The longing in America’s heart made me wonder: What did the Greeks and the Romans have to do with us? Why did that embattled farmer fire the shot heard ‘round the world? What rights are fundamental and how are Americans different from everybody else? For most of my life, I wasn’t sure about any of it.
Now I’m sure of this: Empires, even empires of liberty, fail. They promise more than they can deliver. They spread their soldiers way out along the margins with an uncertain mission. They give up on their borders, dilute their sovereignty, and slowly but surely dissolve their national identity until at last they are transformed and diminished.
America’s story is a great one, I just wish it hadn’t taken me 64 years to read it.
You’ll see that these essays are about the American story, the American canon. Don’t worry about knowing all of the history, the names, dates, and places. You don’t have to be able to read music to enjoy the American symphony. I hope you’ll discover, as I did, that you already know this song by heart.