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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