Monday, January 12, 2009

Know Thy Country Challenge

I was taking in copious amounts of PBS this weekend. (Hey, it's pretty rockin around here, what can I say?) Truman, mandates, Watergate, and Reagan. Halfway through the second program, I was shamed into the realization that I know nothing about US history.

I have never been very good with remembering history. I have a handle on the big things: Nixon = Watergate, George Washington = first president, 1776 = signing of the Declaration of Independence, and a few other key points of interest along the time line of my country. And it seems like a decent amount of knowledge, doesn't it? Enough to get me through a Trivial Pursuit game, at least.

But then I thought back to a vacation I spent, visiting a friend, in Scotland. He took me through
Edinburgh Castle. I didn't have to stop to read one description. No geeky headset narrative plastered to my ear. He walked me through a thousand years of history, chattering all the way, noting relations between this ruler and this clan, discussing his country's early history as an independent state, as well as it's development during the Medieval period.

I've always remembered the shock I felt at the ease with which he spoke of these things. And I have trouble remembering who more than half of the presidents were. Never mind what order they came in or what they accomplished while in office!

So, I decided to give myself a reading challenge this year. I want to know the history of my country. It's still such a young country, I think I can catch up! For now, I am most interested in learning more about each of our presidents, so good old G. Washington seems as good a place as any to start!

I'm open to suggestions for books to read. I will shy away from anything that is dry and heavy on the politics. I am really looking for a good story, or biographer who is able to weave those elements in without my really knowing it. Sort of the way my mom used to feed me vegetables. Hidden amongst the pasta and cheese.

My goal is to have a good handle on at least the first 10 presidents by the end of the year. I may choose to read supplemental material on each, so, there's no telling where this is going to take me, but I'm so excited to get started!

I'm calling it the Know Thy Country Challenge. Now, it's not a real challenge in the sense that it has any real rules, or dates, or guidelines. It's more of a promise to myself to be a more informed citizen of my particular spot on Earth.

Come on history buffs, whaddya got for me?


Lezlie said...

You might want to take a look at this, just for fun!


OnlinePublicist said...

Whoah! Did I write that? lol. It's fantastic, Lezlie! Thanks!

Bluestocking said...

I have this problem with American Literature.

S. Krishna said...

I've heard amazing things about John Adams by David McCullough

bookfool said...

I always loved History in school. You might want to try this book: Don't Know Much About History: Everything You Need to Know About American History but Never Learned by Kenneth Davis.I The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History by Thomas Woods, as well. Sort of a contrarian version of history.

Serena said...

what a great idea. The John Adams book is the first one that came to mind...I've heard great things about it.

Lauren said...

Since you are going chronologically it will be a while before you get to this one, but for Johnson try LBJ: Architect of American Ambition.

Also, for an excellent and rather fascinating overview, try the latest edition of A People's History of the United States:

Carrie K. said...

For non-fiction, I recommend David McCullough's 1776 and Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick.

Oh, also The Intellectual Devotional: American History Edition - it has a one-age snippet for every day of the year in different categories for every day of the week.

For non-fiction, The Heretic's Daughter is excellent historical fiction about the Salem Witch trials.

Cheryl said...

Great idea, I think I should join you in this challenge. I homeschool my children and I feel that I didn't really begin to form a true understanding of our history until I started teaching them. But I still have a long way to go, PBS puts me to shame also! If you do a formal challenge let me know and I'll sign up!

Kris said...

What a cool idea. I was kinda thinking that I really need to brush up as I hear the commentators today so eloquently reference so many snippets from American history. I may join you in this, Lisa!

Valerie said...

What a cool challenge, I wish you luck!

Martin Wilson said...

I would suggest America, Empire of Liberty by David Reynolds – recently published by Allen Lane (at least in the UK). It is a comprehensive history.

I have just read it and will be writing a review for Suite101 shortly. It goes a long way to explain America's attitude to the outside world view and many of the contradictions in American society.