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Book review: “The American Experience: The History and Culture of the United States,” edited by Erik Bruun and Jay Crosby

A plethora of knowledge about this country can be weeded from the 894 pages of small print that make up “The American Experience: The History and Culture of the United States.”
BY DENNIE HALL Published: April 22, 2012
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A plethora of knowledge about this country can be weeded from the 894 pages of small print that make up “The American Experience: The History and Culture of the United States” (Black Dog & Leventhal, $22.95).

The modest price is possible because this is a paperback that originated in 1999 and was updated in 2009 and this year.

Nevertheless, it is a valuable resource for anyone who wants “569 primary documents of speeches, letters, essays, articles, poems, songs and stories.”

Edited by Erik Bruun and Jay Crosby, it covers profound writing, such as Thomas Paine's “Common Sense,” and homespun songs such as “Home on the Range.” Thomas Jefferson's “Inaugural Address” shares space with Davy Crockett's “This was all burlesque to me.”

Coming to more recent times, we find Edward R. Murrow's “This is London” and President Franklin Roosevelt's “All of us ... are descended from immigrants.”

Most of us could benefit from reading George Washington's “Rules of Civility.” Drawing largely from a French book of etiquette, Washington wrote the rules as a young man and attempted to follow them the rest of his life.

Public figures would do well to follow this rule: “When another speaks, be attentive yourself, and disturb not the audience. If any hesitate in his words, help him not, nor prompt him without being desired, interrupt him not, nor answer him until his speech has ended.”

The final rule is priceless: “Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.”

With the help of a magnifying glass, the reading often is informative and enjoyable.

— Dennie Hall