In time for Thanksgiving, here's a few of our favorite -- and somewhat unusual -- books about the history of our country ...
Dave Barry Slept Here: A Sort of History of the United States by Dave Barry.
"In the words of a very wise dead person, 'A nation that does not know its history is doomed to do poorly on the Scholastic Aptitude Test.'" So says Dave Barry, with the sort of wry wit that has made him a beloved humor writer for close to thirty years. While not nearly as historically accurate as another of his history-heavy books, Dave Barry Slept Here is an always-amusing journey through the history of our country ... or, at least, through the typical American history textbook.
The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell.
Speaking of humor, it doesn't get much more humorous than Sarah Vowell, a journalist who manages to write researched, accurate books about history while also keeping her sense of humor firmly intact. The Wordy Shipmates is one of my favorite Vowell reads, exploring as she does the Puritan roots of our nation by discussing the little-known rift between the Plymouth Puritans and the Massachusetts Bay Colony Puritans.
The Pirate Coast: Thomas Jefferson, the First Marines, and the Secret Mission of 1805 by Richard Zacks.
The promise of a pirate story might be enough to pique your interest. But Zack's book is also a little-known chapter from Thomas Jefferson's history: implementing America's first covert operation. The plan was to replace the Bashaw of Tripoli with the ruler's brother, in the hopes that the new Bashaw would be more sympathetic to our new nation. Jefferson would send disgraced diplomat William Eaton -- with eight Marines (and a few hundred mercenaries) -- to achieve the objective. The mission was impossible -- but the results, quite surprising.
Poisons of the Past: Molds, Epidemics, and History by Mary Kilbourne Matossian.
This one might be the most unusual of the lot, particularly for a listing of American history reads. And, indeed, the chapters in this book do not deal solely with American history. But there is a section in which Matossian makes an intriguing case for a scientific explanation for the Salem Witch Trials: mold. Ergot is a type of fungi that can grown on rye -- and, if ingested, can cause ergotism in humans. Symptoms of ergotism can include temporary blindness, burning sensations, visions, and suffering from "fits" -- all of which fit the pattern of those claiming to be under the thrall of witchcraft. Mastossian makes an intriguing and surprising case for one of the darker moments in our nation's early history.
John Adams by David McCullough.
Perhaps the most comprehensive biography on one of our most unusual Founding Fathers (and later president). There's also a miniseries starring Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney.
-- Post by Ms. B