Heroes of American Freedom


An illuminating journey through United States history told via historical writings and speeches.
Lee has chosen 30 pieces by mostly famous Americans (and one Brit) that shine spotlights on the American character. These writings ably reflect major developments in America, arranged chronologically from John Winthrop’s “City on a Hill” sermon in 1630 to President George W. Bush’s “Justice Will Be Done” speech following the events of 9/11. Lee, who has taught at five major universities, writes that education was his primary goal in creating this book: “Thomas Jefferson famously remarked that the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.…I would prefer to think that education might suffice to refresh the tree of liberty.” Later, he spells out his qualifications for editing such a volume: “First, I am an American. Second, I am a parent. These two qualifications together impel me to do whatever I can to educate first my children and then anyone else about our country’s greatness.” In an effort to appeal to today’s youth, Lee wisely selects shorter works, with all 30 pieces fitting into roughly 150 pages. The compendium’s crowning achievement is how it provides context for such well-known phrases as President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream.” Overall, the beauty of this collection is in how it offers historical anecdotes directly from the pens and mouths of great American leaders, and Lee’s selections lead to some clever juxtapositions. President Calvin Coolidge’s 1925 speech extolling American business, for example, is followed by FDR’s first inaugural address in 1933, blasting the business practices that led to the Great Depression. There are also rallying cries by two very different World War II generals: the profane George S. Patton and the straight-laced Dwight D. Eisenhower.

A revealing volume of spoken and written history aimed at a general readership.

Pub Date: May 29, 2014

ISBN: 978-1499680393

Page Count: 138

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 10, 2014

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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