Spring Cleaning 2012

Every spring I do what I call an annual “Spring Cleaning” column, in which I answer the “Frequently Asked Questions” that I get from readers, the vast majority of which ask about my background, ask whether my lessons are collected or available in book form, and ask me to recommend my favorite books for the past year.

As for my background—I just decided in the year 2000 that I wanted to try my hand at writing a newspaper column on American and world history, and after two years of working the phone and sending emails to editors around the country, I managed to convince enough of them to take on the column that it has become a viable, ongoing enterprise.  I am still amazed at my good fortune.

As for my columns being available in book form, they are, and the easiest way to purchase Bruce’s History Lessons: The First Five years is to go on the home page of my website and click on the link in the box on the right hand side.  That takes you right to the book on Amazon.com.

As for the books I have read over the past year that I highly recommend—they are:

1493 by Charles Mann.  It is the story of the “Columbian Exchange,” in which, in the wake of Columbus’ discovery of the New World, goods and services, but also diseases and plagues and new ideas and beliefs, were spread around the globe, altering human history. It’s thoroughly researched and wonderfully written.

Bloody Crimes by James Swanson alternately describes Abe Lincoln’s 13-day, 11-city funeral procession from Washington, D.C., to his home in Springfield, Ill, and the hunt for the fugitive Confederate President Jefferson Davis, whom many thought (incorrectly) ordered Lincoln’s assassination.  Both stories are fascinating, and Swanson is a fine writer.

James Madison by Richard Brookhiser.  Many historians consider Madison our greatest lawgiver.  Brookhiser also considers him our first great politician.  Brookhiser breaks no new ground, but it is a short, well-written look at “The Father of the Constitution.”  And, hey, it’s about (my hero) James Madison.

Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard. Billed as “A tale of madness, medicine and the murder of a president,” it describes President James A. Garfield’s assassination, the descent into insanity of his assassin, Charles Guiteau, the incompetence and hubris of the doctors who could have saved Garfield but instead hastened his death, and the desperate attempts by inventor Alexander Graham Bell to build a machine that could detect where the bullet was lodged in Garfield’s body.  It reads almost like a thriller.

There, the place looks cleaner!  I’ll be back next spring.