How Much US History Do Americans Actually Know?
When it comes to having a deep knowledge and understanding of the history of the United States, how much do you really know? “It might be less than you think,” writes Saba Naseem on Smithsonian.com, which asked Grateful American™ Foundation founder David Bruce Smith what he believes can be done to fix this problem. Click here to learn what Smith has to say.
Because we always want to increase your history IQ: This month, we bring you an interview from News Channel 8’s “Let’s Talk Live,” where Smith and historian Allida Black give us a glimpse into what the country might have been like had President Lincoln not been assassinated 150 years ago. Click here to watch their TV appearance.
That’s not all: On May 20, we attended the 2015 Washington Book Prize at Mount Vernon, where one of four finalists was named the winner of this year’s $50,000 prize. Who took home this coveted honor? Scroll down to find out. And click on the links below to read our Q&As with the other three finalists, who are featured this month in our growing History Book Club.
Here’s to restoring enthusiasm in American history for you, and your kids. — David Bruce Smith, founder, and Hope Katz Gibbs, executive producer, the Grateful American™ Foundation
The Grateful American™ Spotlight Is On: Nick Bunker’s award-wining book, “An Empire on the Edge”
Written from a strikingly fresh perspective, this new account of the Boston Tea Party and the origins of the American Revolution shows how a lethal blend of politics, personalities, and economics led to a war that few people welcomed but nobody could prevent.
In this powerful, fair-minded narrative, British author Nick Bunker tells the story of the last three years of mutual embitterment that preceded the outbreak of America’s war for independence in 1775.
“It was a tragedy of errors, in which both sides shared responsibility for a conflict that cost the lives of at least 20,000 British and a still larger number of Americans,” explains Nick Bunker, winner of the 2015 Washington Book Prize. “It teaches us how the British and the colonists failed to see how swiftly they were drifting toward violence until the process had gone beyond the point of no return.
Click here to read more about the book! And scroll down for our Q&A with the author.
Also be sure to check out the other three finalists for the Washington Book Prize (at the bottom of this article).
Four questions for Pulitzer Prize finalist Nick Bunker
Grateful American™ Foundation: Nick, what inspired you to write this book?
Nick Bunker: In 2009, when I began my research, I intended to write a very tightly focused narrative account of the Boston Tea Party, with the story told for the first time from a British perspective. Back in the 1960s, the American scholar Benjamin Labaree produced a superb analytical account of the Tea Party, but I felt that he’d neglected the human side of the affair, which I wished to emphasize.
However, as my project unfolded, I soon realized that I would have to make the scope of the book far wider, to encompass the whole of the chain of events that led to bloodshed at Lexington and Concord in April 1775. There was a revolutionary explosion, and it came about from a chemical reaction of all kinds of unstable elements. On the British side, we find ignorance, prejudice, bad economics, and misplaced priorities. In America, there were too many people too inclined to believe the very worst about King George III and his politicians.
Grateful American™ Foundation: What are the three big lessons you hope readers will take away from “Empire on the Edge”?
Nick Bunker: If I were a professor teaching a strategy course for senior officers in the military, or if I were a professor of political science, I would give my students a case study on the American Revolution. The question would be: If you had been Lord North – the British prime minister – how would you have tried to prevent America from seceding from the British Empire? Soon enough, the students would see that the British made three crucial mistakes.
First, they failed to keep their ears to the ground and listen with an open mind to their aggrieved colonial subjects, preferring to take their information about America from biased accounts given by royal officials such as Thomas Hutchinson, the governor of Massachusetts.
Second, the British never made adequate contingency plans to cover the possibility of an armed insurgency in New England, even though such an event could have been predicted.
And third — and this applies to the colonists as well — there was a tendency to make moral and political decisions based on narrow-minded ideology.
Grateful American™ Foundation: When was the moment in your childhood / life when you developed a passion for American history? And what do you think can be done to inspire more kids to get excited about learning about the past?
Nick Bunker: I can tell you the moment very precisely. It was 7 a.m. on November 23rd, 1963. It was a cold but sunny day in England, with a bright blue sky, I was two days away from my 5th birthday, and my mother came into my bedroom and — almost in tears — and told me that the day before, President Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas.
In the years that followed, night after night our television screens were filled with images from the USA, or from Vietnam: the Tet offensive in 1968, the assassinations of Dr. King and Robert Kennedy, and then the Apollo moonshots, for which we would stay up all night. Watergate came next!
The United States of America always seemed to be a larger-than-life place, where everything happened in Technicolor and 3-D. What was more: America seemed to be the nation where life was most vivid, most intense, and where human beings were most deeply committed to ideals, wherever those ideals might lead them. But America also had a very complicated terrain, impossible to comprehend entirely but endlessly fascinating nonetheless. And that’s what I’d say to encourage young people in America to learn about their history.
Grateful American™ Foundation: Now that you have won the Washington Book Prize, what will you do with the prize money — and what will be your goal to accomplish during your year of being the reigning award winner?
Nick Bunker: My wife, Sue, and I enjoy the great privilege of inhabiting a wonderful medieval house in Lincoln, England, built in the 12th century, within a few hundred yards of a great cathedral from the same era. Since we are determined to preserve our house for future generations, we have to spend money to maintain it, and that’s where much of the award will be allocated. I also hope to give as much time as I can to visits to the USA, encouraging young Americans to remember their British antecedents. I also have to research my next book, which has to do with the young Benjamin Franklin.
Congratulations to Nick Bunker! Be sure to check out the other books that were also finalists for the 2015 Washington Book Prize.