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Resolving to Read More History

By Lance Pettit • March 07, 2018

I wish I had more time to read. A common lament. Well, to be honest, I need to take more time to read. Since I don't read as much as I'd like, I always seem paralyzed about which book to choose. I've got to make it count. I can't waste my time on a bad book. Plus, I might as well get something out of this. I tend to lean toward history to draw inspiration.

1776 by David McCullough is a great example of an enjoyable read while learning something new about a subject I thought was familiar. McCullough lays out the story with the intrigue of a spy novel. Even though I know the outcome, I keep saying to myself, "How's Washington going to do it? There's no way he can get out of this." How could he be outgunned against the most powerful nation in the world and prevail? Even though I'm a fairly slow reader, I finished it in a day. It is hard to imagine how much happened in one year. With so much happening in that year, it was also surprising that the war went on for another seven years. I enjoyed it so much I was hoping McCullough would come out with a 1777, 1778, etc. Good thing I know how the story ends.

I also read David McCullough's tome of Harry Truman, appropriately named, Truman. Even though it took me a little longer than a day (like a couple of weeks), it was wonderful. I didn't want it to end. How could such an ordinary man go on to lead such an extraordinary life? Truman didn't enter public life until he was 40 years old. Even so, it was remarkable the sequence of events that transpired to having him lead the country to win WWII and set the stage for the next 50 years of the Cold War.

Much like 1776, The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783-1789 by Joseph J. Ellis, I knew the general story, but not the details. I knew that the colonies formed a government prior to 1789 that gave more power to the states than the federal government, but didn't think about the implications of such a system. I also took for granted the peaceful transition to our current form of government so early in our nationhood. It's pretty amazing. It was hard not to think about the choices and decisions made in 1789 that were precursors the Civil War, which was ultimately the embodiment of the same argument of whether the states or the federal government reigned supreme. Without the change to the federal form of government we enjoy today, it's hard to imagine the United States would be as preeminent as we are today let alone still be in existence. We most likely would resemble Europe with a number of nation-states. Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, John Jay, and James Madison had the vision of what ultimately lay ahead if we did not make a change and the will to make the change happen. Almost unimaginable today.

As many people at my office know, Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin, about Abraham Lincoln and his cabinet, is my favorite book. I am sure I am biased because I met the author and she is as wonderful in person as she is on TV. I had read her previous book about Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt called No Ordinary Time and enjoyed it. You can tell from the writing that Goodwin enjoys her subject and does a wonderful job of capturing the time and the feelings. Lincoln is such a likable character.

In reading Team of Rivals, I kept thinking how things were SO bad. How could Lincoln persevere? How could he keep going? The time and the circumstances are almost unimaginable. When people talk about how partisan politics are today or how nasty, they should read Team of Rivals. The story is sad, but inspirational at the same time. Perseverance. Strength. Character. Qualities for all leaders in all times. It's unfortunate that it sometimes takes catastrophe or calamity before we recognize greatness, but "greatness" can be achieved every day. When I read about history, I try to think about what I'd do and what I'd think if I were faced with the same situation. I will also picture the person in my life today: Abe Lincoln or Harry Truman bumping along in my shoes and think about how they might react in certain situations. It's inspiring when I'm down and sobering when I'm up. I think I'll resolve to read more this year.

About the Author: Lance Pettit is the Merchandising Manager for ThriftBooks. He prefers to read History, Biography, Business, or some combination of the three. He has reportedly been seen reading Literature, but those accounts cannot be verified. He doesn't like talking about himself much and he likes to procrastinate, especially on the weekends with his family.

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