Monday, September 21, 2015

Four books

I mentioned David McCullough's book, The Wright Brothers, in a post last night. I finished reading it a few days ago. It's a great and surprisingly quick read and the first of all the biographies of the Wrights that I have read that have helped this caveman mind appreciate the peculiar insights the brothers had that allowed them to break through to powered, heavier-than-air flight. As I said last evening, like all of McCullough's books, this one is a treat!

Yesterday, I began reading Joseph Ellis' The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution: 1783-1789. Ellis looks at the development of the United States Constitution in the period following the end of the Revolution and narrates the key roles played by the "quartet" of George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison in bringing the governing document into being. Absent their work, the new republic would have been doomed to chaos and susceptible to foreign conquerors as it labored to get out of debt and establish itself under the ineffectual Articles of Confederation. The Constitution was the second American Revolution. Ellis, as always, writes well, clearly, and insightfully. (This fits with a contention I've often made here that the American Revolution was not completed until the Constitution was ratified.)

I'm also now reading Bill Mowry's The Ways of the Alongsider, a helpful guidebook on how Christians can share their faith with others, life to life. Over the past year, Bill has been my coach in deepening my walk with Christ. He's as helpful in print as he is one-on-one.

And, in the wake of the decision to resume referring to the mountain we once called Mount McKinley as Mount Denali, I'm re-reading Kevin Phillips' short biography President William McKinley. Of all the US presidents to come from Ohio, McKinley was by far the best. Phillips argues that the Canton native was a consequential president in two ways.

First, he upended the partisan logjam that had for several decades produced Republican presidents interspersed with Democratic presidents, back and forth, leaving the country with no clear policy direction for more than twenty years. McKinley created what remained a sustained Republican occupation of the White House, with the exception of a narrow victory for Woodrow Wilson--brought about by Theodore Roosevelt's 1912 run for president on the Progressive Party ticket, thus dividing Republicans--from 1896 to 1932, when Democrat Franklin Roosevelt brought basic dominion for his party through 1968.

Second, McKinley, Phillips argues, is not Mount Rushmore-worthy, but safely near the top of the second-tier of effective presidents. He was, it can be argued, the first modern US president in both domestic and foreign policy.

Phillips' discussion of the unique role Ohio played in nineteenth century America alone makes the book worth reading. The state was the country's greatest center of innovation, business risk, and scientific inquiry, playing a part in world history that California's Silicon Valley later played some one-hundred years later.

I recommend all these books. (By the way, I'm indifferent to the change in name for Mount Denali. A more appropriate memorial for William McKinley can certainly be found.)

No comments: