‘The American Story’ by David Rubenstein: Book Review
The American Story: Conversations with Master Historians is a series of interviews conducted with several historians of popular and evergreen history and political, biographical books. The interviews were conducted in the Library of Congress by American billionaire businessman and philanthropist David Rubenstein. Rubenstein wanted to get the American and international reading public more interested in the stories and histories of the many American Presidents and American political, media, and judicial figures. However, Rubenstein has mainly concentrated on the American Presidents and interviewed several well-renowned historians who have written scholarly works on these American personalities to glean some idea about their book topics. The interviews are in-depth but brief and are well-highlighted biographical points on Presidents’ lives right from the Founding Fathers of America to the twenty-first century. I gave this book five stars on Goodreads. It is professionally written and is deserving of all praise. Kudos to David M. Rubenstein on a job well done. The book is a feast to a history student’s intellect, and I highly recommend this book to such readers.
The American Story starts with a foreword by the current Library of Congress Librarian Carla Hayden, who encourages people, especially American Congressmen, to avail of the facilities and books in the library and be a part of the many activities of the Library of Congress. Then comes David Rubenstein giving the reader a bird’s eye view of what he wanted to achieve in this book. He wanted American Congressmen and the American and international public to read up on the American Presidents and other American personalities that have molded the USA. These Presidents and personalities have shaped and re-shaped the USA in several ways that are intriguing to read, making the book a page-turner. The book is so well presented without a single grammatical flaw that it is a genuine pleasure to read. The foreword is penned by Hayden. Then Rubenstein’s introduction kickstarts the interviews with historian Jack D. Warren Jr on George Washington, the first President and one of the USA’s founding fathers. The other historians interviewed are David McCullough on John Adams, Walter Isaacson on Benjamin Franklin, Bob Woodward on Richard M. Nixon, Robert Caro on Lyndon Johnson, Taylor Branch on Martin Luther King Jr and the Civil Rights Movement, A. Scott Berg on Charles Lindbergh, and so many others. The interviews are placed in historical chronological order starting from the Founding Fathers and ending with an interview with John Roberts, the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. I enjoyed every bit of the book, and I am sure you will too. The Chief Justice’s interview took place before Supreme Court Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, so there is minimal reference in the interview. If you would like to read up more on her, you can check out my book review of Notorious RBG by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik.
The interviews are not exhausting reads at all and can be read by anyone and everyone. However, I would highly recommend this book to international students and history lovers who are just being introduced to American history and politics. Rubenstein expertly frames the questions in the interviews to elicit the details, even basic details of each American personality or President from the interviewee that will guide beginners in their study. Through simple questioning, Rubenstein achieves the following:
- He does not show off his knowledge by making the questions seem difficult or mind-teasers. He tries to bring out more basic information from the interviewee as he can for the benefit of those reading this book.
- It is quite evident that Rubenstein is well-read and already knows all these details of these American Presidents and personalities but is just trying to educate the audience and not baffle them.
- He wants the readers to love American history and see it from an un-partisan point of view.
- He knows that many people, especially Americans themselves, have no idea or have only a basic and incomplete picture of American political history, which he wants to upgrade.
- He realizes that there is a need in the current volatile environment that some facts should be made clear to the American people from all walks of life.
- He encourages the Congressmen to use the Library of Congress.
The book is not challenging to read but an eye-opener. It is such a pleasure to read intelligent but humble intellectuals conversing about historical personages that mean so much to us. When we see the long years these biographers and historians have taken to write a detailed series or set of books or only one major book on the personality of their choice, one immediately comes to respect and be in awe of them. I was especially attracted to Robert A. Caro, who has spent decades writing a series on the life of the American President Lyndon B. Johnson. Robert A. Caro is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the all-time historical perennial best-seller The Power Broker. When I read Caro’s interview, it amazed me to learn the core facts about Lyndon Johnson and how important he is as a figure in contemporary twentieth-century American political history. Caro seems in love with LBJ, so his books though bulky, are still read by all. Rubenstein even mentioned in the introduction to the interview how the Congressmen came with their own old, dog-eared books of Caro to the Library of Congress to hear the talk of a historian, political writer, and biographer whom they loved and respected. By the way, the present President-Elect of the USA, Joe Biden, is being compared to LBJ in current politics. You can check out my book review of Joe Biden: American Dreamer by Evan Osnos on my blog.
I hope to read Caro’s books soon, especially the LBJ series and his treasured all-time best-seller The Power Broker. I have already purchased a copy of that book from the roadside bookseller Rahul. When I say roadside, I mean right there on the pavement, Rahul and his bookseller friends sell their books, most of them rare gems. If you want to read more about Rahul and the pavement booksellers of Mumbai, you can check out my bookish memoir titled Scenes of a Reclusive Writer & Reader of Mumbai on the products page of my blog.
Another interview in this book that I loved was that of the American historian Taylor Branch who wrote the trilogy on Martin Luther King Jr and the Civil Rights Movement. I have already got the first part of this series in paperback format, and I am looking for the other two in the series. The interview of David Rubenstein with Taylor Branch was riveting. I have always wondered what the real story behind Martin Luther King Jr’s name was and whether it was true that he was the only soul force of the Civil Rights Movement of America. I got a surprise where both answers were concerned on this topic. No! No spoilers from me. You will have to get your copy of The American Story by David Rubenstein to learn more about this. Taylor Branch has spent too many years on these books like Caro on LBJ. Both admitted that they took longer because there was no Google during their time with all the answers. Like earlier historians, they had to go through the Catalogue in the Library of Congress and sift the golden seeds from the chaff. Caro mentions that although his books were tomes, he was a bit disappointed that the editors cut a lot of his additional material, which he felt was relevant to the LBJ series. Branch is happy with his output and earnestly hopes that many more readers will get interested in the life and times of Martin Luther King Jr and the Civil Rights Movement of America. The reason being that most of the other movements for justice and inclusion, which took place later, were based on the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.
Other topics dwelt upon in this book are the Founding Mothers, Charles Lindbergh, and the US Supreme Court. I found the US Supreme Court’s Chief Justice to be a bit distant compared to the other interviewees in this book. His was the only interview that left me feeling a bit unsatisfied. Bob Woodward and Walter Isaacson outdid themselves as usual, and their views were a pleasure to read. I was especially moved by Walter Isaacson’s take on Benjamin Franklin’s role as an inventor and scholar and his strong personality. However, I did mourn that he was not so caring towards his family. One thing about this book is that you come to love all the historians in this book and keep on adding their books to your TBR list. It was especially my experience with Walter Isaacson’s Benjamin Franklin: An American Life. After reading the interview and studying, in brief, the colorful personality that was Franklin, I am eager to read this book though previously I had shown no interest.
So, what are you waiting for? Go and get your copy of The American Story today to study the rich scholarly heritage of a beautiful country filled with unique and talented leaders. The book is not a long read and is very engaging. You can read it in any circumstance and will not be able to part with it at all. Get your copy today and support this book. The American Story gets five stars from me.
I enjoyed reading and reviewing The American Story by American billionaire businessman and philanthropist David Rubenstein. I hope to read, review, and analyze American bookish content, both non-fiction and fiction, until January 2021. I wish to celebrate the rich bookish heritage of America as the crucial 2020 US Presidential Elections come to a close. If you are looking for more American bookish content, this is the site you should keep watching.
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