Posted in theology

We need to know history

By Elizabeth Prata

Collage by EPrata

We should have a good grasp of American History (that is, if you live in America, if you’re reading this and live elsewhere, the same goes for knowledge of your own country’s history).

British statesman Winston Churchill wrote, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” He should know, he led Britain through WWII, emerging victorious against the Nazi Germans (barely).

In Canada, with its leader’s tyranny now morphed into a dictatorship, it is important to know where we come from, and to honor the battles fought for freedom and liberty. This will help us be able to recognize incipient tyranny when it peeks out in a leader’s speeches or actions. In Canada, the newly minted dictator signaled his love for China’s dictatorship some years ago. He said so, in those words. They elected him anyway.

Again, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

I was asked last month by a younger lady in the faith to offer some recommendations of history books, Christian or not, but if not, one not filled with lies. I collected this list of a mix of faith-based and secular books that are drenched with the history and culture of the times. They are in order of time from the 1600s to early 1900s. I kept the list in case someone else ever asked me for books rich in history (hey, it could happen!) but with what is going on in Canada this week I thought I’d remark about historical trajectories and the importance of knowing our foundational government documents and present this list to our fellow believers in America.

Though it is God who raises up governments and raises up (and puts down) leaders, it’s still important to be situationally aware of our immediate history and also the long-ago things that took place. Just as we say when reading a Bible verse, “context, context, context”, the same goes for history.

American History

1600s:

The Account of Mary Rowlandson and Other Indian Captivity Narratives

Blurb: “The wife of a minister in a small frontier town west of Boston, Mary Rowlandson was forced to leave her house in the late winter of 1676 after marauding Indians set the building on fire. “I had often before this said,” she later wrote, “that if the Indians should come, I should chuse rather to be killed by them than taken alive but when it came to the tryal my mind changed; their glittering weapons so daunted my spirit, that I chose rather to go along . . . than to end my days.”

“Thus began Mary Rowlandson’s account of her arduous journey as a servant to her captors, the Narragansett Indians. The most celebrated such document in American history, her record of the three months she spent in captivity tells of hardship and suffering, but also includes invaluable observations on Native American life and customs.”

She was allowed by her captors to carry a Bible, and tried her best to give the Gospel to her captors. The moment when she realized she was the only Christian within hundreds of miles was particularly affecting.

Saints and Sectaries: Anne Hutchinson and the Antinomian Controversy in the Massachustetts Bay Colony by Emery Battis.

Non-fiction, my favorite of the Puritan books. I loved this book a lot. Anne Hutchinson, beloved of feminists, little know by Christians, an enigma to historians. She almost broke apart the young American colony, single-handed. And it all started with a woman who taught…rejected correction, and then claimed direct revelation…

Blurb: “This brilliant, dramatic reconstruction of the Puritan mind in action, informed with psychological and sociological insights, provides a fresh understanding of Anne Hutchinson and the Antinomian controversy in the Massachusetts Bay Colony and gives her controversy with the Puritan Saints a new dimension in American colonial history.”

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1700s-

John Adams by David McCullough

Blurb: “The enthralling, often surprising story of John Adams, one of the most important and fascinating Americans who ever lived. In this powerful, epic biography, David McCullough unfolds the adventurous life-journey of John Adams, the brilliant, fiercely independent, often irascible, always honest Yankee patriot — “the colossus of independence,” as Thomas Jefferson called him…”

EPrata photo

There is a television mini-series made of this which I loved with Paul Giamatti that is simply fascinating and brilliant. (I haven’t read the McCullough books).

John Jakes is known for his thorough research and excellent accuracy of the events he writes about in his novels. His first series is called The Kent Family Chronicles and contains 8 novels, beginning in time just before the American Revolution:

The Bastard
The Rebels
The Seekers
The Furies
The Titans
The Warriors
The Lawless
The Americans

The Life and Diary of David Brainerd: With Notes and Reflections by David Brainerd  (Author), Jonathan Edwards (Editor).

Blurb: “The most reprinted of Edwards’s books, it has never been out of print and has thus influenced subsequent generations, mainly because of Brainerd’s single-minded perseverance in his work in the face of significant suffering. David Brainerd (1718–1747) was an American missionary to the Native Americans who had a particularly fruitful ministry among the Delaware Indians of New Jersey. During his short life he was beset by many difficulties. As a result, his biography has become a source of inspiration and encouragement to many Christians, including missionaries such as William Carey and Jim Elliot, and Brainerd’s cousin, the Second Great Awakening evangelist James Brainerd Taylor (1801–1829).”

Follow the River, by James Alexander Thom, a novel based on a true story.

Blurb: “The novel is based on a true story from 1755 involving a Virginia woman Mary Ingles, captured by Shawnees and taken to an area in what is now Ohio and Kentucky. Despite having no survival skills, the 23-year-old mother and wife escaped and survived a grueling 43-day trek over a thousand miles through the wilderness to get back home.”

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1800s

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: by Dee Brown. Non-fiction

Blurb: “An Indian History of the American West is a 1970 non-fiction book by American writer Dee Brown that covers the history of Native Americans in the American West in the late nineteenth century. The book expresses details of the history of American expansionism from a point of view that is critical of its effects on the Native Americans. Brown describes Native Americans’ displacement through forced relocations and years of warfare waged by the United States federal government.”

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. Fiction. Covers (1870s & the closing of the Wild West)

A Western novel and the first published book of the Lonesome Dove series, but the third installment in the series chronologically. It won a Pulitzer for writing.

Blurb: “The story revolves around the relationships between several retired Texas Rangers and their adventures driving a cattle herd from Texas to Montana. Set in the closing years of the Old West, the novel explores themes of old age, death, unrequited love, and friendship.”

There is a television miniseries made of this if you want to skip the reading. I’ve seen the series numerous times.

Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea by Gary Kinder. Blurb:

Blurb: “Originally published in 1998, Gary Kinder’s Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea tells the story of the sinking of the SS Central America, a side-wheel steamer carrying nearly six hundred passengers returning from the California Gold Rush, two hundred miles off the Carolina coast in September 1857. Over four hundred lives and twenty-one tons of California gold were lost. It was the worst peacetime disaster at sea in American history, a tragedy that remained lost in legend for over a century.”

This sinking contributed to the financial panic of 1857. It gives a good overview of the times where sidewheel steamers were used not just on rivers (a la Mark Twain) but also on the ocean, and also the Gold Rush times and the finances that accompanied it. Kinder mixes the history of the times, the ship’s passage on the ocean & sinking, and the modern efforts to discover the ship’s sunk whereabouts was well done and very interesting.

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In reference to the above, you can read Mark Twain’s Roughing It, (non-fiction):

Blurb: “The book follows the travels of young Mark Twain through the Wild West during the years 1861–1867. After a brief stint as a Confederate cavalry militiaman (not included in the account), he joined his brother Orion Clemens, who had been appointed Secretary of the Nevada Territory, on a stagecoach journey west. Roughing It illustrates many of Twain’s early adventures, including a visit to Salt Lake City, gold and silver prospecting, real-estate speculation, a journey to the Kingdom of Hawaii, etc”

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Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, by Frederick Douglass. Non-fiction.

Blurb: “Former slave, impassioned abolitionist, brilliant writer, newspaper editor and eloquent orator whose speeches fired the abolitionist cause, Frederick Douglass (1818–1895) led an astounding life. Physical abuse, deprivation and tragedy plagued his early years, yet through sheer force of character he was able to overcome these obstacles to become a leading spokesman for his people. In this, the first and most frequently read of his three autobiographies, Douglass provides graphic descriptions of his childhood and horrifying experiences as a slave as well as a harrowing record of his dramatic escape to the North and eventual freedom. Published in 1845 to quell doubts about his origins — since few slaves of that period could write — the Narrative is admired today for its extraordinary passion, sensitive and vivid descriptions and storytelling power. It belongs in the library of anyone interested in African-American history and the life of one of the country’s most courageous and influential champions of civil rights.”

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1900s

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. non-fiction.

I haven’t read this but it has super reviews. (covers period from 1915-1970).

Blurb: “One of the great untold stories of American history: the decades-long migration of black citizens who fled the South for northern and western cities, in search of a better life.”

One Summer: 1927, by Bill Bryson, non-fiction.

Blurb: “The summer of 1927 began with Charles Lindbergh crossing the Atlantic. Meanwhile, Babe Ruth was closing in on the home run record. In Newark, New Jersey, Alvin “Shipwreck” Kelly sat atop a flagpole for twelve days, and in Chicago, the gangster Al Capone was tightening his grip on bootlegging. The first true “talking picture,” Al Jolson’s The Jazz Singer, was filmed, forever changing the motion picture industry.”

“All this and much, much more transpired in the year Americans attempted and accomplished outsized things—and when the twentieth century truly became the American century. One Summer transforms it all into narrative nonfiction of the highest order.”

Incredible book, really gives an overview of how the American 20th century began and its underpinnings. Anarchists, sports, aeronautics, etc all covered. I was astounded that WAAAAYYY more happened in one summer than a person could ever think. Bryson is readable and funny. I enjoyed this book a lot.


If you have time and the inclination to read, it’s my opinion that these books are profitable for setting the reader into culture and history of the times. Of course it’s not an exhaustive list, it isn’t even a scholarly one. But there you go. Your mileage may vary.

Author:

Christian writer and Georgia teacher's aide who loves Jesus, a quiet life, art, beauty, and children.

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