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.