I was lucky enough last year to hear Marilynne Robinson speak at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center here in Cincinnati. She was as thoughtful and well-spoken as her books — Housekeeping, Gilead, Lila, etc. — would lead you to expect. This was before the presidential election and after Robinson's interview with then-President Barack Obama, so the questions turned to politics. We live in interesting times, Robinson said, an old saying that works out to be both a blessing and a curse. But, she added, these are not the first interesting times in our nation's history. I've thought of that often since November.
Green Day said something similar on its most recent album in a song called "Troubled Times." (Why yes, I was a teenager in the '90s. Why do you ask?) "Where's the truth in the written word if no one reads it? ... What part of history we've learned when it's repeated?"
All of this is to say I've been thinking about adding more history into my reading list. I've been revisiting original source documents — did you know the Federalist papers are available online? — and looking for books that give me more information or new perspectives about events and people I haven't thought of since Mr. Ludwig's American History class in 1998, or maybe never studied. I don't know about you, but I had never heard of the Osage murders and the birth of the FBI until Killers of The Flower Mooncame out.
If you're looking to expand your history education, too, here are some of the lists I'm perusing:
- The Smithsonian rounded up a top 10 list of 2016 history books, including one about slaves in the White House.
- The Atlantic asked academics, activists and others for reading recommendations to better understand America. This is left-leaning and includes more than straight history — commentary, poetry and fiction — but there are some interesting titles.
- From Bustle, this list of 15 books about black history included a few I knew — The Warmth of Other Suns — and many I'd never heard of.
- Book Riot has a massive list of books about women throughout world history.
- Buzzfeed's list of the best nonfiction from 2016 includes quite a bit of history. Some I've already read — March was excellent — but I'm still working off this list. I'm thinking the history of the South Side of Chicago is next.
I'm definitely adding this recommendation from the National Book Foundation Executive Director Lisa Lucas: The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America. My father-in-law is a historical re-enactor focused on the Revolutionary era, so I also raid his shelves from time to time. What books would you recommend?