"A wise, humane and beautifully written book." —Bret Stephens, Wall Street Journal
From the best-selling author of Benjamin Franklin comes this remarkable work that will help redefine our notion of American heroism. Americans have long been obsessed with their heroes, but the men and women dramatically portrayed here are not celebrated for the typical banal reasons contained in Founding Fathers hagiography. Effortlessly challenging those who persist in revering the American history status quo and its tropes and falsehoods, Morgan, now ninety-three, continues to believe that the past is just not the way it seems.
Despite the lowbrow title, these are intelligent, opinionated essays on America between 1600 and 1800. Morgan, a revered historian and the bestselling author of Benjamin Franklin, wrote the earliest chapter in 1937, the latest in 2005. Many describe obscure events but pack a surprising punch. In "Dangerous Books," the author tells the story of Yale (where he is professor emeritus), founded in 1701 as a bastion of Puritanism, but with a library of works by English Enlightenment intellectuals. In 1721 six members of the faculty, including the rector, horrified the community by publicly renouncing Calvinism. The last official American execution for witchcraft occurred in 1692, but the popular belief in witchcraft continued well into the 19th century: in a marvelously recounted vignette, Morgan describes Philadelphia in 1787, where a few miles from the halls where America's elite were debating our Constitution, a mob abused and finally killed an old woman accused of witchcraft. Three of the 17 essays are previously unpublished. Happily, all are up to the standards of this wise, venerable (now 93) and deeply thoughtful historian.