It's a slim volume, and yes, it's illustrated, but it's full of knowledge, wit and optimism, and McCullough's characteristic erudition shines through on every page ... It's a wide-ranging collection, but it's not just a series of history lessons. McCullough teaches us about history, but also how to think about it, and why it matters ... His faith in the country is touching, and this book is a gift.
The American Spirit is as inspirational as it is brilliant, as simple as it is sophisticated. It will at the same time make you laugh and give rise to tears of despair ... This is not patriotic boilerplate. McCullough is a historian and a realist. He sees his nation with all its warts, beginning with its indelible birthmark of slavery and continuing through to today’s government dysfunction and political polarization. Yet he remains confident and upbeat ... McCullough’s speech-making, like his writing, is highly literate and intelligent, yet uncluttered. He never panders to his literacy. This book is brief enough to read in one sitting, but it might be better to savor one talk at a time, letting each sink in before taking on the next.
With no overarching theme, the book amounts to a pleasing melange of observations, admonitions, homilies, and celebrations of events and figures from the American past ... What stands out in these portraits is how utterly devoid they are of the cynicism that infuses so much of contemporary culture. Mr. McCullough certainly turns no blind eye to the vicissitudes of human nature...But fundamentally Mr. McCullough loves the American story and its most illustrious characters ... Valuable encouragement then, even more needed today.
Happily, the same qualities that inform McCullough’s histories and biographies also shape his speeches. He is, whether at his desk or a lectern, a consummate storyteller ... one sometimes wishes, in reading these pages, for a more declarative and specific call to mend what’s broken in the national psyche. The abiding appeal – and the abiding complication – of McCullough’s vision is that he’s a triumphalist at heart, more interested in celebrating the better angels of American history than in discerning what could be learned from diagnosing its darker impulses.
In these clarifying and uplifting presentations, rich in historical anecdotes and portraits, he speaks of freedom and responsibility and 'courage and patience.' At an Independence Day naturalization ceremony at Monticello, he told 'new Americans' that 'the nation is richer for you.' McCullough reminds us, 'If we are beset by problems, we have always been beset by problems.' And we have always drawn on our American spirit and convictions to find our way forward.
Throughout, the author displays a sincere respect for subject and audience ... McCullough is relentlessly positive. At Monticello, for example, he confines his comments about Jefferson’s slave owning to a single sentence, and in his account of the long friendship between France and the United States, he does not mention the Iraq War, 'freedom fries,' etc. But, as Emily Dickinson wrote, 'hope is the thing with feathers,' and it is that bird that swoops through all. Clio, the muse of history, smiles and nods her head on every page.
The author has remained a proud patriot, but now his ‘voice’ of reminiscence is tinged with circumspection. Americans have disassociated from their past, disengaged from history, downgraded cultural standards, and dumped the study of literary luminaries such as Flannery O’Connor, Willa Cather, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Langston Hughes … The fixation with technological devices, a swerve from the humanities to ‘STEM’ (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), large numbers of unqualified or disinterested teachers, and financial curtailments in education have dusted up a matrix with a potentially dangerous destiny, says McCullough.
""A new volume of McCullough’s speeches called The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For demonstrates that the content of what McCullough says is as dynamic and memorable as the presentation. While many anthologies reveal the hidden weakness of many speeches — how flat and uninspiring they are without the boost of their author’s voice — this collection captures McCullough’s passion and vigor throughout … McCullough’s enthusiasm for history is infectious. He reminds us, first and foremost, that it is not about memorizing names and places or simply amassing information...McCullough can take the most seemingly trivial facts and make them sing.