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What to Read on the Fourth of July
If Independence Day has you feeling especially patriotic — or hungry to learn more about the earliest days of our country — pick up one of these riveting reads, from Hamilton scribe Ron Chernow's excellent biography of George Washington to the classroom classic Johnny Tremain.
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Ron Chernow, Washington: A Life
Ron Chernow, the American historian who wrote the book that inspired that little show Hamilton, brings us what is probably the most expansive and engrossing biography of George Washington. Chernow’s details of Washington’s rise to becoming the American hero make Washington: A Life the perfect read for your Fourth of July vacation. And after all, Lin-Manuel Miranda picked up Chernow’s other biography on one of his. —Sarah Weldon Order it here.
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Jill Lepore, Book of Ages
Jill Lepore delves into the unexamined life of Ben Franklin's younger sister, Jane, who — unlike most of her 18th century, female peers — could read and write. Jane's playful personality is captured in letters she wrote her brother (who taught her to read in the first place), and is all the more surprising because of the hardships she endured. Jane bore 12 children, not all of whom survived, starting when she was 17. —Isabella Biedenharn Order it here.
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David McCullough, 1776
Not to be confused with the stage musical of the same name, McCullough’s definitive account of the year that changed this country’s history forever is considered one of the best, and most dramatic, examinations of the start of the American Revolution. Detailing the conflicting influences that steered key players on both sides of the Atlantic, the book draws a startlingly personal portrait of the sometimes tentative George Washington, along with other noted figures. —Dan Heching Order it here.
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Esther Forbes, Johnny Tremain
You might have read this children's history classic in school, but it's worth a second look: The story of the American Revolution is told through the eyes of a 14-year-old newspaper messenger who finds his way into the defining events of our country's founding like an 18th century Forrest Gump. —Isabella Biedenharn Order it here.
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Annette Gordon-Reed, The Hemingses of Monticello
Read about the intricate history of the enslaved Hemings family and their relation to Thomas Jefferson, who had seven children with Sally Hemings. Until recently, the extent of the Hemings family's relations with Jefferson were widely unknown, though a hefty number were his slaves and were sold off after he died. —Jami Ganz Order it here.
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Joseph Ellis, Founding Brothers
Ellis explores the founding of our country through six crucial events and the brilliant but complex men involved: the duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr; George Washington's moving Farewell Address; John Adams' presidency and relationship with his wife, Abigail; the deliberation over where the U.S. capital should be; Benjamin Franklin and James Madison's disagreements over the issue of slavery; and Thomas Jefferson and John Adams' letters. —Isabella Biedenharn Order it here.
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Janet Dailey, The Proud & The Free
Dailey tells the story of a Cherokee princess who finds herself at a crossroads when the man she loves takes drastic measures to protect their people, and the decisions he makes eventually leads to the Trail of Tears. —Jami Ganz Order it here.
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Bernard Cornwell, Redcoat
A historical novel that picks up right in the thick of the Revolutionary War, Autumn 1777, Redcoat details the shifting loyalties and allegiances on the ground of our nascent country. Against a backdrop of families torn apart by war, and rallying cries for liberty from the British reaching a fever pitch, the young Redcoat Sam Gilpin finds himself faced with an impossible choice: obligation to a far-off king, or his own sense of what’s right. —Dan Heching Order it here.
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James Lincoln Collier, My Brother Sam is Dead
This 1974 coming-of-age tale follows Tim Meeker, a young man in Connecticut during the American Revolution, who admires his brother fighting for the rebels and yearns to prove himself as a capable man, too. During the epic adventures he seeks out, he is disillusioned about the glory of war, which comes to a head in the tragic death of loved one. Spoiler alert: it’s Sam. —Eric King Order it here.
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Jeff Shaara, Rise to Rebellion
This 2001 historical fiction novel details the events leading up to the American Revolution, starting with the Boston Massacre and leading up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Rise to Rebellion tells its story with characters that were there IRL, including John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Abigail Adams, and Paul Revere. —Eric King Order it here.
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Melissa de la Cruz, Alex & Eliza
Known for the popular Witches of East End novels, Melissa de la Cruz has taken on the romance of American It-couple Alexander Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler with Alex and Eliza: A Love Story. The tale of the budding romance between the daughter of one of New York’s most powerful families and a broke, orphaned soldier of the Revolution is sure to intrigue everybody, not just Broadway fans. —Sarah Weldon Order it here.