Summer Reads for Revolutionaries: Book Suggestions for 5 Founding Fathers
Today, we celebrate the 237th anniversary of the presentation of the Declaration of Independence in much the same way that we celebrated the last 57 or so: with barbecues, baseball games, fireworks, and picnics. But I'd like to take a moment to pay homage to the bunch of sweaty, angry men who put pen to paper in order to kickstart the American Revolution in the first place. If those men were alive today, they’d probably love nothing more than to participate in the good ol’ USA festivities. And while I’d be all for inviting them over to join my family BBQ (especially Alexander Hamilton—hubba hubba) I think they’d also appreciate—like me—curling up in front of an air conditioning unit with a good book.
For our dearest founding fathers on this special day, personalized recommendations:
George Washington: Washington, “The Father of Our Country,” was the first president of the United States and Commander-in-Chief of the American forces during the Revolutionary War—but the most talked-about aspect of GW’s life was probably apocryphal. All U.S. history students (and mischievous children of moralistic parents) know about the time Washington admitted that he cut down his father’s cherry tree due to his alleged inability to tell a lie. Whether or not George’s “I can’t tell a lie” pronouncement was actually uttered (or, if it was uttered, whether or not it was actually true—but that’s a super-meta “liar’s paradox” if I've ever heard one), he might be interested in checking out the beloved story of Pinocchio , by Italian children’s author Carlo Collodi. Unlike the 1940 Disney movie version, however, the tale spun by Collodi includes no mention of Pinocchio’s nose growing with every lie—making this an interesting exercise in debunking two popular myths at once, if you ask me.
Benjamin Franklin: Franklin, a colonial-era version of James Franco, is recognized for having been a chronic overachiever—or, to make him sound even more pretentious, for being a polymath. The oldest person to sign the Declaration of Independence was a widely-read author, politician, scientist, musician, inventor, and a diplomat, to name just a few of his casual hobbies. But Ben is most famous for his kite experiment, in which he set out to prove that lightning is electricity. Flying his kite during a lightning storm might inspire Franklin to seek out other thrilling kite-flying endeavors—and for that, I suggest consulting The Kite Runner . Khaled Hosseini’s beloved coming-of-age tale includes a harrowing account of the Asian sport of kite fighting, which involves the cutting down of competition kites until only one is left standing. Well, flying.
Samuel Chase: The Supreme Court Associate Justice from Maryland was given the nickname “Old Bacon Face” by his friends and colleagues, apparently in reference to the color of his visage during particularly heated courtroom debates. Regardless of the nickname’s origin, hearing it so often must have left Chase with an insufferable craving for the mouthwatering meat. He might want to get a hold of Heather Lauer’s Bacon: A Love Story for some fun facts, history, and bacon recipes for the ages.
Carter Braxton: The Virginia representative earned the dubious distinction of having fathered a whopping 18 kids by the age of 61. As someone who clearly had a lot of little ones on his hands, he might be interested in commiserating with some famous modern-day parents like Jon and Kate Gosselin. Though the Gosselins welcomed (only) eight children, their account of this experience is movingly documented in Multiple Blessings: Surviving to Thriving with Twins and Sextuplets .
Thomas Lynch, Jr.: Another Virginia delegate, Lynch sailed off with his wife three years after signing the Declaration of Independence—and was never heard from again. If he had the choice to pack any particular book before his never-ending journey, I’d recommend the archetypal, original shipwreck novel: Robinson Crusoe , by Daniel Defoe. Though he may have already read it—the book was first published in 1719—it certainly can’t hurt to revisit such a literary classic. And then probably a couple hundred more times, since there probably wasn’t much else to do on that hypothetical island.
Happy reading, men! And, A-Ham? Call me.