Through The American Story, David Rubenstein, a philanthropist, and Bloomberg television host have delivered a compelling book rich in history and biography. Rubenstein interviewed various notable biography authors, such as Taylor Bunch, David McCullough, Ron Chernow, Robert Caro, and Walter Isaacson. In such a compilation, The American Story is a collection of US history that covers 39 books detailed by 15 authors (Rubenstein 2). The story was inspired by Rubenstein’s presentation to the Congress, Congressional Dialogues, where he would interview celebrated historians. The author purposed to educate the public servants by providing comprehensive information on past great American leaders and events from such insights. With such reflection, Rubenstein is hopeful that the US senators and representatives will exercise their responsibilities, be more knowledgeable on history, and prepare for future challenges. By interviewing the different authors in a non-partisan setting, Rubenstein reduced the malice in Washington. In such regard, The American Story was an outcome of Rubenstein’s temporary spurred idea, a significant supporter of The Library of Congress.
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I believe Rubenstein’s motive for writing the book was to support projects aimed at preserving the American national heritage. In my view, such rich history could only be achieved through conversations with master historians and biographers. The Congressional Dialogue provided a significant opportunity for the members to go to the library and listen to the people who have made vital input in US history. In the foreword, the Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden, admits that the content is not only for Congress members since the public could also access the portal. I concur with Rubenstein’s interviews that started with Jon Meacham. The book was published after 38 Congressional Dialogues. However, to ensure order in the discussions, Rubenstein began with George Washington and proceeded through the late 20th century. As the interviewer, Rubenstein introduced each guest alongside the book or books that were to be discussed. I am convinced such consideration created a framework for a lively and engaging interview.
One of the book’s significant strengths is that the historian responded in kind to Rubenstein’s no-holds-barred questions. While responding to Thomas Jefferson, Rubenstein asked Meacham if he had any doubts about Jefferson and his slave, Sally Hemmings (Rubenstein 129). Meacham responded by clearing the doubts because any man driven by power after his wife’s death could not fall short of such a sensuous appetite. Praises have also been used across the book as the author engages with the historians. For example, Rubenstein praised Ron Chernow on Alexander Hamilton both as a respected scholar and writer. Rubenstein was keen on relating past and present events to enhance historical awareness. While Taylor Branch discussed Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement, Rubenstein asked him to outline if nonviolence was a popular approach in today’s US. Branch acknowledged that nonviolence was unpopular since it signified an individual’s willingness to embrace violence. Moreover, each book chapter discusses a particular historical icon and is devoted to a biographer. Such organization allows for easy retrieval and references from the historians.
Elements of criticism have been demonstrated in Rubenstein’s writing. For instance, in Chapter 9, where Jay Winik talks about Franklin Roosevelt. Such critical historical criticism requires special attention (Rubenstein 211). The reader should acknowledge that the historian is asserting a new perspective on their subject. For instance, Winik indicated that Roosevelt was committed to a political and moral failure to pursue his fourth term in office despite his deteriorating health and terminal illness. From an ethical perspective, Winik also reveals that Roosevelt had failed in World War II. Roosevelt did not proclaim freedom for the persecuted Jews, as Abraham Lincoln did during the Emancipation Proclamation of American slavery. Roosevelt was a fallible human even though the timing of their death is unknown. The book illustrates how Roosevelt was criticized for his political and moral decisions, making Winik go off the rails. The comparison is not reliable and historically inaccurate.
The size of the chapters could discourage other readers since they are approximately 2000 words each. The reader must be patient and dedicate their time to get the whole story. Chapter 5 also has been interjected with inaccurate data (Rubenstein 139). While discussing Benjamin Franklin, Walter Isaacson jumps into a conversation on innovation, praising Al Gore for inventing the Internet even though he never did. The information was harmful to the historical recording, where data accuracy is vital. Such misconception ruined the chapter on Benjamin Franklin because it takes a relatively long time for such a serious lie to disappear.
Overall, Rubenstein’s contribution to the Library of Congress through The America Story was considered an act of patriotic philanthropy. The book is essential in preserving historical documents and creating order in American history. The American Story educates US citizens and the world about their history and heritage. Even though the book is critical in developing a significant correlation in appreciating past events and leaders, it has demonstrated various limitations. One of the weaknesses identified is the inconsistency in the American figures’ perception and their biographers in some chapters in The American Story.
Rubenstein, David M. The American Story: Conversations with Master Historians. Simon & Schuster, 2019.
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