Summer Reading with Teaching American History
What are our staff and faculty reading this summer?
Michelle Hubenschmidt, Teacher Program Manager
For your summer reading pleasure I’d like to recommend two easy and light narratives based on actual events. Both involve murder, scandal, salacious accusations and sensational ‘trials of the century’ with many familiar founding era men: George Wythe, Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall, Edmund Randolph, Patrick Henry and Gouverneur Morris. I Am Murdered: George Wythe, Thomas Jefferson, and the Killing That Shocked a New Nation by Bruce Chadwick and Unwise Passions: A True Story of a Remarkable Woman and the First Great Scandal of the 18th Century by Alan Pell Crawford.
I Am Murdered: Geroge Wythe, Thomas Jefferson, and the Killing That Shocked a New Nation recounts the bizarre events of Wythe’s poisoning by his grandnephew George Wythe Sweeney, his agonizing death and subsequent trial.
Unwise Passions: A True Story of a Remarkable Woman and the First Great Scandal of the 18thCentury is based on the alleged infanticide and charges of incest surrounding Nancy Randolph and her brother-in-law at Tuckahoe Plantation, boyhood home of Thomas Jefferson.
Did they get away with murder? Grab the book, sit poolside, unwind and enjoy!
Dennis Boman, Faculty Member
My summer reading will include fiction and non-fiction. Currently I am rereading Ulysses S. Grant’s Memoir, which has been published with annotations by Elizabeth D. Samet, a professor of English at West Point. Soon I will begin reading Don E. Fehrenbacher’s last book, The Slaveholding Republic, which provides an overview of the effect slavery had upon the United States from the Founding Era through the Civil War. There are many topics covered including the recruitment of blacks, both slave and free, in the American and British armies during the Revolutionary War, slavery in the national capital, its impact upon our foreign relations, the African Slave Trade, fugitive slave laws, the extension of slavery into the territories, and certain political issues which slavery exacerbated during the antebellum period and the Civil War.
After I have read Fehrenbacher’s book, I intend to read Douglas Murray’s, The War on the West, in which he focuses on recent movements which he argues are meant to undermine the western tradition and culture through various ideologies such as anti-racism, political correctness, and woke. While reading these books I will also be reading Cornelius Nepos’ Lives of Famous Generals, which is a fine collection of short biographies of mostly Greek commanders such as Miltiades, Alcibiades, etc. Nepos was a contemporary of Julius Caesar, Cicero, and Catullus (an important Roman poet). For those of you who know Latin, I recommend reading him in the original. His prose are direct and concise, and he has a good nose for interesting anecdotes and is a fine storyteller in a style similar to the later Greek author Plutarch. Lytton Strachey’s Eminent Victorians was probably modeled upon both Nepos’ and Plutarch’s lives, another book which I highly recommend.
I am currently reading a novel, The Horse Soldiers, published in 1956 upon which was made a movie (1959) starring John Wayne and William Holden of the same title. The novel is based loosely upon Grierson’s Raid in 1863, a Union cavalry incursion into southern Mississippi behind Confederate lines to destroy railroads and bridges and to act as a diversion for Grant’s army which was then attempting to take Vicksburg.
Finally, a friend and I are putting together a translation and annotations for a short work, a speech by a student, Henry Nettleship. Given in Latin in 1863 at Oxford, for which he won a prestigious prize, Nettleship provided a survey of our early history as it related to slavery and the causes of the American Civil War. The speech is important for providing a British outsider’s perspective, one which is not often considered in historical works covering the Civil War. Nettleship was an abolitionist who strongly sided with the North.
Robert McDonald, Faculty Member
I’m hoping to do a lot more writing than reading this summer, but if I could recommend to someone hilarious and heartwarming fiction there’s no doubt I’d suggest a trilogy of novels by the late physician and writer Ferrol Sams (1922-2013): Run with the Horsemen (1982), Whisper of the River (1985), and When All The World Was Young (1992). Although “raised right” in the Great Depression South, protagonist Porter Osborne Jr. nonetheless has spirited adventures growing up, in college, and as a serviceman in World War II.
Candee Collins, Teacher Program Manager
I would like to highly recommend Max Glauben’s book, The UpStander.
Max was a Holocaust survivor and my friend. (He passed away April 28, 2022). As you read his story, what will capture your attention, anger, horror and eventually your heart, is how he survived these 94 years without allowing bitterness and hostility to rule his life.
Newspaper owners in Warsaw, Poland, Max and his family were forced into the Polish ghettos when he was 15. His parents and brother were murdered by the Nazis, and he would be forced into six different labor/concentration camps over the course of 2.5 years. He believed each day the possibility of the Nazis ending his life was always in front of him.
At 17, he was liberated by the US Army and eventually came to Dallas, Texas. He served in the Korean War, raised a family, became a toy buyer for Neiman Marcus and an American citizen, and never allowed hate to rule him.
Max used to say, “don’t be scared by the death I saw but be inspired by the life I lived.”
Stephen F. Knott, Faculty Member
I am reading I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump’s Catastrophic Final Year by Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker. This is a chilling account of the events leading to the January 6, 2021, insurrection, but more broadly, this book illuminates the cultish aspects of the modern presidency and the dangers of presidential narcissism. Regarding the latter malady, there are many examples to cite, but perhaps this quote from the 45th president captures it best: Trump told the authors that ”if George Washington came back from the dead and he chose Abraham Lincoln as his vice president, I think it would have been very hard for them to beat me.”
There are very few heroes in this tale, and by “heroes” I mean those who abided by their sacred oaths and did their duty. Two individuals stand out: the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, and, in the end, Vice President Mike Pence. This book should be required reading for all Americans who believe in the rule of law and in peaceful transitions of power. These transitions are a vital element of healthy republican government — a government that is the antithesis of those established, to borrow a phrase, by ‘accident’ or ‘force.’ Leonnig and Rucker deserve the thanks of all civic-minded Americans for compiling this account of the road to one of the most disgraceful days in American history.
Eric C. Sands, Faculty Member
I’m rereading Gordon Wood’s Creation of the American Republic, one of the best histories of America from the Declaration of Independence to the Constitution. I’m also reading Tocqueville in America, an account of Tocqueville’s travels around the United States that became the basis for his seminal volume Democracy in America.
Gregory A. McBrayer, Faculty and Director of Citizen Programs
Well, my summer reading is usually a mix of fun, work, and research.
If you’re interested in a short summer read, try the short story “Million $$$ Baby,” which was turned into the film Million Dollar Baby, directed by Clint Eastwood. It is a very short read. I rewatched the film recently and decided to read the short story. The film actually adds several interesting elements that are absent from the book, including greater emphasis on Eastwood’s character’s faith as well as an interesting subplot about reading Irish poetry and the life of the mind.
I’ve also been working my way through a translation of and commentary on the book of Genesis by Robert D. Sacks, The Lion and the Ass: Reading Genesis after Babylon. I have learned a lot about this subtle reading of the first book of the Bible.
Since we are preparing some new summer academies for high school students, I have been rereading some old American classics, including Huck Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird. They’re quite fun.
I am also midway through a book by the famous historian, Will Morrisey, on Melville’s masterpiece Moby Dick (In my view, the greatest American novel, though maybe Huck is a strong rival). Morrisey’s book is called Herman Melville’s Ship of State.
There’s plenty of other stuff. Xenophon, on whom I do research, of course. As well as a few of Plutarch’s Lives for the podcast I co-host, The New Thinkery.
Jeff Sikkenga, Executive Director
I want to recommend The Judiciary edited by Josh Dunn. The Supreme Court is always important, but it (and all of the federal courts) are going to be even more important in the near future. The collection has so many significant documents, and I plan to use it in my Supreme Court course in MAHG. Great for anyone who teaches the Court or Court cases in class.
Jeremy Gypton, Manager of Public and Academic Outreach
When France Fell, Michael Neiberg – an eye-opening account of the political and military relations between the United States, Great Britain, and Vichy France. Neiberg uncovers a forgotten interlude in wartime foreign relations, and yet one that had a significant impact on World War II, shaping military options in Europe, the Mediterranean, and Asia, and at times straining relations between England and America, as well as creating friction within the Roosevelt Administration. If international relations, wartime strategy, and/or World War II and the Cold War are of interest to you, you should set aside time to read this one.
Adam Carrington, Faculty Member
This summer, I will make my way through Shakespeare’s English history plays in historical order (King John to Henry VIII). These ten plays span English history from the beginning of the 13th century until the 1530s. The plays involve beautiful poetry, especially the second half of Richard II. They include arresting discussions of the foundations of rule, especially questions of divine right versus its alternatives (Richard II to Henry V). And they display, both in tragedy and triumph, the virtues and vices that attend political rule, such as the pious failings of Henry VI and the unvarnished tyranny of Richard III. Studying how all ten develop one, coherent story of English politics gives a boundless treasure of political wisdom.
Elizabeth Amato, Faculty Member
At the top of my summer reading list is Dan Mahoney’s (hot off the presses) The Statesman as Thinker: Portraits of Greatness, Courage, and Moderation. Statesmanship, he argues, is marked by greatness of soul, moderation, and courage in service of defending human liberty. Among others, Mahoney profiles Cicero, Burke, Tocqueville, Lincoln, De Gaulle, Churchill, and Havel and offers judicious analyses of their words and deeds. One of the best features of the book is that each chapter ends with a “sources and suggested readings” list in which Mahoney gives some unique takes on what to read for further study.
Statesmanship is an unfashionable concept as it seems uncomfortably close to talking about virtue, but unfashionable, good, even great, political leadership remains necessary. We’ve had a lot of subpar political leadership. We neglect thinking about what makes for excellent political leadership at our peril. I’m reading both for my own interest, but also to raise these conversations with students and to inspire them to see how statesmen can be models for emulation and study.
But my summer isn’t all academic pursuits. I’ll mention two books from my fun summer reading list. First, I’ve started Lieutenant Hornblower by C.S. Forester from the Hornblower series. I thoroughly enjoyed the first book that traces the adventures and career of Horatio Hornblower during the Napoleonic wars in which he demonstrates courage and resourcefulness. The second book is an old favorite that I hope to reread. D.E. Stevenson’s Miss Buncle’s Book (part of a series too). Facing economic hardship, Miss Buncle decides to write a novel in order to generate income and draws her inspiration from her quaint English village. It’s so charming and cozy.
Dan Monroe, Faculty Member
I’m reading Joanne B. Freeman’s important book, The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War. Violence and the threat of violence plagued the Congress as the question of slavery’s expansion was debated, and Northern congressmen resented continued Southern threats and bullying. In Illinois, William Bissell won great renown, and eventual election as the first Republican governor, when he accepted a challenge to a duel from Jefferson Davis, the future Confederate president, over a presumed slight concerning the position of Davis’s regiment at the Battle of Buena Vista in the Mexican War. Bissell, as the challenged party, chose muskets loaded with ball and buck at close range, a choice that guaranteed serious wounding or death to both parties, at which point Davis found a reason to avoid fighting. This sort of bullying and violence on the part of Southern Democrats was an important backdrop to the coming of the Civil War, and Freeman details much of it.