America: The Last Best Hope


Many of you know Dr. William J. Bennett from his radio talk show “Morning in America.” Others know him as a frequent political commentator on various networks. And others know him as an author.

I know him best by the latter. I have read several books of his, most recently America: The Last Best Hope trilogy. Volume I of the collection, and arguably the best of the set, takes readers from the age of discovery in 1492 to the brink of the first wold war.

Volume II walks readers through the two world wars, the golden 50′s, Vietnam, all the way up to Reagan’s stirring speech delivered in front of the Berlin Wall.

And of course, the third volume exploits the collapse of Communism and lands us in the historic election of 2008.

I had a love/hate relationship with these books. Being a fan of history, I expected smooth sailing and an enjoyable experience. I ate volume I up as quickly as I could – and loved it, being a Revolutionary War enthusiast. And I could never grow tired of learning about colonial life and adventures on the frontier. I don’t know. Maybe I just revel in the magic and fantasy-like atmosphere our nation witnessed in its first century of life.

The second book, Volume II: From a World at War to the Triumph of Freedom, surprised me. I love the history of World War II as much as the next guy, and the politics of Nixon vs. McGovern are fun to recount, but the book as a whole bored me into a stupor. The problem I had with it was that Bennett didn’t necessarily tell history so much as he narrated the minute by minute accounts of presidential campaigns and dedicating way too many pages to those that lost and whom history has already forgotten. Maybe they deserve to be remembered, and I’m just cynical. But I wanted to hear more stories and accounts of those people just like us who lived history as it unfolded all around them. I don’t care about how many popular votes so-and-so received and why they might have lost the election of 19-something-or-other.

The third book (America: The Last Best Hope Vol. 3 or A Century Turns), the shortest of the trilogy, luckily only oversaw three presidents (Bush 41, Clinton, and Bush 43), thus it left a lot more room for the events that helped shaped modern-day America, such as the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, the Clinton scandals, and 9/11.

Bennett is surprisingly bipartisan in his careful narration of America’s last two decades. That to say, even Democrats who oppose Bennett can rest at ease and enjoy this walk through memory lane.

The books offer frequent antidotes throughout, some interesting, others relevant but unneeded. I felt like a lot of major events weren’t given enough attention, and little-known events (mostly backstage politics) were given too much attention.

All in all, if you want to brush up on your American history as a big-picture-story, I would highly recommend these books. If you’d rather study certain eras at a more intimate and precise level, then these books are not going to be your cup of tea. History is a tarp that has covered the nation – Bennett studies the tarp from the perspective of Capital Hill, not so much the nation that the tarp covers.

Please feel free to list your own favorite history books below in the comments section. We’re all about book recommendations here!

For more information about America: The Last Best Hope and affiliated programs, click here.

Highly recommended reading from William J. Bennet: The American Patriot’s Almanac: Daily Readings on America.

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Published by Andrew Toy

Writer when I'm not being a husband or dad. So mostly just a husband and dad.

16 thoughts on “America: The Last Best Hope

  1. For something completely different – I’d suggest heading North of the border. Anything by Pierre Berton is good – the best one involving the US would be “The Invasion of Canada: 1812–1813” and “1981 Flames Across the Border: 1813–1814” – Gives an amazing vision of what Canada (and the US) could have become.


  2. Uh, have you read The Killer Angels, about the battle of Gettysburg? It’s by Michael Shaara, and after that his son took up the mantle and wrote a bunch of books about the Revolution and other battles of the Civil War. Their writing is amazing and their research is woven seamlessly into the story telling. It puts you there in the moment. Also David McCullough’s biography on John Adams is a wide-reaching and fascinating look into the life of the Founding Fathers.


    1. I haven’t read Michael Shaara, yet, but it’s on my to-do list. And I’m actually in the middle of John Adams now, and loving it!


  3. As the comment above mentions, David McCullough’s John Adams, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, is a very readable and excellent book. McCullough is my favorite historical, non-fiction writer. He wrote a second Pulitzer Prize winning biography, Truman. And one more superb biography by McCullough is Mornings on Horseback, on the early life of Theodore Roosevelt.


      1. John Adams is my favorite of the four I have read so far. Adams was a man of great faith and an amazing husband and father. His relationship with his wife Abigail was remarkable. These family relationships would have been enough to make a great book. Then you get an inspiring narrative of the Revolutionary War and it’s characters.


  4. McCullough’s stuff is awesome.
    I often have a problem with nonfiction that either goes into more detail about the topic than I wanted, or wants to talk about something different than I thought I was getting. It sounds like the second book was that sort of mismatch for you (not having read it, that’s only a guess).


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