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The American Spirit

September 29, 2017

This is the title of a collection of fifteen speeches composed and delivered by the American scholar David McCullough. They are wonderfully compact, spry assemblies of facts and ideas that all have their origins in the people and events that have shaped American history.


You might know David from his captivating biography of John Adams (in which I feel he fell a little bit in love with John's wife, Abigail). The book was turned into one of the best HBO productions I've ever seen.


The speeches in The American Spirit were delivered at a range of remarkable institutions across the country, from 1989 to 2016 and range in substance from lessons on ingenuity from 18th century clockmaker to the role of cities like Pittsburgh in re-enlivening the democratic spirit of learning. Each speech is packed with references and dates, personages and anecdotes that underscore the restless and noblest of motivations that have driven the rise of our nation. It is an unsparingly white and male history of ideas, and yet McCullough speaks fairly and clearly when up against the severe limitations of our founding fathers' thought and action.


He provides the useful historical perspective that, as rebellious as these men were, they remained the products of their time. The best thing about this work, in fact, is that McCullough reminds his reader that it is possible for the student of history simultaneously stand in awe at the scope of achievement of those who have come before us, while assessing their limitations and subsequent impact on history with equal depth of feeling.




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