The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West, by David McCullough
This is a typical McCullough book–a great story, easy to read, educational, and fun. It tells the story of the settlement and development of the Northwest Territory of the U. S. through the experiences and legacy of several pioneering families who led the push down and across the Ohio River and were instrumental in providing the leadership in bringing the American dream to the Midwest. I was particularly interested in it because I had only recently taken a river cruise down the Ohio River from Pittsburgh to St. Louis and came into contact with the settlement history of this region in a more detailed manner than I had previously understood. It actually made me want to go back and revisit some of our stops on this cruise in the context of McCullough’s treatment. A great read.
Nostalgia: Going Home in a Homeless World, by Anthony Esolen
By way of introduction to this challenging book, I quote from the cover flap: “Postmodern man, homeless almost by definition, cannot understand nostalgia. If he is a progressive, dreaming of a utopia to come, he dismisses it contemptuously, eager to bury a past he despises. If he is a reactionary, he sentimentalizes it, dreaming of a lost golden age.” Anthony Esolen explores the true meaning of nostalgia; drawing on the great works of Western literature, he traces the development of this fundamental longing.
Coincidentally, I had been reading into the philosophy of stoicism, primarily through Letters From a Stoic, by Seneca, one of the leading proponents of this thought. According to the stoics, as understood by philosopher Luc Ferry, the two great ills which prevent us from achieving fulfillment are nostalgia and hope, specifically attachment to the past and anxiety about the future. This presents what seems to be an unresolveable conflict, but Esolen helps provide some relief for those who agree with him that nostalgia shouldn’t be about “attachment” to the past, but rather about veneration of our forebears for their hard-won wisdom and gratitude for their perseverance and Judeo-Christian cultural legacy, which has assured us that we aren’t homeless, but need help in knowing which road to take to get back home. A deeply thoughtful book.