Tyson presents a debut examination of the traits that he says have helped the United States to grow and prosper.
The titular term “Yankee” refers to the first European colonists in New England. The author, an attorney, notes that these hardy Yankees are often seen as “dour” and “priggish,” yet he argues that there would have been no America without them: “Americans’ commitment to education, incredible work ethic, talent for innovation, high standard of morality, and sense of exceptionalism, can all be traced directly to the Puritans of New England, and their descendants.” The traits upon which the country was built, he asserts, are religion and morality; family; law, order, and government; grit; work ethic; frugality and thrift; education; ingenuity; good works; and civic virtue. For much of the book, he thoroughly studies these 10 categories, offering chapters on each and drawing on the lives of historical figures to bolster his points. Next, he shows why he believes that things started to go off the rails; a crippling blow was the 1960s counterculture movement, he maintains, when youth philosophically challenged what had come before. Conservatives, he asserts, then claimed the Yankee Way’s notions of religion, morality, family values, work ethic, grit, and law and order, while liberals snared education and ingenuity, resulting in two warring camps that have trouble working together. Overall, Tyson’s treatise is dense but information-packed. Its tone seems biased against younger generations, but it’s correct to say that a society built on self-gratification and leisure, rather than production, is doomed to fail. The author suggests that Americans and their leaders must wisely choose their future: “The wrong choice could—and likely will—invite a precipitous American decline; the right choice could lead to America recapturing its former glory.” Tyson’s idealistic, if largely unrealistic, solution requires that Americans set aside their personal interests for the greater good—something that they arguably haven’t done since World War II. Importantly, however, this book will make its readers think of the big picture rather than just about themselves.
A cautionary, sometimes-insightful perspective that urges Americans to look back at what made their nation strong, with an eye toward a positive future.