In honor of Anthony Pettis (Milwaukee born and raised) who fought for the UFC Lightweight Division title at the Bradley Center Saturday, Aug. 31…Iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiittttttttttttttttttt’ssssssss ttttttttttttttiiiiiiiiimmmmmeeeeeeee! (Featured in the Jan. 26, 2012, issue of the Catholic Herald) For our monthly book review, that is. Today’s book is not a religious book but rather an incredible American history book I found and have been steadily reading, “Freedom just around the Corner: a new American history 1585-1828,” written by Walter McDougall and published by HarperCollins. 

Published in 2004, it is the first book in a proposed trilogy by Walter McDougall on the history of America. The second book is also available, and I am hoping the third book is not long in the works, although I could not find much about that one. McDougall has written several other historical books, winning the Pulitzer Prize for his book “…the Heavens and the Earth: a political history of the Space Age.”

Now I’m sure you are thinking “Why do I need to read another American history book?” Heck, even Walter did when he was approached by HarperCollins with the idea (from the preface).  However, this book is a refreshing, eye-opener into how the American dream first started.  McDougall takes a unique look at America, and “Americans” (in parentheses because the first part of the book is before independence) in particular. In his preface, he describes his take on this book, a candid look at “…American people’s penchant for hustling – in both the positive and negative senses. (xiv)”   

Normally I do not pay attention to what the book review blurbs provided with the book say, but one definitely stands out as I am finding it undeniably true. From the Washington Post Book World, the book is “so original…that you can read any five pages of this book and feel that you are encountering the American story through fresh eyes.” He often describes what is conveniently taught, and if the actual truth is much more complicated or not, and then delves into the complications and unravels the truth.

I will give two examples of this. He takes a step back and spends most of one chapter looking at the people that make up the different colonies in 1750, and how their backgrounds influence their politics as well as their living situations. I had never before read something like this. One amazing fact is that several of our most distinguishable accents, the New England and the Southern, actually were started by English settlers, they just came from different counties in England.

The other example is describing the period shortly after the French and Indian War, whose end is considered by many to be the start of the Independence movement. He looks at why this movement came about. Americans were not overly taxed, or overly regulated (again not something that I had learned). However, political movements started in Britain and carried to the United States helped lead the way to independent thought. Just incredible stuff.

This is a very dense book, and is not a quick read…however it is fascinating enough that you will want to keep reading. Heavily researched, with 90 pages of endnotes, for anybody who wants to take another look at their American history, “Freedom Just Around the Corner” is for me on a level with “1491” or “4th Part of the World” as the most intriguing history books that I have yet read.

As always, if you have any ideas and comments for things I could change, please let me know. If you have any books that you have read or have read the books I mention, please leave a comment. We here at Salzmann also want to know what people are reading. Comments are always appreciated – anything I can do to make this better I will strive my best to accomplish.

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