Founding Brothers by Joseph Ellis

As I’ve scoured the lists of books about revolutionary America for a book to read for my own education, I struggled to find one that covered a variety of people (I love biographies, but I can’t read one about everyone!) and eras (I would love to learn about all eras of the revolution, from the pre-revolution, the actual war years, to the beginning of the republic and later political fall out). At the same time that I’m I’ve been searching for the perfect book about the revolutionary era, I remembered I had picked up a used copy of Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation by Joseph Ellis (Vintage Books, 2000) in a previous year’s book sale. I decided it was the book to read right now.

I was expecting Founding Brothers to be a collection of mini-biographies about the “brothers” of the revolutionary generation. Or maybe it would be about the Constitutional Convention and how they all worked together. Honestly, I did not know what it was, but any expectations I did have were far surpassed in Ellis’s complex portrait of the generation that founded the country. His work is both thorough and completely readable.Continue Reading

The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper

James Fenimore Cooper created an American heritage in his historical fiction novels of the American frontier. For that reason alone I would be glad to say I’ve finally read one of his works. The Last of the Mohicans (first published in 1826) is a romanticized story of the dying days of the Native American culture. Taking place during the French and Indian Wars (also called the Seven Years’ War), The Last of the Mohicans places a few Americans in the midst of a forest full of blood-thirsty Indians. Only with the help of the all-American hero, Natty Bumpo called Hawkeye, do the Americans have any chance of making it through the wilds of America alive.Continue Reading

Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick

Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War by Nathaniel Philbrick (published by Penguin 2007) is about far more than the arrival of the “pious” pilgrims in the New World in a ship named Mayflower. Rather, Philbrick’s tome delves deep in the history of the Plymouth Colony. The facts shared seem to be essential in understanding both the first years of cooperation with the natives (natives with names familiar to many, such as Squanto, Massasoit, and so forth) as well as the more unfamiliar subsequent conflicts as a part of King Philip’s War, which left the land mostly stripped of it’s native population, due to war deaths, enslavement from the English settlers, and land purchase from the settlers. Philbrick writes an engaging story that brought the tragedy of dissolving friendship and cooperation alive for me, four hundred years after it happened.Continue Reading

Night by Elie Wiesel

Eliezer Wiesel was a deeply observant 13-year-old Jewish boy when Moishe the Beadle came to his town with descriptions of the horrors of the war, where Jewish men, women, and children were buried in graves they had themselves dug. No one in Eliezer’s town of Sighet in Hungary believed this was happening. It only a year later, in 1944, when Hungary was overrun by the Germany army, that the Jews began to worry. As their rights begin to be taken away, the community gets restless. They are even excited when they hear they will be transported out of the city, because that means something will be different for them!

Night by Elie Wiesel (published in French 1958/English 1960, audio recorded by Jeffrey Rosenblatt) is Elie’s poignant and personal reflection on his experience: being forced into a cattle car, entering Auschwitz, working in Buchenwald labor camp, and watching friends and loved ones die even as he lost his own will to live. Although Wiesel’s gorgeous prose is well deserving of the Nobel Prize in Literature, it is his story of shattered faith in God, frustrated dreams as a teenager, and loss of belief in the humanity of his fellow men that really make Night a classic. Did people really do this to other people?

The horrors of the event known as the Holocaust as simply unbelievable. It is nearly impossible for me to comprehend the horrors that one people forced on another, and so reading accounts such as Wiesel’s are all the more important. A common theme in Night was, obviously, the darkening of hope and the darkness that enters Wiesel’s soul, never to leave him. When one experiences what he experiences, life will never be the same. Contrasting with the image of night that is so prevalent in his memoir is the image of fire: children burning, bellies suffering from hunger, and hatred growing in his soul. A young idealistic boy was left behind and what remained was a man without faith in the good of humanity and the love of God.

I listened to an audio recording of the book, and I think this made Elie Wiesel’s account all the more powerful. Wiesel’s story was less than four hours of narration (120 pages in hard copy) but nothing was missing.

His story is one I hope never to forget. I was in awe of the strength of the human spirit to survive at the same time I was horrified by the evil of others.  Although other stories of German concentration camps may be more hopeful about humanity (The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom, for example), Night is an important and classic memoir that should be read.

Wiesel originally wrote this memoir in Yiddish, titling it And the World Remained Silent. In his new preface to the edition translated by his wife (2006), he says, ” I don’t know how I survived.” I don’t know either. I will forever be in awe of the power of the human spirit to overcome horrors, and I will remain horrified myself by the fact that humans could do this to each other in the first place.