A Book A Month: The American Spirit

Book #2 in my book a month challenge is "The American Spirit - Who We Are and What We Stand For" by David McCullough.  A refreshing & inspiring read about the founding of our great United States of America, and the spirit that was brought along with it.  "The American Spirit" is a collection of David's speeches throughout his career to a number of distinguished institutions; including congress, the White House, colleges & universities, and historical societies.  Initially I was skeptical about the read, it being a collection of speeches, but it was a fantastic tool to start some self reflection.. which was part of the reason to start the book a month challenge in the beginning.  This book touches on core American values which - I hope - we all subscribe.  Many say we as Americans are more divided than ever.  And regardless of where we live, what politics we subscribe too, or our ethnic background, this book is a great to remind us where we came from and help us navigate forward with those same ideals.


High Up Web Dev - The American Spirit


My Notes On Each Chapter

  1. Congress has not been documented very well, stories have not been told.  A handmade clock by Simon Willard overlooked Statuary Hall - where the U.S House of Representatives met from 1807-1857 - was made with two hands and an old fashioned face which shows what time it is, what time it used to be, and what time it will become.
  2. Enlist Power & Resources of universities in a new (and old) way.  Teach their history, give them a specific purpose and make them integral to the community.  Let them learn & know the city history and fix their own problems.
  3. Jefferson's legacy: wrote Declaration of Independence, which had & has sustaining power to inspire beyond influences of time & place.  Transcendent ideas speaking to world then & US across time.
  4. In 1779 1,000 people petitioned for a college, the first popular demand for higher education.  Historic graduates from Union College.  Read history, understand the spirit and solve new problems.
  5. Benjamin Rush of Philly was one of the most exceptional Americans & best example of the animating spirit. A physician in Washington's army, professor, patriot, inexhaustible reformer.. he signed the Declaration of Independence, cared for the poor, helped found Pennsylvania's first society in opposition to slavery, championed better education for women, published the first chemistry textbook in America, AND possibly the first written description of golf! "To spend & be spent for the good of mankind is chiefly what I am at" - Benjamin Rush. Spirit: good will, inexhaustible curiosity, commitment. "But let us not look down on anyone from the past for not having the benefit of what we know, or allow ourselves to feel superior."
  6. "Nothing happens in isolation. Everything that happens has consequences."  We are part of a bigger picture.. past, present, & future.. so while forge ahead let's not forget those who had engineering & technological breakthroughs, those who braved the unknown, those who gave their time & service, and those who kept the faith in the possibilities of the mind and human spirit.  "Let's never be the kind of people who do things lukewarmingly ... if your going to ring the bell, give the rope one hell of a pull".
  7. All presidents are different but one thing in common is a quality that make them successful.  It could be courage, attitude, public image, character, or the ability to parlay things into power moves.
  8. This book made me want to read and learn much more about John Adams.  He was the first president to live in the White House.  Adams traveled to Europe during the Revolutionary War to secure loans to fund our efforts.  1st US minister in front of King George III.  He signed the Paris Peace Treaty which ended the war.  John Adams drafted the 1st constitution of Massachusetts 10 years before the United States'.  Adams was the first Vice President under George Washington and was the only founding father who was not a slave owner, out of principle.
  9. Historical buildings are important.  Different time with different struggles but same ideals.  They help us connect with the mortality of past patriots.  Many people were thoughtful back then.  1/3 of people wanted independence, 1/3 of people were against it, and 1/3 sat back waiting to see who won. 32,000 red coats showed up the same week congress declared independence.. Our biggest town was 30,000.  "My hand trembles but my heart does not" - Stephen Hopkins
  10. Education is most important. For self government to work people must be educated.  Education is seen as road map to happiness.  Pursuit of happiness is not a long vacation & piling up of things.  "I must judge for myself, but how can I judge, how can any man judge unless his mind has been opened & enlarged by reading" - John Adams
  11. We are built on those before us.  The unique & special thing about America is we know exactly when & why we were founded.  These guys had never been through a revolution but their ideals were transcendent whether they [from our eyes] lived up to them or not, they did.  We're here to build upon them.  Everyone has a teacher or mentor they remember.  "The laws we live by, the freedoms we enjoy, the intitutions that we take for granted - and we should never take for granted - are all the work of others who went before us.  And to be indifferent to that isn't just to be ignorant, it's to be rude.  And ingratitude is a shabby failing"  Rise to the occasion.  USA = improvisation.. we were winging it.Kids don't know our history, even history majors, we've done a bad job.  "Attitudes aren't taught, they're caught" - Margaret McFarland.  "We can't guarantee victory [in this war] but we can do something better, we can deserve it." - John Adams, George Washington, Joseph Addison
  12. French troops under Rochambeau at Yorktown outnumbered U.S. troops under Washington in the last great battle of the war.  France was of huge influence to American artists.  "We go to Europe to be Americanized" - Ralph Waldo Emerson.  25k women served in France in WW1.  Many historical sites are French inspired.  Democracy in America by French historian Alexis De Tocqueville remains one of the wisest books written about U.S... Allegedly!  We Love France!
  13. We live in the information era.  But info is only useful with judgement.  Info isn't learning, or poetry, art, faith, or wisdom.. No soul.  You can have data & miss the point.  You can have facts & miss the truth.  "Learning is note attained by chance.  It must be sought with ardor & attended with diligence." - Abigail Adams
  14. JFK = inspiring.  "For I can assure you that we love our country, not for what it was - though it has always been great - not for what it is - though of this we're deeply proud - but what it someday can and, through the effort of us all, someday will be." - John F. Kennedy
  15. Little of consequence is ever accomplished alone.  History is about more than politics & war only, but SPIRIT.  We haven't always all got along, but we move forward, together.

Check out last month's book: How To Win Friends & Influence People

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