Letters of a Nation: A Collection of Extraordinary American Letters

Edited by: Andrew Carroll
Nonfiction
1997
Subject Matter: American letters; United States; Civilization
Rating: 5/5

Letters of a Nation

WHAT A BOOK.

Wow.

I am delighted to have had the extreme pleasure of reading Letters of a Nation.

Don’t get me wrong – there are some really hard letters to read in this book. Even harder stuff than normal, because it’s all true. Or at least, true to the person who wrote it. In the season of this, the most American of holidays, it feels especially relevant: a remembering of what truly makes America great by finally giving air to stories as yet untold, however problematic.

Yeah. That’s what this book is, quite literally. Just a collection of letters. Written by Americans. Spanning over 400 years.

But boy oh boy is it so much more than that! This book is a joy. A treasure.

Maybe it’s not for everyone. If you have zero interest in history or humanity or the ties that bind, then yeah. Maybe pass on this one.

And maybe it has a bit of an editorial slant. Sure, Andrew Carroll‘s a little nostalgic for the good old days when society didn’t “[glamorize] materialism over faith, getting over giving, indifference over compassion”. Sure, the letters written by white Christians vastly outnumber those written by others (though do not erase them by any means).

But honestly? I ate this book up. Every page is a new discovery: an insight into the private life of a man like Alexander Hamilton, a beautiful expression of friendship from none other than Jack Kerouac, a behind-the-lines account home from a soldier who doesn’t yet know he will be killed in mere days time though he can’t help but suspect it.

And it’s eerie in its prescience. Straight outta 1951:

It is not the oath [of allegiance to the United States] that troubles me. … My feeling about my country and its history is as tender and intimate as about my own parents, and I really suffer to have them violated by the irresponsible acts of cheap politicians who prey on public fears in times of trouble and force their betters into undignified positions.

Our duty, Dr. Ross, is to circumvent them. To see through them and stop them in their tracks in time and not to be hoodwinked or terrorized by them, not to rationalize and excuse the weakness in us which leads us to criminal collusion with them for the sake of our jobs or the hope of being left in peace. That is not the road to any kind of safety. … We’re going to be made sorry very soon for our refusal to reject unconditionally the kind of evil that disguises itself as patriotism, as love of virtue, as religious faith, as the crusador against the internal enemy. These people are themselves the enemy.

It seems we’ve been fighting the same fight for 70 years, eh?

READ IT.

Do it. You won’t be sorry.

 

******

 

For more books like Letters of a Nation:

(for more by Carroll – yes! there are more!)

War Letters by Andrew Carroll

Behind the Lines by Andrew Carroll

Operation Homecoming by Andrew Carroll

Here Is Where by Andrew Carroll

(a seriously abbreviated list of books by authors included in this collection)

Why We Can’t Wait by Martin Luther King, Jr.

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

Native Son by Richard Wright

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

 

(for books I just think you’ll like)

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara

The Truth About Stories by Thomas King

Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy

 

Coming up:

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The Trial by Franz Kafka

 

Bonus: I have to share the beautiful inscription on the first page of my edition of this book:

Jane,

I heard the letter on pg 240 read on NPR and instantly thought of you, and Jon.

Hope you enjoy this (seemingly) lost art.

love,

Ker

6 Mar 98

The letter on page 240? A hilarious diss by the Indians of the Six Nations declining an offer from the College of William & Mary to “properly educate” their children.

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