Americanism: The required reading

Professor David Gelernter is the Yale professor of computer science and author, most recently, of Americanism: The Fourth Great Western Religion. In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, Professor Gelernter picked his five favorite books on the subject of his current interest. Here are three of the five:

1. “On Two Wings” by Michael Novak (Encounter, 2002).
Michael Novak describes the nation’s birth as it happened, not the way our aggressively secular society likes to remember it. Two wings lofted the American eagle into flight, writes Novak: Enlightenment philosophy and the nation’s compact with “the God of the Jews,” meaning “the God of Israel championed by the nation’s first Protestants.” Novak marshals impressive evidence, including the remarkable scene in September 1774 when a clergyman read Psalm 35 to the Continental Congress. John Adams described the scene to his wife: “It was enough to melt a heart of stone. I saw tears gush into the eyes of the old, grave, pacific Quakers. . . . I must beg you to read that Psalm.” Novak’s account may be ignored but will never be contravened. His book may change forever your ideas about America’s founding.
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4. “The Two-Ocean War” by Samuel Eliot Morison (Little, Brown, 1963).
If John Keegan’s “Fields of Battle” is military history only in part, Samuel Eliot Morison’s “Two-Ocean War: A Short History of the United States Navy in the Second World War” is the thing itself, the best book I know about Americans in battle. Morison was a distinguished Harvard historian who joined the Navy and sailed into war just to write this authoritative history. His description of the battle of Midway (June 4-7, 1942), where Japan’s relentless advance was finally thrown back in confusion, is justly renowned. Wave after wave of heroic American flyers were destroyed. Virtually the whole air-strength of the three U.S. carriers on the scene had been used up when a lone squadron of dive bombers finally turned the battle around. Remember the “threescore young aviators who met flaming death that day,” Morison urges, “in reversing the verdict of battle. Think of them, reader, every Fourth of June. They and their comrades who survived changed the whole course of the Pacific War.” Little enough to ask. (But too much, evidently, for our schools to teach.)
5. “The Inheritance” by Samuel G. Freedman (Simon & Schuster, 1996).
A beautifully written, strangely moving book. There are many striking chapters in this story, as the subtitle has it, of “How Three Families and America Moved From Roosevelt to Reagan and Beyond.” But the most striking of all recounts the 1967 antiwar march on the Pentagon–which Normal Mailer celebrated in “Armies of the Night”–from the standpoint of one of the young military policemen charged with facing down the huge, surging mob of demonstrators. Samuel G. Freedman describes the (generally) non-college-educated MPs who had been drafted and were grimly, bravely doing their duty versus the privileged, patronizing protesters who screamed hate, threw rocks and had no intention of doing theirs. It is an unforgettable account.

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