The American Story: Conversations with Master Historians

S. & S. Oct. 2019. 416p. illus. index. ISBN 9781982120252. $30; ebk. ISBN 9781982120337. HIST
This revealing collection brings together 16 interviews originally given as part of the series of Congressional Dialogues that philanthropist and radio host Rubenstein organized for members of Congress, beginning in 2013. Held at the Library of Congress, the Dialogues were intended to give Congress historical perspective that might inform their thinking about leadership and public service. In the interviews herein, historians such as Doris Kearns Goodwin, Ron Chernow, and Bob Woodward discuss ten presidents from George Washington to Ronald Reagan, along with figures such as Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Charles Lindbergh, and Martin Luther King Jr., in most cases admiring their subjects, though they do note their failings and foibles. What emerges is a story of triumph and seeming divine destiny, with occasional mentions of the contradictions of slavery and freedom, poverty and progress, might and right.
VERDICT We do not know what members of Congress took away from the Dialogues, but readers of this book will learn much about biographical method, historical curiosity, and American exceptionalism. With close reading they will also realize that there is no one American story, Rubenstein’s claim notwithstanding.
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