While the original pilgrims really did host a feast attended by Indigenous peoples in 1621, the occasion neither marked the Natives’ welcome to the Europeans nor initiated an annual event; for the Plymouth colonists, a “day of Thanksgiving” called for fasting and prayer, not a feast, while for the ninety Wampanoag in attendance the gathering signaled merely a local alliance—not a general invitation to take their lands. In This Land Is Their Land (Bloomsbury, $32) David J. Silverman, the author of Thundersticks, looks afresh at a tradition that doesn’t commemorate a historical occasion as much as reflect the accretion of a set of half-truths. Examining four centuries of politics, erasures, and myths, he counters the traditionally one-sided story of the national holiday by putting it into the context of Native American history and culture—both of which pre-dated the European “discovery” of territory neither “wild nor “new,” just as they have survived U.S. efforts to write them out of the nation’s record. Focusing on the Wampanoag, Silverman delves deeply into indigenous rituals, beliefs, hierarchies, methods of warfare, economies, and much more, highlights where Natives and Europeans were most likely to misunderstand each other, and, noting that “the question…is how to move forward,” takes the narrative though Thanksgiving’s latest iteration as the National Day of Mourning.
In the wake of the Civil War, the 13th amendment abolished slavery, the 14th constitutionalized the principle of birthright citizenship and equality before the law, and the 15th aimed to secure black male suffrage. In The Second Founding, historian Eric Foner describes how these revisions amounted to a profound and pivotal remaking of the Constitution to establish the principle of equality, yet were undermined by Supreme Court decisions and state actions. Not until well into the 20th Century did the U.S. undertake renewed strides toward realizing the concepts of racial equality, due process, and individual rights reflected in the Reconstruction amendments. Amid fresh political challenges today to birthright citizenship, voting rights, due process, and equal protection of the law, Foner’s book is especially relevant and key to understanding the history and meaning of the Reconstruction amendments.
As he did in his trilogy about the Allied triumph in Europe during World War II, Rick Atkinson brings extensive research, keen attention to detail, and narrative elegance to the telling of yet another grand conflict—this time, the American Revolution. The British are Coming is the first of three volumes that Atkinson intends to write about the war for America, and it’s another magnificent history, vividly and commandingly narrated, weaving together the perspectives of many characters high and low along with meaningful assessments of the action. Although much has been written about the American Revolution, no one had done a start-to-finish battle history for some time, and the actual experience of the war hadn’t been made real to readers for many, many years—until now.