Monday, April 6, 2009

"America's Hidden History"

I finished reading a great book the other night called "America's Hidden History" by Kenneth C. Davis. I have a few other books by him on history, but it's probably been about 15 years since I read them (hold up, that can't be right because that would mean I'm OLD and can reference things in decades rather than years....urg).

The reason I'm bringing the book up is that it differed from many history books in that he kept to a small sub-set of stories, and he put a lot of effort into bringing the stories to life. Let's face it, as much as I love history, a lot of the books about it can be, well, dry. And when I say dry, I mean the tumbleweeds blowing, sand in the eyes, while eating saltines with nothing to drink kind of dry. Genealogy is the same way when taken at face value. It takes effort and imagination to bring the dead to life.

I have a bad habit of loving my genealogy data. I like facts, filling in my family database with fact after fact. Birth date, death date, baptism date, joined the military date, list of children. You can export data and graph it, see how many people were born in the spring vs. the fall, see how many people share a given name or a surname, nerdy stuff like that. But it's important to stop once in a while and think about the person whose data you are looking at....they were alive, they laughed, cried, made dumb mistakes, loved, hated and sometimes ate too much for dinner. They skinned their knees as children, and missed their parents after they had passed. And even though they may seem to be a few dates and facts on your computer screen, if you make the effort, you can weave together their story.

What does all this have to do with Davis's book?

Well, he did a great job of weaving together some stories that give you the real flavor of some historical people. He gives us 6 short histories in the book, each focusing on a main historical character, but there are some detours here and there. Interestingly, he begins each story with a couple pages of facts, dates and what happened on that date, that pertain to the subsequent history. He then gives us the real story.

I learned a lot about the very beginning of colonization here in America, Puritan life as it really was, what George Washington was actually like and a lot about the American Revolution and how incredibly disorganized it, and our fledgling government was. Sound dry? Well, some of you won't like it no matter what I say, and really, I can't figure out why you're still even reading this blog posting, but for the rest of you, have a crack at it and learn a little bit. Or not, your choice! :-)

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