By Ashly Moore Sheldon • July 02, 2019
As the political machinery of election season lurches into action again, many of us may be feeling anxious about the deep political divisions that we face. So for the fourth of July, we wanted to find some common ground and celebrate what's good about America! In no particular order, here are 10 American things that we think are unequivocally cool.
In the 1960s, computers were viewed as little more than giant calculators, but MIT professor J.C.R. Licklider saw the potential for them to be the ultimate communications devices. Using US Defense Department funds, he and a band of visionary computer whizzes began developing a nationwide, interlocking network of computers. Go behind the scenes of their bold venture as they created the first iteration of the world wide web.
Recommended Reading: Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet by Katie Hafner and Matthew Lyon
Elvis Aaron Presley, aka The King of Rock and Roll, pioneered an exciting new genre to the world of music. His unique style was coined rockabilly, an uptempo fusion somewhere between country and R&B. Asked by a studio receptionist to describe his music, he responded, "I don't sound like nobody." With his swiveling hips and brooding good looks, he became a wildly popular—and provocative—figure for the 1950s when he first burst onto the scene.
Recommended reading: Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley by Peter Guralnick
Few Americans may recognize the long and impressive history of our postal service. Established in 1792 by none other than Benjamin Franklin, the USPS is by far our country's oldest federal agency and has served as a critical piece of our nation's infrastructure throughout its history. It may not seem as important today as it was 200 years ago, but the taken-for-granted USPS has been an invaluable part of America's success.
Recommended reading: How the Post Office Created America: A History by Winifred Gallagher
Oprah Winfrey was born into poverty in rural Mississippi to a teen mother in 1954. She landed a job in radio while she was still in high school and the rest is history—literally. With a mixture of talent, intelligence, and hard work, she revolutionized the talk show genre with a more intimate form of talking to her audience. Oprah's story is the epitome of the American dream. And she likes books!
Recommended reading: Oprah Winfrey: A Biography by Helen S. Garson
Who came up with this crazy idea? One of the world's largest sculptural and engineering projects, the carving of Mount Rushmore was initiated as a strategy to increase tourism in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Sculptor-designer John Gutzon de la Mothe Borglum was contracted in 1927 to design and implement the $1 million-installation, which spanned 14 years and required more than 400 artisans, but he never saw its completion. After his death in 1941, his son Lincoln finished the project.
Recommended reading: The Carving of Mount Rushmore by Rex Alan Smith
This popular American cuisine dates back to colonial times, with George Washington famously attending a Virginia "barbicue" in 1769. Derivative of Caribbean cuisine, it gained popularity in the South where cooks learned to slow-roast tough cuts of meat over fire pits as a way of making them tender.
Recommended reading: Low and Slow: Master the Art of Barbecue in 5 Easy Lessons by Gary Wiviott and Colleen Rush
At 277 miles long, up to 18 miles wide, and over a mile deep, the Grand Canyon is a marvel of the natural world. With majestic red sandstone walls framing the rushing blue-green Colorado River, it attracts more than six million visitors per year. There have been countless exciting river trips through this amazing landscape, but this one made history.
Recommended reading: The Emerald Mile by Kevin Fedarko
In Michelle Obama's recent memoir, she talks about when Lin-Manuel Miranda was invited to the white house to perform a spoken-word piece. When he told the first lady that he planned to write an entire musical dedicated to Alexander Hamilton, she responded with a dubious, "Good luck with that!" But Miranda wasn't gonna miss his shot! Born in New York City of Puerto Rican descent, the groundbreaking composer, lyricist, playwright, and actor delivered a fresh, new voice to the world of American musical theater.
Recommended reading: Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter
Also known as the Main Street of America or the Mother Road, US Route 66 was one of our country's first highways, originally running 2,448 miles from Chicago, Illinois, to Santa Monica, California. Although it has undergone changes since it was established in 1926, the road has been immortalized in popular culture, often as a representation of adventure and escape.
Recommended reading: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
I know what you're thinking: Don't we mean apple pie? Nope! While they've been grown here for hundreds of years, apples are not actually native to our lands. But blueberries are! This year for your 4th of July picnic, try a thoroughly American dessert (that's also packed with antioxidants)!
Recommended reading: Pie and Whiskey: Writers under the Influence of Butter and Booze by Samuel Ligon and Kate Lebo
Hopefully this will get you started thinking about what you love about America. Let us know! And be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to get daily book recommendations and more.