In this series we ask some of our friends what they’re reading to discover what the teachers want to learn, and what we can learn from their choices. This week we’re hearing from Thomas Bender, Professor of the Humanities and Professor of History at New York University, and Co-Chief historian of Revolution! The Atlantic World Reborn. You can check him out at our symposium, The Age of Revolution: A Whole History, moderating a discussion about how empires end.
I am reading Alan Taylor’s marvelous new book, The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, & Indian Allies (Knopf). Beyond linking together in fascinating and important ways all the peoples noted in the subtitle, he shows the fragility of the new republic and gives strong evidence for my own belief that the American Revolution in the sense of achieving independence as a nation among nations was not achieved until 1815, with the conclusion of the War of 1812.
My next book, which I have only begun, is Richard White’s rich and important (and equally revisionist) history of the transcontinental railroads, Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America (Norton). Grounded in the actual records of the railroads, one learns of the business practices of the railroad titans (who hardly knew what they were doing) and their outrageous financial machinations which prefigured those of our own time.
Related: What Historians Are Reading