What do you recommend people read this Thanksgiving?
The history of Thanksgiving as a holiday in America is rich. Start with our feature Before Lincoln: The Thanksgiving Wars with articles by Pete Peterson, Chris Wolfe, and Tim Rice.
Abraham Lincoln enshrined the national holiday. Why? Read Allen Guelzo, Richard Brookhiser, Joseph Bottum, and Justin Dyer on Lincoln's Thanksgiving: Nature's God.
Robert Royal, David Azerrad, Emina Melonic, and yours truly take a look at gratitude itself in The Problem of Gratitude.
Joshua Mitchell has a new book—the latest in several searching inquiries into what makes us tick—called American Awakening. It’s about the arrival of a new political theology our life, one that twists Christian patterns of thought into an unforgiving secular key. You might know this doctrine by the name of wokeness; whatever you call it, if you want to understand why gratitude and forgiveness are essential to our way of life and our form of government, no matter how intense and consequential our political conflicts become, this is the book for you.
The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy. Read that and be thankful you have breath yet in your lungs to turn things around.
Have you ever just actually read Willam Bradford’s account of the Pilgrims’ voyage from Holland to America, and their subsequent management of Plymouth Plantation? It has to be one of the most remarkable primary sources from the early days of European settlement in the New World. It’s a crime we don’t assign it in schools more widely. Bradford himself was an astonishing figure—orphaned at 7, he grew up to lead his tight-knit community through hardship that seems almost unthinkable today.
What sticks out to me most about the book this year is how real these people’s faith was to them, how seriously they took its implications and accepted their consequences. Here is one of the most famous passages, describing the worship service they held in advance of their departure from Holland (I’ve adjusted the spelling for ease of reading, but you can find the marvelous original here):
[Much] of the time was spent in pouring out prayers to the Lord with great fervency, mixed with abundance of tears. And the time being come that they must depart, they were accompanied with most of their brethren out of the city, unto a town sundry miles off called Delfes-Haven, where the ship lay ready to receive them. So they left that goodly and pleasante citie, which had been their resting place near 12 years; but they knew they were pilgrims, and looked not much on those things, but lift[ed] up their eyes to the heavens, their dearest country, and quieted their spirits.
For more on all this I heartily recommend Chris Caldwell’s excellent essay in the recent CRB. These were people whose God was as real to them as the noses on their faces. It shows.