Deliriously Delightful History

I’ve never been a serious history buff. But as my home page points out, “I have a passion for great writing.” Lately I’ve been exploring historical writers, looking for tastes of “the exquisite beauty of a powerful idea expressed in expertly-chosen words.” As readers of this blog know, I loved David McCullough’s stuff: John Adams (lately of HBO fame) and 1776. I also devoured his Truman, an unexpectedly delicious treat: that Harry S. certainly exemplifies the uniquely piquant flavor-smack we think of as “American.” I’ve also enjoyed the work of my Amherst neighbor, professor Joseph J. Ellis: his Founding Brothers was a bestseller sensation a few years ago, and his more recent American Creation is even better. What amazing perspective he brings to this country’s founding years and impulses! He brings these people—the pugnaciously brilliant Alexander Hamilton, exquisitely diplomatic James Madison, perplexingly self-contradictory Thomas Jefferson—alive and weaves a context that puts present-day politics in a whole new light. And I went absolutely nuts over Erik Larsen’s stuff: The Devil in the White City, Thunderstruck and Isaac’s Storm: crime novel meets historical reconstruction, all well worth reading and frantically enjoyable: more fun than Arthur Conan Doyle or Ian Fleming! But far and away my favorite historical writer, bar none, has turned out to be a guy named Tony Horwitz. I’m right now reading A Voyage Long and Strange on my Kindle. It’s the story of the founding of America—the part we don’t know. The part that happened in the 100-plus years between the voyage of Columbus in 1492 and the landing of the Pilgrims in 1620. This man has an...