Understanding America

The Patriot's Handbook: A Citizenship Primer for a New Generation of AmericansThe Patriot’s Handbook: A Citizenship Primer for a New Generation of Americans by George Grant

It’s hard to be excessively great or terrible when compiling essays on American history. Primary source essays and speeches are useful for many purposes, research being just one. But they can go further than that. If compiled properly, primary sources can paint a picture of history. There are many books that appear as a grab-bag of essays and speeches with no apparent rhyme or reason.

This book, edited by George Grant, is no such grab-bag. It combines poems, essays, speeches, and quotes from Americans throughout our history. These writings give a primer on the meaning of American culture. It’s not as much about agreeing or disagreeing with the essays but about helping us to understand what makes the United States what she is. It begins with Columbus and the Mayflower Compact and ends with President George W. Bush’s speech on September 11. Along the way we find poems like “Paul Revere’s Ride, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and “Stonewall Jackson’s Way,” by John Williamson Palmer. We can read “Letters from a Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King Jr. and the Pearl Harbor Address given by President Franklin Roosevelt.

Some would find this volume too hearty and war-glorifying but even so, you can’t understand America without knowing the reasons she gave for acting as she did. I would have liked to read more sources from the “lost cause” file, like the America First document or something from the Copperheads (Northern Democrats who opposed the War Between the States), but that’s what research is for. For those who would want to understand American history from the inside, this is a good place to start.

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