Jarrett reads what I call doorstoppers–1,000+ page books on historical figures and events. I can’t even find a comfortable way to position myself on the couch with one of those books. (On your back with the book resting on your chest? Leaning it against your legs? Asking Pepper to hold it for you?) It’s just too heavy, and it’s not all that interesting to me, either.
Instead, right now I’m dipping in and out of How to Relax by Thich Nhat Hanh, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, and The Inevitable by Kevin Kelly. Every last one of those is light-as-a-feather and perfect for hammock reading over the long Fourth of July weekend.
But if you’re looking for something a little more appropriate for Fourth of July, and you’re less of a wimp than I am, I’ll point you over to Jarrett, who has 6 of the best books to read if you’re obsessed with Hamilton and still can’t get Lin-Manuel Miranda’s lyrics out of your head, no matter how long it’s been since you’ve seen the musical.
Even if you haven’t seen Hamilton, these are still some great patriotic books to read for the 4th of July, as well as some of the best books about America’s founding fathers. And I don’t say that lightly–Jarrett does a lot of research before choosing which biography to read about each of America’s founding fathers, and he always picks one that’s widely considered both the best work and a single-volume, yet comprehensive, treatment of that founding father.
But enough from me. Here’s Jarrett with 6 patriotic books to read this 4th of July if you’re obsessed with Hamilton.
(By the way, we only recommend books we’ve read or that we’re genuinely excited about reading ourselves. Life’s too short to read mediocre books. But if you do feel like picking up one of these, it’d be great if you bought them through one of the Amazon Associate links below. It supports the many hours of work this team of two [me and Maria] put into this little corner of the web!)
Maria asked me to write a post on some good 4th of July reading, and I was all like: YES, PLEASE. The founding of our nation has always been a favorite topic for me, and while I am certainly no expert, I’ve read a good number of books about that era.
My main thought when I sat down to come up with a short list of patriotic books was: well, Hamilton is popular right now. And even though it’s been almost two years since Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical debuted, Hamilton fever is raging on.
So let’s get this out of the way right now: Ron Chernow’s Hamilton biography–which was the basis for Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical–is every bit as good as advertised. And Hamilton: The Revolution is considered the definitive guide to the musical. But there are other options out there, too, which are both easier to digest (i.e. not 800 pages) and equally fascinating! Here are a few:
by David McCullough
If you’re going to read one book about the American Revolution, make it this one. McCullough is a wonderful writer, who grippingly describes the trial and tribulations George Washington and his army faced in the critical year of 1776. You’ll find yourself on the edge of your seat, rooting for our future president and his army–even though you already know the ending!
One thing to keep in mind with this book: It only covers the year 1776 and focuses mostly on military battles rather than the political scene (although it does cover some of that, too). So if you’re looking for a more comprehensive history of the American Revolution, there are better options out there. But for anyone looking to get a taste of this early period in American history–and to gain a greater appreciation of what our forefathers overcame in winning independence–it’s hard to beat this book.
by David McCullough
Another McCullough book, you say? Real clever there, buddy.
But yeah: I’m doubling up on McCullough here for two reasons: first, he’s one of the best popular history writers in the business today, and second, this book won a Pulitzer. Sure, we all learned a lot in school about our nation’s second president, but this book shows how critically important John Adams was as a statesman and ambassador during the Revolutionary War. It also details his critical role in debates over the Declaration of Independence and recounts his wonderful correspondence and relationship with his wife, Abigail.
The book features Thomas Jefferson a lot, of course. Adams and Jefferson alternated between being friends and political enemies during their lifetimes, but they ultimately ended up as friends. And as you may have heard, they both died on the same day: on the 4th of July in 1826, on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. (If you want to read about the ol’ Sage of Monticello, too, Jon Meacham’s Thomas Jefferson: Art of Power is your go-to.)
Abigail Adams: Letters
edited by Edith Gelles
Abigail and John Adams shared a tremendous love and a durable marriage through the rockiest moments in American history. They were apart from each other for years at a time when John was serving as an ambassador in Europe during the Revolutionary War. Their correspondence was legendary, and Abigail was a woman of letters in a way that was rare at the time. She also corresponded with Thomas Jefferson, Martha Washington, and of course her son (and future president) John Quincy Adams, and her intelligent observations on world affairs, domestic politics, and everything in between influenced the key political figures she so often wrote to.
Abigail famously asked John to “remember the ladies,” and you can, too, this July 4th by diving into some of Abigail’s witty and sharp letters.
If you’re already an aficionado of the Founding Era, maybe you’re looking for something a little more off the beaten path? Well, then I’d recommend exploring the famous foreign military commanders that came to America during the Revolution and helped fight for our country’s freedom. These were men who crossed the Atlantic Ocean (at a time when doing so was far from easy) to fight for nothing more than an idea. And their names were as epic as their ideals: The Marquis, The Baron, and the Comte de Rochambeau. (Otherwise known as The Marquis de Lafayette, Baron Von Steuben, plain ol’ Rochambeau.)
But you might not have heard of Thaddeus Kosciuszko. Kosciuszko was a Polish military engineer who ran away from his home in Poland and showed up at Benjamin Franklin’s house a few weeks after the Declaration of Independence had been signed. Good thing, too: Kosciuszko used his raw intelligence, charm, and organizational wit so effectively that Washington grew to consider him the Continental Army’s most able military engineer. Fun fact: It was Kosciuszko’s design plans for West Point that Benedict Arnold famously stole in his traitorous scramble to join the British.
George Washington: The Wonder of the Age
by John Rhodehamel
How many books have written about our country’s “Indispensable Man,” do you think? The answer is: not as many as have been written about Abraham Lincoln, who is second only to Jesus Christ in the “most books written about you” contest.
Even so, “a lot” is a good approximation of how much ink has been spilled about George. Most surprising of all, perhaps, is the fact that the Washington books just keep on coming! Rhodehamel’s new Washington book caught my eye, however, as it’s received excellent reviews and is much shorter than Chernow’s Washington: A Life (which is over 1,000 pages, if you’re keeping score at home). This one is what I plan to start reading over the 4th of July!
by Thomas Paine
Perhaps you’re the type that says to heck with retrospective histories, I want to be dropped right smack-dab in the middle of 1776 and know what was in the hearts and minds of our revolutionary ancestors. There’s a book for that, too, and it’s Thomas Paine’s famous Common Sense pamphlet. It only runs several dozen pages, but it became the most concise and persuasive argument in favor of independence in colonial America. Call it the most influential (if lengthy) op-ed ever that was ever written.
Bonus 4th of July trivia question for the history nerds:
Who was the only American President born on the 4th of July?
Answer: Calvin Coolidge, of course! “Silent Cal,” who became our nation’s 30th president, was born on July 4, 1872, in the tiny town of Plymouth Notch, Vermont. (And if you want to read about Cal, try Amity Shlaes’ 2013 biography of him).
What I’m Reading:
Honest Plot Summaries of 19th Century Novels (Kathleen Keenan for Book Riot): To keep to our historical vein today, here are some hilariously accurate summaries of classic books. On Charles Dickens’s Bleak House: “A court case about a will goes on for a long time and ruins everyone’s lives, but not before smallpox and poverty get to them first. Also, it’s sort of a murder mystery and the real murderer is THE CLASS SYSTEM.”
Why Being a Literary Agent Doesn’t Make It Easier to Write a Book (Kate McKean for Catapult): Kate and I used to work together at a literary agency, and I love that she’s so bare and honest about the struggles she’s facing with her own writing.
How Building an Online Community for Introverts Led to My First Book Deal (Jen Granneman on The Write Life): “If you’re anything like me, you’ve dreamed of being an author since you were young. As a kid, I scribbled books on construction paper, and as an adult, I took writing classes, joined writers groups, and filled notebook after notebook with story ideas. Then, this year, it happened — my book proposal was accepted by the first publisher I approached. .. How did I do it? It all started with a blog.”
A Writer’s Guide to Permissions and Fair Use (Jane Friedman): “Unfortunately, quoting or excerpting someone else’s work falls into one of the grayest areas of copyright law. There is no legal rule stipulating what quantity is OK to use without seeking permission from the owner or creator of the material. Major legal battles have been fought over this question, but there is still no black-and-white rule.”
What We’re Eating This Week:
I did it. I caved and signed up for a meal subscription box. But it wasn’t my fault: I had a long talk with a former cookbook editor at Blue Apron about how the box helped her husband learn basic cooking skills. And while I’m not saying that Jarrett is unskilled in the kitchen, I am saying it’s nice to have a photo of what “thinly sliced” looks like so I don’t have to demo every. single. time. (We tried HelloFresh because we had a coupon, and you can get $40 off your first box, too, if you feel like spoiling yourself silly next week!)
Monday: A ridiculously good Wasabi Lime Salmon that made me giddy because I would never come up with this on my own! I felt so spoiled. And I used the extra mental energy that wasn’t being spent on meal planning to think really, really hard about what I wanted for lunch the next day.
Tuesday: Our usual chicken burrito bowls, which helped Jarrett master lettuce-washing. I gaze yearningly at my HelloFresh ingredients, which I’m dutifully saving for later in the week.
Wednesday: Making two of the largest lasagnas you’ve ever seen–they’re so big we’re building them in a foil roasting pan meant for turkeys. We’re serving most of it for lunch at Carpenter’s Shelter tomorrow, and the rest will fill up our own stomachs.
Thursday: Hellllooooo, HelloFresh. Dukkah-Crusted Chicken it is. I hope you can hear me name-dropping to the whole neighborhood that we’re having Dukkah-Crusted Chicken for dinner because I feel so delusionally sophisticated.
Friday: Pork Luau Burgers with Pineapple Relish and probably the largest pineapple margarita you’ve ever seen. I’ll be drinking it out of that turkey roasting pan.