Recently I finished Benjamin Netanyahu’s memoir, entitled Bibi, which was a fascinating read. He spoke often about his extensive reading of historical works and the effect it has had on his ability to lead the country of Israel through challenging times. Multiple times he made the following comment:

“Good works on history illuminate the present as much as the past.”

Up until about ten years ago I struggled to read detailed history books. In fact, as I was getting back into reading, a friend of mine accused me of only wanting to be entertained. At the time, I couldn’t disagree with his assessment. There are a number of popular history books that I quickly abandoned out of sheer boredom.

Up until a few years ago, I often asked myself if it was worth a deep dive into the history books. Was it worth reading all 818 pages (or listening to all 37 hours) of Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow? With so many books out there to read, is this a good use of time???

I now say unequivocally, Yes!! As I have confronted difficult questions about current social events I have leaned heavily on my reading of history to gain clarity on how I form my views.

We live in a world where there are countless options for consuming information. Often we settle for convenience, and trust that experts have filtered the information down to the most important parts.

Frequently I hear today the repetition of these opinions and insights as absolute facts.  As though listening to a two minute discussion about today’s most challenging issues gives someone the ability to speak with authority. Anyone can sound convincing in a short interview, or provide information that will sway someone to their opinion. With so many contentious issues discussed round the clock, it is worth considering a more in-depth approach.

I love this quote from historian David McCullough:

“History is a guide to navigation in perilous times. History is who we are and why we are the way we are.”

If you don’t already do so, I encourage you to make reading history a key part of your life. When we read about the lives of others, see their failures and successes, and experience their thoughts and feelings, we can gain greater empathy and compassion for those around us today.

I wanted to share some of my favorite history books:

Civil Rights Queen by Tomiko Brown-Nagin – I look forward to sharing some thoughts next week about this amazing woman who was a key figure in the civil rights movement. 

Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis by Robert Putnam – This is a fascinating look at the opportunity gap that started in the 1950s, and has expanded to this day. “We Americans have always believed that those who have talent and try hard will succeed, but this central tenet of the American Dream seems no longer true or at the least, much less true than it was.”

Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates – I loved this book. It’s a sobering account of the inequalities that exist for women throughout the world. If we don’t understand how we got to where we are today, we cannot figure out a way to fix it.

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson – Did you know that between 1915 and 1970 six million black people migrated out of the Jim Crow South to cities all across the country. It sheds light on our current day to see how this immigration changed the face of America.

The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border by Francisco Cantu – I like this book because it provides a unique perspective from both sides of the border war. It puts a face and a story to the often ambiguous debate that rages on both sides of the political aisle. If nothing else I believe it will allow anyone to experience greater sympathy for immigrants, regardless of ideology. 

Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing – An absolute must-read. Such an inspiring story of the human spirit of exploration and discovery and the will to survive in the most dire of circumstances. 

Hellhound On His Trail by Hampton Sides – This story documents story of the search for Martin Luther King’s killer, the largest manhunt in American history.

  • Rob Hanson
    1 year ago
    I have read four of those books. Just added the others to my list!