A journey in search of the nation’s history.
In his debut book, Glass, director emeritus of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, offers a personal and eclectic guide to 50 sites, chosen from over 100 more, that represent significant moments in America’s past. Organized chronologically, each recommendation includes an informative essay, website addresses, and suggestions of places to visit in the same area. Many sites are likely to be familiar: Jefferson’s Monticello, Boston’s Freedom Trail, the Liberty Bell, the Alamo, and Yellowstone National Park, for example. Some represent dark episodes—e.g., Little Rock Central High School and the Minidoka Japanese internment camp. Even for well-known destinations, Glass reveals intriguing tidbits: for almost a decade, he reminds readers, Texas was an independent nation; its annexation by the U.S. incited the Mexican War in 1846. During Jefferson’s lifetime, “as many as 600 African slaves lived at Monticello” and on Jefferson’s additional landholdings, with boys ages 10 to 16 engaged in making nails for sale to other plantations. Some recommendations celebrate famous individuals, including Thomas Edison, the Wright Brothers, Jonas Salk, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Henry Ford. George Vanderbilt II, grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt, erected Biltmore House in North Carolina. With 250 rooms covering nearly 4 acres, it is “America’s largest private dwelling.” Besides the house, Vanderbilt established a huge dairy, a textile production industry, and a planned community of shops, houses, a school, an infirmary, a train station, and a church. One of the more unusual destinations is a state historic site near Collinsville, Illinois, where visitors may climb Monks Mound, a structure more than 10 stories high, covering more than 14 acres. From 1050 to 1200, the area was the site of Cahokia, “the largest city north of Mexico,” with a population larger than London’s at the time. By 1400, for unknown reasons, the thriving city had disappeared.
An enlightening trip with an expert guide.