A 4th of July Book Recommendation

The long 4th of July holiday weekend is upon us.

A time to be with family, attend a parade, have a barbecue and see fireworks. Maybe take a vacation.

It is a time to reflect on our great country, which started over 240 years ago.

It is also a great weekend to read a very moving and wonderful new book by historian and author David McCullough, The American Spirit, Who We Are and What We Stand For.  McCullough selected 15 speeches from the hundreds he has given in all 50 states over the past 25 years for this collection. 

From the sample of speeches I have read, I very highly recommend this optimistic book.

The 171 page book is a treasure of history. It is positive. It is inspiring. It is educational. I have learned something interesting on almost every page.

McCullough, one of the most honored American historians in the US, winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, two National Book awards and the Presidential Medal of Honor, reminds us of fundamental American principles and brings to vivid life people and places in American history.

His speeches are clear and succinct. He paints vivid pictures with words as few others I have read.

In these days of seemingly endless negativity, the first speech in his book addresses the incredible accomplishments of Congress over the decades….ending slavery, building railroads, ending child labor, creation of Social Security, the Voting Rights Act. McCullough adds perspective.

“We need to know more about Congress. We need to know about Congress because we need to know more about leadership. About human nature. We may also pick up some ideas.”

McCullough also challenges us as a country in his speeches to face some of the many problems which exist. Inner cities, poverty, violent crime and others. He advocates the core of many of the solutions to these issues “should be history, for the specific and realistic reason that all problems have histories and the wisest route to a successful solution to nearly any problem begins with understanding its history. Indeed, almost any attempt to solve a problem without an understanding of its history is to court failure…”

He stresses learning, history and education. Not just when you are young. Throughout your entire life.

In a 2008 speech at Boston College titled “The Love of Learning,” he says: “information is useful. Information is often highly interesting. Information has value, sometimes great value. The right bits of information at the opportune moment can be worth a fortune. Information can save time and effort. Information can save your life. The value of information, facts, figures, and the like, depends on what we make of it – on judgement.

He later goes on to explain that information and learning are acquired from great books, understanding the proper perspective, ardor and “attended with diligence.” He tells a great example of learning by surprise, on pages 143-45, of how one person’s trip to Europe planted a seed which would change the US’ spread of slavery.

The book provides a context to some of our values as a financial advisory firm. We rely on learning, reading and good judgement. We are continual learners. We base many of our decisions and advice by understanding the history of financial markets, as history can be more valuable than predictions and guesses about the future.

I hope you take the time this 4th of July weekend to learn more about our country’s history. Be positive and read this outstanding book. Buy a copy for a friend, child or grandchild.  Read.  Value our history.

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