July 4, 2008

Inventing a Nation: Washington, Adams, Jefferson
Gore Vidal

An American's History -- My friend and colleague Judy Bertacchi once gave me a great piece of advice: "You always have to get the birth story," she said. We had been speaking about designing effective early childhood programs; but we could just have easily been discussing organizational theory or U.S. history. The birth story always offers clues to what's happening today, though, as with all stories, you have to know who is telling the story. Which, for better and for worse -- but mostly always for the better -- brings us to Gore Vidal.

... By the end of the Revolution, a great many Hessians had married American girls and settled down as contented farmers in the German sections of Pennsylvania and Delaware, their lubricious descendants to this day magically peopling the novels of Mr. John Updike.

Meanwhile, back in Philadelphia, John Adams had made the union between the two great revolutionary states, Massachusetts and Virginia, by pushing for the selection of the Virginian George Washington as commander of the American army. Washington's steady presence and regal confidence more than compensated for his poor performance in the field against British generals, themselves every bit as striking in their mediocrity as he. Congress chose to ignore the fact that Colonel Washington's one campaign against the French during the Seven Years' War ended with his capture by the French -- who were, nevertheless, so impressed by his dignity (and height) that they gave him an escort from Pittsburgh back to his home on the Potomac.
After a while, you get the sense that this book about the founders is really a book about Gore Vidal with an occasional passing reference to the founders -- but that's more than half the fun.


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