Despite the cheery social schedule of barbecues and fireworks that it brings, Independence Day in the U.S. can be bittersweet for many. Familiar stories of patriotic heroism and idealism might prompt feelings of pride, but also of frustration, whether with the current state of the nation or with what those stories leave out. The lesser-known details of American history can be at once inspiring and sobering.
The historians Ethan J. Kytle and Blain Roberts recount how black Americans claimed the July 4 holiday to celebrate their newly won freedom after the Civil War—until racist laws and violence quashed those gatherings. Books by Jane Kamensky and Alan Taylor explore American political divisions during the Revolutionary War, bringing to life historical figures and the moral quandaries they faced. And the historian Peter Martin explains how one young 18th-century American—now a household name—set out to solidify the nation’s independence by codifying its language.
The novelist Harry Turtledove’s “alternative histories” imagine what life would be like in an America that lost the Revolutionary War. And the political theorist Eric Nelson proposes an unconventional reading of American history: that the framers of the U.S. Constitution enshrined the principles of a traditional monarchy in the document.
Each week in the Books Briefing, we thread together Atlantic stories on books that share similar ideas, and ask you for recommendations of what our list left out.
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What We’re Reading
How the Constitution caused America’s dysfunctional government
“What if this gridlock is not the result of abandoning the Constitution, but the product of flaws inherent in its design?”