Saturday, January 5, 2019

An essential tome for readers of American history... and other good reads

Henry Clay: The Essential American by David and Jeanne Heidler is an essential tome for readers of American history. Congressman. Senator. Secretary of State. Strategist. Negotiator. Presidential Candidate. The Great Compromiser, Henry Clay occupies a place in antebellum statesmanship that few others can claim. And he clashed with most who tried. The Heidlers' research is impeccable, supporting great storytelling and providing context for the study of a life few surpass in influencing, sometimes for better and sometimes not, the turbulent youth of America's republic.

There There: A Novel by Tommy Orange is a mournful, haunting call about being homeless at home. It’s about race and place, past and present. A précis of Native American experience in the prologue foreshadows a discomfiting read. And the stories of a dozen characters moving toward a single, fateful day delivers on that promise. The story is heavy but makes evident, through provocative, elegant language, what is not but should be in plain sight.

Pillars of the Republic: Common Schools and American Society, 1780-1860 by Carl E. Kaestle is less a chronology of public-school history than a study of the social context in which public school systems emerged in the early years of the republic. It is relevant for those interested in the debates about public schools today, not so much form or function but purpose, especially the common school focus to develop citizens that could maintain government of the people, by the people, for the people, something that has been lost in today’s standardization movement in which schools are asked to do everything but develop citizens for democracy.

Visceral. Emotional. Tragic. Hopeful. Real. Raw. Powerful. The Evil Hours: A Biography of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a must-read for anyone interested in learning about the mental and emotional strain occurring as a result of injury or severe psychological shock; what is known, what is not known, and what might be on the horizon. David J. Morris writes with energy, urgency, and a personal authority that pulls the reader into the pages, into the stories, and as close to the minds of those suffering from PTSD as may be possible in literary prose.

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