, and also speaks strongly for environmentalism and the importance of the body of Western Civilization tradition. He saw himself a poet, and "felt that a man's supreme artistic accomplishment was his life itself, not his artistic works, which he viewed as only by-products of a man's endeavor to perfect himself" writes Frederic Langmack. "Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth" Thoreau wrote. None of those former had anything to do with a true human being. Thoreau encouraged America to go forward and perfect her inner self: "Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star." Suggested by Reaper16

Walt Whitman - Leaves of Grass. 1855. Described by Town'NCountryChief as "The quintessential book of American poetry," Whitman's breakthrough writing (which led him to be fired by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior who found it offensive) has much to tell about American society and thought pre-Civil War (and post in later editions). The Transcendentalist Emerson loved the work and saw a "great career" ahead for Whitman. Poets.org notes that "Whitman's great subject was America. . . . Some of his many subjects included slavery, democracy . . . the American landscape . . . the Civil War, education . . . and social change." Whitman is said to have created a truly American free verse, no longer bound to the norms of British poetry. ". . . America's poets and critics have found unmediated love for our most American poet, the man who came to shape our ideas of nationhood, democracy, and freedom," shines the website. Perhaps it's overstated, but Whitman's influence on American poetry and his lasting voice of American society and individualism can not be overlooked. Suggested by Town'NCountryChief

Mark Twain - The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. 1884. Likely the most prominent novel by the most prominent American author, Finn is still a source of controversy from the political correctness (N*gger Jim, however, is one of the most humane characters of the novel and slavery is ultimately seen in the novel as immoral) and those who view the book as far too critical of the South. Huck's adventures take him through pre-Civil War America, seeing the religious attitudes and practices in the country, family feuds, an alleged rightful King of France, an attempted lynching, and especially racism. Finn recognizes this latter attitude immensely in his so-called "sivilized" society. To hell with it all then, follow your conscience instead. And there Finn goes, setting off for a new territory with new adventures in the future and where his conscience will be unconflicted. Suggested by Silock

F. Scott Fitzgerald - The Great Gatsby. 1925. "Where else are you going to get such a great description of the roaring twenties," challenges Silock. Fitzgerald's plot has it all, the presence of the Great War, the lavish parties hosted by millionaires, the underworld connections spurred by Prohibition (alcohol having been made illegal by the 18th Amendment), a man's intense love for a woman already married. Deeper themes resonate underneath: wealth, class, pursuit of pleasure, materialism, marriage issues, and very deeply, the American Dream. "Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter -- tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther . . . And then one fine morning -- So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." Suggested by Silock

John Steinbeck - Grapes of Wrath. 1939. Steinbeck wrote in a letter several months before the publication of Grapes that "My whole work drive has been aimed at making people understand each other. . . ." and with this masterpiece, America was encouraged to understand the plight of the workers and farmers who had suffered from the Dust Bowl and Depression, but mostly from the inhumane ways men can often treat one another. The Joad family, forced to leave their farm (the one they worked with their own hands), travel to California where advertisements tell them work is easier to find and pay is higher. They end up experiencing exploitation, death, and family tragedy, but the novel offers a promising gleam of hope: Ma holds the family together (family is a key theme to Grapes), and Rose of Sharon offers her lactating breast (useless now for a still-born child) to a man dying of starvation. Together, we can overcome. "If a literary classic can be defined as a book that speaks directly to readers' concerns in successive historical and cultural eras, no matter what their critical approaches, methods, or preoccupations are, then surely Grapes of Wrath is such a work. Each generation of readers has found something new and relevant about it that speaks to its times" wrote Robert DeMott. Suggested by blaise, NewPhin, and oldandslow

Harper Lee - To Kill a Mockingbird. 1960. Hardly an American gets through high school without seeing Harper Lee's Pultizer Prize winning novel on a reading list or syllabus. Here, through the eyes of a reflecting young woman, is witnessed the innocence, curiosity, and energy of youth mix with the dominating, forceful tradition of Southern racial injustice in the Jim Crow era. In Atticus Finch, later played on film by the great Gregory Peck, America was shown a real gentleman and scholar, a loving and caring single father and a man of utmost principle and duty. Suggested by SNR

Jenson71
06-09-2009, 12:41 AM
I have to do some physics homework still tonight, so I think this will 1.) keep me awake and my mind working and 2.) provide for some great discussion.

The question is what are the essential books about America, that every good American should read if they want to know what makes America or an American.

The rule is they have to be about America in a significant way, obviously, and provide an important perspective on the country. NOTE: You personally don't have to actually agree with the perspective in order for it to be important!

Another is that it can be fiction, non-fiction, or even an important essay or document.

Another is that they don't necessarily have to be written by an American, as some of the best understanding can be from an outsider (Tocqueville).

To make the list more personal, another rule is that in order to nominate it, you have to have read it. I'd like to say Turner's Frontier Thesis, or Native Son or Up From Slavery, but I've honestly never read any of those, so I can't nominate it.

If you don't mind, please add a bit of reason for why you think it's important enough to be included in our canon. I think I will be putting up a short paragraph for each book.

Reaper16
06-09-2009, 12:46 AM
Walden -- Henry David Thoreau
Libs love it for being literary and environmentally-minded, Cons love it for being pretty darn (proto)conservative.

SNR
06-09-2009, 12:48 AM
I was going to suggest Tocqueville.

To understand a bit about what America has gone through in terms of social struggle, I might suggest something like To Kill A Mockingbird. If the person knows next to nothing about the country, the perspective of a child is a good starting place.

Silock
06-09-2009, 01:18 AM
The Great Gatsby - Where else are you going to get such a great description of the roaring 20s?

Huck Finn - Sort of encapsulates Americana of the mid 1800s.

Catch-22 - Great self-criticism of America

Catcher in the Rye - One of the most controversial books in American history. A must read.

Slainte
06-09-2009, 02:21 AM
Leaves Of Grass - Walt Whitman. The quintessential book of American poetry (sorry, Emily Dickenson).

Jenson71
06-09-2009, 03:24 AM
Okay, I don't know anything about Catch-22 (other than that it's highly regarded) or even that it provided a self-criticism for America. I'd gladly add it, but I'd really like it if Silock or someone else offers to add a paragraph description like those I have down already. Especially include the American self-criticism part or anything else American related.

I'm also not too sure The Catcher in the Rye should count. I think, if anything, what the book can tell us about American values, comes not from the book itself but from a more vocal and conservative reaction against the book in schools. I'll wait to see if others consider this an essential book about America and/or if a good argument can be made. I definitely don't want this to be my American canon alone, but I think it might be good if there are some restraints. And along with that, if anyone would like to argue that any book on the list is not an important book that can tell us something about America, feel free to speak up and offer a case.

Amnorix
06-09-2009, 07:27 AM
I haven't read any of them, but Common Sense by Paine, The Jungle, and Uncle Tom's Cabin could easily be on the list.

I'm not sure, out of all the non-fiction American history I've read, that any have the scope needed to make a list such as this. I tend to read biographies and focused works, not something that operates at 30,000 feet or has alot of insightful commentary beyond the scope of the subject matter at hand.

Shelby Foote's 3 volumes on the Civil War, which are basically the best detailed introductory reading on the matter, might be a candidate.

Amnorix
06-09-2009, 07:29 AM
I'm also not too sure The Catcher in the Rye should count. I think, if anything, what the book can tell us about American values, comes not from the book itself but from a more vocal and conservative reaction against the book in schools.

So you're more interested in the ideals that we usually fail to live by then the reality of American history? Not that American ideals are a bunch of hooey -- they're not -- but the reality is far different from the ideal. One reason, I think, that Americans often fail to understand why the world doesn't embrace us and our foreign policy.

SNR
06-09-2009, 07:52 AM
I believe this exemplifies the spirit and vigor that so many Americans possess when they say "get lost." It really is a spectacular work of American literature

http://www.chiefsplanet.com/BB/showthread.php?t=163428

:D

blaise
06-09-2009, 08:22 AM
You could probably put the Grapes of Wrath in there.

NewChief
06-09-2009, 08:23 AM
John Dos Passos: The USA Trilogy. Essential for understanding labor and the class struggle surrounding the first 30 years of the 20th century.

Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath: similar to the above.

Jenson71
06-09-2009, 08:25 AM
So you're more interested in the ideals that we usually fail to live by then the reality of American history? Not that American ideals are a bunch of hooey -- they're not -- but the reality is far different from the ideal. One reason, I think, that Americans often fail to understand why the world doesn't embrace us and our foreign policy.

Not at all -- both works focused on ideals and reality are welcomed for the list.

blaise
06-09-2009, 08:28 AM
I agree with Jensen about Catcher in the Rye - I wouldn't include it. I think he's asking for books that could be put in a time capsule so that if someone found them 1,000 years from now they could understand American life. I don't know if Catcher in the Rye does that.

HonestChieffan
06-09-2009, 08:28 AM
Mayflower is an excellent read that brings understanding to the issues faced by pilgims and puritans, the indians and the behaviors of the time.

There are a number of outstanding bios that every student of founding fathers and the period up to and through the writing of the Constitution. Franklin, Jefferson, the Adams', Washington, Hamilton all should be read about. Founding Brothers is good for an overview.

Undaunted Courage gives one a sence of the effort and discoveries of the Lewis and Clark efforts.

Sandbergs Lincoln is a must for anyone building a library of Lincoln books. There are so many. Some great many not so good.

Andrew Jackson in many ways changed politics and his approaches to problems defined him. Excellent reading also of those times are books on Crockett. One I recently read is not here at home but was a single book on the history of the Alamo following the lives of Travis, Crockett, and Bowie. They were all shifty scoundrels.

Look into western expansion based on your interest. There are many great books on the people, places, and events as the country moved west. I very much enjoyed some of the bios and in particular Sherman, a soldiers passion for order was outstanding.

Living in the border war region there are many many great reads of Kansas and Missouri in Civil War times. (There were a lot of loons on both sides but Kansas had the upper hand on kooks.)

TR was a change agent. You should have an understanding of the man and those times leading up to WW1.

There is a book called "A short History of WW1". Id read it. There are some fantastic WW2 works.

The list can go on. I find as I read about one time or place that I am drawn down bunny trails readiong about the other people or events that influenced a given time or era. So one can start on Civil war and end up read bios of Mary Lincoln. Its all good.

Baby Lee
06-09-2009, 08:29 AM
J.C. Furnas - The Americans: A Social History of the United States 1587-1914

blaise
06-09-2009, 08:41 AM
Not to go too far off the board but because it's been published many times, and I would bet almost as many people have read it as have seen it, I might include a published version of the play Our Town, by Wilder as a representation of small town life.

KC native
06-09-2009, 10:06 AM
A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn.

blaise
06-09-2009, 10:16 AM
A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn.

I swear, about an hour ago I almost wrote that in quotes and then wrote. "signed KC Native" underneath it.
Not that I'm criticising you for it, but I somehow knew you were going to post that.

KC native
06-09-2009, 10:20 AM
I swear, about an hour ago I almost wrote that in quotes and then wrote. "signed KC Native" underneath it.
Not that I'm criticising you for it, but I somehow knew you were going to post that.

:thumb: It's a pretty standard history book. It's by no means a definitive history of everything but the way in which he tells the narratives makes it a great read imo.

Sully
06-09-2009, 10:44 AM
"Everybody Poops"

Pitt Gorilla
06-09-2009, 11:39 AM
The Catcher in the Rye
The Jungle
Huck Finn
Babbitt

tomahawk kid
06-09-2009, 11:42 AM
"1776" by David McCullough is an excellent read.

Calcountry
06-09-2009, 12:49 PM
I have Waldon in my Library, haven't had a chance to read it yet.

blaise
06-09-2009, 12:50 PM
I have Waldon in my Library, haven't had a chance to read it yet.

I have to be honest, it bored the hell out of me.

Pitt Gorilla
06-09-2009, 12:55 PM
I have Waldon in my Library, haven't had a chance to read it yet.I would never read that again.

HonestChieffan
06-09-2009, 01:15 PM
I have to be honest, it bored the hell out of me.

Really? I have read it every winter for years

KC Dan
06-09-2009, 01:17 PM
Timely -> 1984 - George Orwell

RaiderH8r
06-09-2009, 01:24 PM
Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal
-Christopher Moore

A delightful romp through theology and philosophy.

In a nation so strongly affiliated with the Judeo-Christian ethos I thought perhaps a book about Jesus would be appropriate. If not please disregard.

blaise
06-09-2009, 01:30 PM
Really? I have read it every winter for years

I just didn't like it. Maybe I was too young when I read it, I don't know. I'm not disputing it being on the list though. There's other books that I think could be on there that I didn't like that much either, but I think they reprsent something American. The Scarlet Letter, for instance, is a great period piece but I didn't enjoy reading it (I do like the Twice Told Tales by Hawthorne though). Also Martin Dressler, by Millhauser (sp?) I think examines the American spirit very well, but I didn't actually enjoy it all that much.

Reaper16
06-09-2009, 01:31 PM
I have to be honest, it bored the hell out of me.

I would never read that again.
Poop-heads.

MagicHef
06-09-2009, 01:33 PM
Invisible Man - Ralph Ellison

Baby Lee
06-09-2009, 01:33 PM
A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn.

You're that guy. I was wondering.

Pitt Gorilla
06-09-2009, 01:41 PM
Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal
-Christopher Moore

A delightful romp through theology and philosophy.

In a nation so strongly affiliated with the Judeo-Christian ethos I thought perhaps a book about Jesus would be appropriate. If not please disregard.I loved the book, but I probably wouldn't put it on the list.

BucEyedPea
06-09-2009, 01:43 PM
Hamilton's Curse Awesomely enlightening!
How Capitalism Saved America: The Untold History of Our Country, from the Pilgrims to the Present
Both by Thomas DiLorenzo

and

The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History by Tom Woods
Comes with a Polish translation even! :thumb:


http://www.thomasewoods.com/images/cover_history_lg.jpg
Should be mandated in all High Schools!

Slainte
06-09-2009, 01:48 PM
Working - Studs Turkel

BucEyedPea
06-09-2009, 01:51 PM
Invisible Man - Ralph Ellison

I really liked that one.

RaiderH8r
06-09-2009, 02:05 PM
I loved the book, but I probably wouldn't put it on the list.

You're probably right but I so rarely recommend books (varied tastes, time invested in reading etc.) that when the subject does come up Lamb is where I go. Generally a winner for any crowd.

I'm currently reading The Worst Hard Time about the dustbowl era on America's high plains. Probably something that is of particular interest to those in the panhandle regions of TX and OK. A good read on the policies, hardships and outcomes of the dustbowl.

RaiderH8r
06-09-2009, 02:11 PM
The Federalist Papers-Publius

KC native
06-09-2009, 02:34 PM
You're that guy. I was wondering.

ok, so (for my curiousity) who is that guy?

HonestChieffan
06-09-2009, 03:06 PM
You're that guy. I was wondering.

Well, be nice. Any School teacher will tell you its important to read. Someday he can move up to serious works but for now if thats where his comfort level is then he should be encouraged.

HonestChieffan
06-09-2009, 03:07 PM
You're probably right but I so rarely recommend books (varied tastes, time invested in reading etc.) that when the subject does come up Lamb is where I go. Generally a winner for any crowd.

I'm currently reading The Worst Hard Time about the dustbowl era on America's high plains. Probably something that is of particular interest to those in the panhandle regions of TX and OK. A good read on the policies, hardships and outcomes of the dustbowl.

That is a heck of a book. Those folks faced some bad stuff.

KC native
06-09-2009, 03:09 PM
Well, be nice. Any School teacher will tell you its important to read. Someday he can move up to serious works but for now if thats where his comfort level is then he should be encouraged.

Let me guess, you haven't read it.

BucEyedPea
06-09-2009, 03:27 PM
The Federalist Papers-Publius

Ahhhh! Yes. A good one, a good one! :thumb:

Baby Lee
06-09-2009, 03:32 PM
ok, so (for my curiousity) who is that guy?

The guy who recommends Zinn when someone asks for essential books about America? Was it that hard to follow? ;)

RaiderH8r
06-09-2009, 04:00 PM
Ahhhh! Yes. A good one, a good one! :thumb:

It should be required reading.

Ebolapox
06-09-2009, 04:12 PM
not sure if it qualifies, but...

'gone with the wind' by margaret mitchell.

oldandslow
06-10-2009, 08:57 AM
Really? I have read it every winter for years

So have I. Essential book, imo.

My top 5...in no particular order

Huck Finn
Walden
1984
Grapes of Wrath
1492 (by Charles Mann). Illustrates what western Hemisphere was like pre-columbus.

Jenson71
06-10-2009, 12:51 PM
Okay, so far we have seven, formally. I still have seven or eight left to document so far. Please keep them coming. I think a good list of 25 is a nice number to display.

Some questionable offers given:

First of all, there are a lot of good history books out there. It would be hard to list them all. That's why I want the list to be the essentials. A biography of Davy Crockett would be hard to determine as essential American reading, but it would not be impossible. Why is it essential to understanding America that is so relevant for all time and exceeds any other book to be declared essential? Why is it as important as The Federalist Papers or The Invisible Man - two offers I definitely can agree with putting them up on a list of essentials?

A People's History of the United States is a controversial one. If anything, it tries to tell more about our understanding of history than it does about our history. In many cases, Zinn's understanding is shallow and borderline ridiculous, even offering a falsifaction of history not based on facts but agenda. It is why so many in the history profession reject him and also why this list will reject him as well.

1984 speaks largely of totalitarianism and dictatorship present in the world and Europe in the 20th century. It's a great book and could be required or essential reading for classes in modern Western Civilization, but essential for American history and understanding is a more narrow question (yes, even if Obama is the new Big Brother and Orwell is crying in his grave right now)

A book about Jesus or his fictionalized childhood pal is also not about America, even if most Americans are Christian. There are many traditions that come before us that we have incorporated into our way of life and politics, and that list would be very broad and may not even include one book written in America or written since the time of America's founding.

Politically Incorrect Guide to American History, or the Conservative Idiot's Guide or for Republican Dummies, is the flip side of the Zinn coin.

A book about pre-Columbus Western Hempishere is not really at all about America unless someone can demonstrate that those elements are still a significant force for us today. I question whether it really can be.

KC native
06-10-2009, 12:55 PM
Okay, so far we have seven, formally. I still have seven or eight left to document so far. Please keep them coming. I think a good list of 25 is a nice number to display.

Some questionable offers given:

First of all, there are a lot of good history books out there. It would be hard to list them all. That's why I want the list to be the essentials. A biography of Davy Crockett would be hard to determine as essential American reading, but it would not be impossible. Why is it essential to understanding America that is so relevant for all time and exceeds any other book to be declared essential? Why is it as important as The Federalist Papers or The Invisible Man - two offers I definitely can agree with putting them up on a list of essentials?

A People's History of the United States is a controversial one. If anything, it tries to tell more about our understanding of history than it does about our history. In many cases, Zinn's understanding is shallow and borderline ridiculous, even offering a falsifaction of history not based on facts but agenda. It is why so many in the history profession reject him and also why this list will reject him as well.

1984 speaks largely of totalitarianism and dictatorship present in the world and Europe in the 20th century. It's a great book and could be required or essential reading for classes in modern Western Civilization, but essential for American history and understanding is a more narrow question (yes, even if Obama is the new Big Brother and Orwell is crying in his grave right now)

A book about Jesus or his fictionalized childhood pal is also not about America, even if most Americans are Christian. There are many traditions that come before us that we have incorporated into our way of life and politics, and that list would be very broad and may not even include one book written in America or written since the time of America's founding.

Politically Incorrect Guide to American History, or the Conservative Idiot's Guide or for Republican Dummies, is the flip side of the Zinn coin.

A book about pre-Columbus Western Hempishere is not really at all about America unless someone can demonstrate that those elements are still a significant force for us today. I question whether it really can be.

I somewhat agree. He tends to be a little myopic and can miss the big picture however his ability to use the people's of their times own accounts to weave a narrative is great. His book doesn't tell the whole story however it worthwhile to look at history from the not dominant version of accounts.

banyon
06-10-2009, 01:02 PM
Okay, so far we have seven, formally. I still have seven or eight left to document so far. Please keep them coming. I think a good list of 25 is a nice number to display.

Some questionable offers given:

First of all, there are a lot of good history books out there. It would be hard to list them all. That's why I want the list to be the essentials. A biography of Davy Crockett would be hard to determine as essential American reading, but it would not be impossible. Why is it essential to understanding America that is so relevant for all time and exceeds any other book to be declared essential? Why is it as important as The Federalist Papers or The Invisible Man - two offers I definitely can agree with putting them up on a list of essentials?

A People's History of the United States is a controversial one. If anything, it tries to tell more about our understanding of history than it does about our history. In many cases, Zinn's understanding is shallow and borderline ridiculous, even offering a falsifaction of history not based on facts but agenda. It is why so many in the history profession reject him and also why this list will reject him as well.

1984 speaks largely of totalitarianism and dictatorship present in the world and Europe in the 20th century. It's a great book and could be required or essential reading for classes in modern Western Civilization, but essential for American history and understanding is a more narrow question (yes, even if Obama is the new Big Brother and Orwell is crying in his grave right now)

A book about Jesus or his fictionalized childhood pal is also not about America, even if most Americans are Christian. There are many traditions that come before us that we have incorporated into our way of life and politics, and that list would be very broad and may not even include one book written in America or written since the time of America's founding.

Politically Incorrect Guide to American History, or the Conservative Idiot's Guide or for Republican Dummies, is the flip side of the Zinn coin.

A book about pre-Columbus Western Hempishere is not really at all about America unless someone can demonstrate that those elements are still a significant force for us today. I question whether it really can be.


Actually there's a book called "A Patriot's History of the United States" that's a more directly targeted attempt to reverse mirror Zinn's book.

HonestChieffan
06-10-2009, 01:03 PM
Crockett was a very interesting chap, not like what you see on TV and in comic books...a three time member of the house who took on Jackson...pretty tough old bird. The times and the politics of the era is the learning, Crockett helps make that happen.

banyon
06-10-2009, 01:11 PM
I would add that The Education of Henry Adams probably belongs on the list. Perhaps The Autobiography of Malcolm X and the Right Stuff.

My personal list would have to include The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, what aa exceptionally well written book, but objectively Adams is the only one i can say that should belong as Quintessentially American like De Tocqueville.

KC native
06-10-2009, 01:11 PM
Actually there's a book called "A Patriot's History of the United States" that's a more directly targeted attempt to reverse mirror Zinn's book.

I'll have to check that out.

I'm not nearly the history buff that many in here are. I'm more into current events/finance reading. Just picked up Bailout Nation by Ritholz and haven't had a chance to get into it yet.

blaise
06-10-2009, 01:16 PM
The Scarlet Letter as a period piece about that time in our history.

Maybe The Things They Carried by O'Brien

Lonesome Dove paints a picture of the American West, that could be good.

Baby Lee
06-10-2009, 01:43 PM
Okay, so far we have seven, formally. I still have seven or eight left to document so far. Please keep them coming. I think a good list of 25 is a nice number to display.

Some questionable offers given:

First of all, there are a lot of good history books out there. It would be hard to list them all. That's why I want the list to be the essentials. A biography of Davy Crockett would be hard to determine as essential American reading, but it would not be impossible. Why is it essential to understanding America that is so relevant for all time and exceeds any other book to be declared essential? Why is it as important as The Federalist Papers or The Invisible Man - two offers I definitely can agree with putting them up on a list of essentials?

A People's History of the United States is a controversial one. If anything, it tries to tell more about our understanding of history than it does about our history. In many cases, Zinn's understanding is shallow and borderline ridiculous, even offering a falsifaction of history not based on facts but agenda. It is why so many in the history profession reject him and also why this list will reject him as well.

1984 speaks largely of totalitarianism and dictatorship present in the world and Europe in the 20th century. It's a great book and could be required or essential reading for classes in modern Western Civilization, but essential for American history and understanding is a more narrow question (yes, even if Obama is the new Big Brother and Orwell is crying in his grave right now)

A book about Jesus or his fictionalized childhood pal is also not about America, even if most Americans are Christian. There are many traditions that come before us that we have incorporated into our way of life and politics, and that list would be very broad and may not even include one book written in America or written since the time of America's founding.

Politically Incorrect Guide to American History, or the Conservative Idiot's Guide or for Republican Dummies, is the flip side of the Zinn coin.

A book about pre-Columbus Western Hempishere is not really at all about America unless someone can demonstrate that those elements are still a significant force for us today. I question whether it really can be.

The Furnas work I referenced is very detailed and apolitical. It centers on things like how certain achitectural and culinary traditions or amalgamations migrated or stuck in certain geographical areas, how and why social conventions or fads come into vogue, how innovations spread, the importance of cast iron, etc. etc. Detailed reviews of camp life, prairie life, city life, port life, frontier life. All sorts of small but formative vignettes from Chesapeake to the Dakotas to the Florida swamps.

Pitt Gorilla
06-10-2009, 01:58 PM
Since nobody else supported Babbitt, how about Main Street?

BucEyedPea
06-10-2009, 06:43 PM
Politically Incorrect Guide to American History, or the Conservative Idiot's Guide or for Republican Dummies, is the flip side of the Zinn coin.

Like the way you post on posts you don't read you say this about a book you've never read. Wouldn't you like to know about some of the land that was actually purchased from Indians and things like that?

Nah....closed minds operate like this.

BucEyedPea
06-10-2009, 06:44 PM
...to the Florida swamps.

I can tell ya' about that right now. What would you like to know?

Rain Man
06-10-2009, 06:48 PM
I'm surprised that no one has suggested "On The Road", by Jack Kerouac, but just on reputation alone. I think it's one of the best-written books ever, but I honestly don't think it should make the list just because it's a little too niched in terms of describing America.

banyon
06-10-2009, 06:54 PM
Like the way you post on posts you don't read you say this about a book you've never read. Wouldn't you like to know about some of the land that was actually purchased from Indians and things like that?

Nah....closed minds operate like this.


Shouldn't you be throwing some piece of garbage Thomas DiLorenzo "We didn't really go to the moon" book up for consideration?

Baby Lee
06-10-2009, 06:56 PM
I can tell ya' about that right now. What would you like to know?

No where near getting to Florida, but I glanced over this book when reminded by this thread. Interesting from the get-go. Starting in 1587. Snippets from the first few pages.


300 years ago at Governor's Island, in the shadow of the scyscrapers of downtown NYC, was so dominated by great walnuts and hickies that the Dutch called it Nut Island.

For 1,000 miles north to south, and westward over an area as large as Roman Europe [was] the majestic 'climax forest' . . . They said a squirrel could travel tree-to-tree from the Ohio River to Lake Erie by overarching boughs. . .

Even the brakish Hackensack Meadows of New Jersey . . . once had a vast stand of white cedar.

In Ohio, . . . there is an authentic record of one such patriarch [White Oak] 34 feet around the butt.

In Ross County Ohio, was a wild grapevine 16 feet around at the ground, that had 3 branches each 8 feet in girth and cut up into eight cords of firewood when finally destroyed.

Adept Havelock
06-10-2009, 07:36 PM
Instead of "1984", I'd suggest "It Can't Happen Here" by Sinclair Lewis.

I'd also suggest "Hard Times" by Terkel. Great collection of oral histories of the Depression.

Manchester's "The Glory and the Dream: A Narrative History of America, 1932-1972" is interesting, but pretty leftist IMO.

banyon
06-10-2009, 07:39 PM
Instead of "1984", I'd suggest "It Can't Happen Here" by Sinclair Lewis.

I'd also suggest "Hard Times" by Terkel. Great collection of oral histories of the Depression.

I missed that.

I definitely agree that a book about the future by a Limey (no offense Donger) probably doesn't have any business on a list of "essentially American" books.

Adept Havelock
06-10-2009, 07:43 PM
I missed that.

I definitely agree that a book about the future by a Limey (no offense Donger) probably doesn't have any business on a list of "essentially American" books.

That one struck me as a bit odd as well. It Can't Happen Here was written in the 30's, in the era of the "Liberty League". All I can say is we were lucky Gen. Smedley Butler (USMC-Ret.) was far more of a patriot than those folks thought.

Jenson71
06-10-2009, 08:06 PM
I somewhat agree. He tends to be a little myopic and can miss the big picture however his ability to use the people's of their times own accounts to weave a narrative is great. His book doesn't tell the whole story however it worthwhile to look at history from the not dominant version of accounts.

It may have some merit, if at least giving a popular voice to many who had little. For all that though (these things you can get elsewhere), you have to also go through things like the corruption of the Founders and Matt Damon references, because everyone knows how important Matt Damon (and other people who have promoted Zinn) are to American history.

But, it can be on the list. I got a head of myself for saying it can't be. If more people want it, I'd definitely put it on, being I hope this is a chiefsplanet list rather than a Jenson list.

Jenson71
06-10-2009, 08:13 PM
Like the way you post on posts you don't read you say this about a book you've never read. Wouldn't you like to know about some of the land that was actually purchased from Indians and things like that?

Nah....closed minds operate like this.

You're right, I've never read it. I've never read Walden, Leaves of Grass, or Huckleberry Finn either. I just know somethings about them. And I can comment on them as we are all free to do.

Would I like to know about some of the land that was actually purchased from Indians? Actually, not right now. And I don't think that qualifies as being essential knowledge to understanding America, the essence of what America is.

Also, I can get that information elsewhere. A compliation of ancedotes that anyone who has had courses in American history knows already does not make a book essential.

I am somewhat closed minded. I'm not open to the idea that any commercial produced book that took a few days to ponder over and compile is one of the most essential books on America.

HonestChieffan
06-10-2009, 09:27 PM
You're right, I've never read it. I've never read Walden, Leaves of Grass, or Huckleberry Finn either. I just know somethings about them. And I can comment on them as we are all free to do.

Would I like to know about some of the land that was actually purchased from Indians? Actually, not right now. And I don't think that qualifies as being essential knowledge to understanding America, the essence of what America is.

Also, I can get that information elsewhere. A compliation of ancedotes that anyone who has had courses in American history knows already does not make a book essential.

I am somewhat closed minded. I'm not open to the idea that any commercial produced book that took a few days to ponder over and compile is one of the most essential books on America.

Nothing wrong with being shallow as long as no one tests you you will be fine.

banyon
06-10-2009, 09:41 PM
Nothing wrong with being shallow as long as no one tests you you will be fine.

You're pretty dense, aren't you?

Sarcasm pretty difficult for you?

Jenson71
06-10-2009, 09:42 PM
Nothing wrong with being shallow as long as no one tests you you will be fine.

Luckily for everyone there will be no test afterwards. But I would like to make a non-public poll and see how people are doing in our essential readings. So far I'm 4 for 7. I read more than half of Huckleberry my freshman year, and then put it down and never got back to it. Same thing with Crime and Punishment. I was less than 50 pages away. I guess it's good to read it again though.

Jenson71
05-13-2010, 12:42 AM
Hey guys, remember this? I had forgotten about this little project. I want to finish it, since I'll have some time this summer (not that it should take much time).

Anyway, we have some good suggestions here that are possible candidates for the list. Would anyone like to second or defend them? Remember, you have to have actually read it. I know The Federalist Papers are really important too, but I can't recommend it because I've only read probably 10, at the most, over my lifetime.

John Dos Passos: The USA Trilogy. Essential for understanding labor and the class struggle surrounding the first 30 years of the 20th century.

J.C. Furnas - The Americans: A Social History of the United States 1587-1914

Not to go too far off the board but because it's been published many times, and I would bet almost as many people have read it as have seen it, I might include a published version of the play Our Town, by Wilder as a representation of small town life.

A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn.

Invisible Man - Ralph Ellison

Working - Studs Turkel

The Federalist Papers-Publius

not sure if it qualifies, but...

'gone with the wind' by margaret mitchell.

I would add that The Education of Henry Adams probably belongs on the list. Perhaps The Autobiography of Malcolm X and the Right Stuff.

My personal list would have to include The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, what aa exceptionally well written book, but objectively Adams is the only one i can say that should belong as Quintessentially American like De Tocqueville.

The Scarlet Letter as a period piece about that time in our history.

Maybe The Things They Carried by O'Brien

Lonesome Dove paints a picture of the American West, that could be good.

Since nobody else supported Babbitt, how about Main Street?

Instead of "1984", I'd suggest "It Can't Happen Here" by Sinclair Lewis.

I'd also suggest "Hard Times" by Terkel. Great collection of oral histories of the Depression.

Manchester's "The Glory and the Dream: A Narrative History of America, 1932-1972" is interesting, but pretty leftist IMO.

Silock
05-13-2010, 12:50 AM
An Empire of Wealth - John Steele Gordon

Basically, it's a history of how we got where we are economically. Centrist-right perspective, I suppose. Fascinating read.

orange
05-13-2010, 12:52 AM
How about The Jungle and Uncle Tom's Cabin. These books actually had an impact on events, in addition to their depictions of less pleasant realities.

*disclaimer* I haven't read the earlier pages of this thread.

KC native
05-13-2010, 02:28 AM
hehe I forgot about this thread too.


The Bible

Warrior5
05-13-2010, 05:58 AM
I suggest Michael Shaara's "The Killer Angels".

Surprised it hasn't been nominated.

JonesCrusher
05-13-2010, 09:08 AM
I'm surprised that no one has suggested "On The Road", by Jack Kerouac, but just on reputation alone. I think it's one of the best-written books ever, but I honestly don't think it should make the list just because it's a little too niched in terms of describing America.

Ditto

JonesCrusher
05-13-2010, 09:12 AM
Crossing the Rubicon: The Decline of the American Empire at the End of the Age of Oil : Michael C. Ruppert

Rain Man
05-13-2010, 10:11 AM
In Ross County Ohio, was a wild grapevine 16 feet around at the ground, that had 3 branches each 8 feet in girth and cut up into eight cords of firewood when finally destroyed.


This makes me chuckle. In part, a history of early America has to include examples of "Wow! What a fantastic natural wonder! Let's kill it."