You know that horrible question that comes up during ice breakers, “Tell us something people would be surprised to know about you.”
Dammit, Brenda, I don’t know. My life is not that interesting.
Well, two years ago I finally figured out my answer: I like war. Not in the gruesome way. More like I have an affinity for war themes in pop culture. The Patriot, Saving Private Ryan, Lone Survivor, Glory, Top Gun (OK, maybe this last one is a stretch). I love them all. Now maybe this won’t surprise many people, but let’s consider my love for rom coms and chick lit. There’s a sharp contrast there. When you think about how much I love nonfiction, it starts to click a bit.
Now let’s combine that passion for my obsession with colonial America and the Revolutionary War. Every year in the days leading up to my country’s birthday, I pray The Patriot will be on TV, as well as PBS’ Liberty’s Kids series (don’t judge; it’s an excellent show). Anything and everything that has to do with the Revolutionary War and our country’s independence has me jumping for joy.
These two infatuations led to July 4th being my favorite holiday as a kid. I was giddy when it was time to hop in my dad’s truck and go buy fireworks — shooting off your own was one of the benefits to living out of city limits. My siblings and I would spend all afternoon shooting off bottle rockets at the end of our driveway and then anxiously await as my dad and neighbor began their fireworks show, which grew more and more extravagant over the years.
It wasn’t just the fireworks that got me excited though; it was everything red, white, and blue. Therefore, I feel it’s my duty to bestow upon my readers some of my favorite July 4th books, along with some other classic reads that evoke patriotism and the intrigue of war, both fiction and nonfiction.
If you’re looking …
… to really play up Independence Day, grab 1776 by David McCullough
David McCullough’s books are no joke. He’s given us masterpiece after masterpiece of some of the most prominent people and events in American history. 1776 is no different. Just like every other book he’s written McCullough provides thorough research, specific details, and a powerful narrative that reads like fiction.
The book tells of the battles George Washington fought in the eponymous year when our country first announced its independence. 1776 oozes patriotism without feeling forced or fake. It’s a classic and one that will feel right at home around the holiday.
… for a guilty pleasure, pick up The Traitor’s Wife by Allison Pataki
I would probably only give this book three flames because I have very high standards for war literature. However, I do enjoy Allison Pataki’s historical fiction, and I learned quite a bit from The Traitor’s Wife.
This novel focuses on Peggy Shippen Arnold, who married Benedict Arnold and actually influenced his treachery. Who knew?? The story is told from the perspective of Peggy’s maid. Any cheesiness is made up for by Pataki’s storytelling and carefully researched details. Plus, it takes place during the height of the Revolutionary War. It’s gotta be interesting.
… to revisit your youth, read My Brother Sam is Dead by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier
Remember when your elementary classes only taught you about the bravery of George Washington and the devout patriotism that drove us to freedom? The days before you learned of nuances, such as “the pursuit of happiness” not being in the original Declaration, Paul Revere being one of many midnight riders, the colonies being split 50/50 between loyalists and patriots, etc. You know, all the things they didn’t really teach you in history class.
My Brother Sam is Dead takes you back to that simpler life. I read this novel in fifth grade as my first Revolutionary War book. I may have read this book 15 years ago, but clearly it had an impact if I still remember the joy it brought me. I can’t really tell you what it’s about (that’s what Goodreads is for, people!), but I can tell you I would recommend it.
… to learn something new, check out The Battle for New York: The City at the Heart of the American Revolution by Barnet Schecter
When I first moved to New York, I tried learning everything I possibly could about this city’s history. That summer, after taking a Revolutionary War landmark tour, I combed through the library for more historical NYC books. That’s how I came across The Battle for New York. Now, as a self-proclaimed Revolutionary War buff, I thought I knew almost everything there was to know about this time period.
This book taught me so much more, especially about my new home. The most fascinating thing I learned was that battles were fought in parks and in neighborhoods in Brooklyn that I was walking through every day. I was walking on history! This nonfiction hit illustrates that there is still so much to uncover about America’s independence, and I’m here for it.
… for a classic American war story, you need The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
Yes, this book takes place during the Civil War, but it’s patriotism at its best. Crane gives us a man who, when faced with battle, chooses to back out and save himself. After a few attempts to reengage, he finds the courage to fight for the Union. Written in 1895, this novel is still being read in high schools (or at least I hope so!), which proves its staying power and that it’s classic red, white, and blue.
… for war accounts, it’s gotta be The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
I’ll admit I didn’t love this book when I read it in high school, but I’ve come to appreciate it as an adult for its poignancy. Another non-Revolutionary War book, The Things They Carried tells fictional accounts of the Vietnam War. Whether the stories take place during battle or while a young man tries to dodge the draft, O’Brien hits us hard with strong emotions and tension.
This book is a departure from the others on the list because it doesn’t evoke that patriotic spirit like the others. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be read in conjunction with celebrating our nation’s independence. I would argue that it’s more important to read this one than the rest because it proves the good ole saying “freedom isn’t free” and reminds us that we haven’t always made the best decisions.
I never get tired of reading novels that take place during the 18th century or about war. If you have a favorite independence or war novel, comment below, and I’ll add it to my list.
Happy Independence Day!