Monday, July 6, 2009

Signing Their Lives Away: the fame and misfortune of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence by Denise Kiernan & Joseph D'Agnese

Just read a quote by Edmund S. Morgan, in the essay "Dangerous Books", from his new book American Heroes. It said:

"The only way to make a library safe is to lock people out of it. As long as they are allowed to read the books 'any old time they have a mind to,' libraries will remain the nurseries of heresy and independence of thought. They will, in fact, preserve that freedom which is a far more important part of our lives than any ideology or orthodoxy, the freedom that dissolves orthodoxies and inspires solutions to the ever-changing challenges of the future. I hope that your library and mine will continue in this way to be dangerous for many years to come."

What a terrific quote, and so appropriate for this post Independence Day posting. And speaking of heroes, several of the brave men who signed the Declaration of Independence would probably no doubt be at home on such a list. This terrific little book was my Independence Day reading this year and I have found it quite fascinating.

In 1776, fifty-six men risked their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to defy the British and sign America's birth certificate--our most celebrated document, and a model for other struggling peoples the world over. Most people could probably correctly identify John Hancock, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and maybe even John Adams. But after them, a lot of people would be hard pressed to name any others. But all these men are worth knowing, and this book does a good job of filling us in on the remarkably interesting lives of a group who came together one sweltering summer under distressing circumstances and despite big differences in opinion and background crafted a document that formed a new nation. Some of these men prospered and rose to the highest levels of government, and some of them had their homes and farms seized by the British. They were statesmen, soldiers, slaveholders, and even a scoundrel or two. The book jacket is a copy of the Declaration itself, and in addition to the individual portraits of the signers, the book contains a Time Line and selected bibliography.

If you have an interest in that period of American history, but don't want to wade through some of the more dense offerings, this book is informative and entertaining and easily digested with its 3-4 page outlines of each signer. This is a book that would appeal to history buffs of all ages.

In conjunction with the publication of "Signing Their Lives Away,” the authors are traveling in the footsteps of these revolutionaries. The result: a documentary feature and a 13-part film series that examines not only their legacy, but the state of the American Dream and our own ideas about independence. Under the Trailers section, there are several short films about the signers. Click here to learn more.

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