Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Book Review: A Nation Rising

Several weeks ago the book A Nation Rising by Kenneth C. Davis was sent to me for review. If you don’t recognize the name you should…..Mr. Davis writes the Don’t Know Much About® series and other works such as America’s Hidden History: Untold Tales of the First Pilgrims.

The complete title of A Nation Rising includes the sub-title Untold Tales of Flawed Founders, Fallen Heroes and Forgotten Fighters from America’s Hidden History. Hmmm…the flawed, the forgotten, and the fallen – sounds like MY kind of history. Curing the myths, making connections that are rarely taught in the classroom and giving credit….the good and bad…where it is due – that’s MY style!

Mr. Davis certainly comes through on his promises and more….

The premise of the book seeks to explore the ideals that birthed our nation – All men are created equal and life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness - and parallel them with the knowledge that so many Founders owned slaves and condoned the systematic removal and murder of Native Americans from their homelands. Mr. Davis contends his book examines…..”the stunning gap between America’s ideals and its realities….For all the distance that America has traveled as a nation since 1776, the country still needs to reconcile the glorious dream with the dark nightmare that haunts America’s past.”

The time period A Nation Rising examines is one of my favorites – the fifty year span from 1800 to 1850. During this time America became a nation ‘ from sea to shining sea’. The population increased from 5.3 million with nearly 900,000 of that number in slavery in 1800 to over 3.2 million slaves based on a 23 million population number in 1850. Kenneth C. Davis takes those figures and uses them along with little taught history to show how a nation went from the ideals of their forefathers and in less than one hundred years was in the midst of the Civil War.

How on earth did that happen?

He advises, and I agree that to truly understand how our nation was shaped we need to take a serious look at the fifty year period from 1800-1850. Unfortunately, those years are often rushed through and not taught as well as they could be in a mad dash to get all those standards in leaving events like the election of 1800, the War of 1812, and the Seminole Indian Wars on the curriculum cutting room floor.

If you are clueless concerning William Weatherford, Francis Dade, or Madison Washington you need to read this book. Ever hear of the ‘Bible Riots’? Sounds like something that took place in the Bible Belt of the South, but actually they occurred in the City of Brotherly Love – Philadelphia. The Massacre of Fort Mims is discussed as the most popular couple of the time period – John Charles Fremont and Jessie Benton Fremont.

If you are a little sketchy regarding the Seminole Wars and the role runaway slaves and free blacks played in the process you need to read this book. Many of the chapters also deal with events surrounding the role Andrew Jackson played prior to becoming president. While lionized as the quintessential American hero there are Americans to this day who refuse to buy or sell using twenty dollar bills because they contain his image. Why is this?

Kenneth C. Davis ends his introduction piece to the book with this quote from JFK that hits home with me and reminds me why I do what do as an educator and writer who focuses on history:

“For the great enemy of truth is very often not the lie – deliberate, contrived, and dishonest – but the myth – persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. Too often we hold to the clichés of our forebears….We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.”

Education should do both…..provide opportunities for the comfort of opinion and the discomfort of thought.

Kenneth C. Davis’ book, A Nation Rising, opens the dialogue.


Joie said...

Dear elementaryhistoryteacher;

I love this blog. I am a fifty-something year old grandma, but I learn tons from you. Thank you.

I wonder if you could suggest to me books that would (truthfully) tell of our history for my eleven year old grandson. He has lived in Europe most of his life and can tell you all about Italy's history, but doesn't know much about the U.S.

I think, since we are both so interested in history, that this could be something we share together--but I'd like for it to be quality information. He is very bright--and it will be something we do together.

Any suggestions?

Thank you.

EHT said...

Thank you so much Joie for your comment and kind words. Have you checked out the Joy Hakim series, "A History of US"? The recent television series put on by the History Channel really disappointed me, but the books are well written and are very kid-friendly especially for the 9-12 range. My students always gravitate towards my collection when they want to learn about new eras of history. :)