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BOOK REVIEW:

The American story : conversations with master historians

Call Number: 
907 R895

These conversations with master historians were the result of a “spur of the moment” idea that came to philanthropist David M. Rubenstein, who is a major supporter of The Library of Congress and The National Book Festival, as well as supporting other projects which preserve our national heritage. This would be, “ A series of interviews with accomplished American historians about their books, in front of an audience principally comprising members of Congress." The event became known as The Congressional Dialogues and would provide, " ... an opportunity for members to come to the Library for an evening built around the study of individuals who have been significant in American history." It began on June 18, 2013 with Jon Meacham.  At the time this book was published, there had been thirty-eight Congressional Dialogues. Along with Jennifer Howard, Rubenstein presents what he considers to be the most intriguing of the conversations, sixteen in all, which are arranged in chronological order begining with George Washington and proceeding up through the late twentieth century.

David M. Rubenstein was the host and interviewer, and provided an introduction to each session, stating which book and/or books were discussed and background information about the historian. Rubenstein asked no holds barred questions, and the historians responded in kind. Here are a few highlights:

"Jon Meachem on Thomas Jefferson"  Rubenstein wants to know if Meachem has any doubts about the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings, his slave. Meachem emphatically states that he has no doubt at all, "I do not believe that a man so driven by appetite for power, for books, for wine, for art, for knowledge, could at the age of forty, after his wife died, simply stop short of indulging the most sensuous appetite of all."

"Ron Chernow on Alexander Hamilton" Rubenstein praises Chernow as a writer and scholar, who is respected by other scholars and also writes books that become bestsellers. The book on Hamilton sold well and there is an interesting sidenote, "Of greater significance, it was read on a Mexican vacation by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who used it as the basis for  ..." Well, the rest is theatrical history.

"Taylor Branch on Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement"  Taylor Branch is a journalist, editor, college lecturer, political organizer and biographer, who spent twenty-four years researching and writing what became known as: The America in the King Years Trilogy, which can be found in the LAPL catalog under the individual book titles:  Parting the waters, 1954-63; Pillar of fire, 1963-65; At Canaan's edge, 1965-68. King was dedicated to achieving civil rights by way of civil disobedience and nonviolence.  Rubenstein asks, "Was nonviolence a very popular approach at the time?" Branch replies, "No. It was not popular. First of all, it was scary, because it meant you're willing to accept violence."

These are mere snippets from only three interviews. There are thirteen more lively, penetrating interviews and many more books to be read.

In the foreward to the book, Carla Hayden, Librarian of Congress, answers two questions:“Is the Library of Congress only for members of Congress?" The answer is no. “Do members of Congress actually use the Library?” The answer is yes, and Hayden qualifies how they use it. The answer to her first question raises one for those of us who do not live in Washington, D.C.: How can all of us use our national library? We cannot check out books, but we can access other sources of information right here: The Library of Congress.  As of today there are access points across the top of the wesbsite for the following: Library Catalog, Digital Collections, Researchers, Visitors, Teachers, Blogs, U.S. Copyright Office.  The Teachers resource portal alone will open up a breathtaking array of more portals, which provide accurate, free materials to teachers and parents. There are even more resources available to all of us by way of our national library, The Library of Congress. Go there and get lost in a wonderland of information.

David Rubenstein calls his donations to The Library of Congress and to other institutions, "patriotic philanthropy," in order to preserve historic documents and buildings in order, " ... to educate Americans about their history and heritage--the good and the bad." As a true philanthropist, Mr. Rubenstein states that, “All royalty revenues from sales of this book will be donated to The Library of Congress’s Literacy Awards, a program which I worked with the Library to create and fund in 2013.”

This book is available on e-Media.

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