by selected and introduced by Caroline Kennedy
New York. Hyperion: 2003. Pp. xxiii, 663. .
Illus., index. $27.95. ISBN:0-7868-6918-6
A wonderfully eclectic compendium of some finest writing about America, including not only the "songs, poems, stories, and speeches" of the subtitle, but also letters, court opinions, newspaper articles, excerpts from novels, essays, and more, including, of course, the "founding documents" -- Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The selections range from 1630 to 2001. Most are by Americans, in all their infinite variety, among them presidents, soldiers, Indian chiefs, poets, critics, pundits, and more. To name but a few, we find Francis Scott Key, Longfellow, George Washington, Harper Lee, Paul Lawrence Dunbar, both Roosevelts, John and Abigail Adams, not to mention Groucho Marx, Mario Puzo, and even Richard Nixon. A handful are by foreign hands, including, inevitably, Alexis de Tocqueville, but with some surprises as well.
The selections deal with war and peace, rights and responsibilities, the land and its people, and more. Not all celebratory. Some are legal documents or historical analyses, some are funny, even satirical. And there is anger here as well, though one would be hard pressed to argue that the anger of a Frederick Douglass, a Red Jacket, or a Cesar Chavez are out of place in such a collection.
Inevitably, one can always claim that something "great" was left out. This reviewer looked in vain for FDR's D-Day prayer. But Eisenhower's "Message to the Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Forces" is here, as worthy a selection, as are the original words to Julia Ward Howe's "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." And if Joseph Brant's eloquence is absent, Chief Joseph's is not.
A Patriot's Handbook, which is profuously illustrated, is a worthwhile read for anyone trying to understand America.