"War defines boundaries, but it is the treaties that enforce them. Politicians win votes, but it is their speeches and laws that effect change. And activism unites people with slogans and marches, but it is the documents that record struggle, and the proposals for change that promote civil progress. Indeed, while the actions of people defend, define, and rally for their country's success, it is their words that build a nation."
-- Marilyn Miller (from the introduction to Words That Built a Nation)
In Words That Built a Nation: A Young Person's Collection of Historic American Documents (Scholastic), author Marilyn Miller presents documents that trace the history of the United States. From such standard selections as the Declaration of Independence, the Monroe Doctrine, and the Emancipation Proclamation, to such lesser-read pieces as the Declaration of Sentiments of the Seneca Falls Convention, John F. Kennedy's speech at the Berlin Wall, and Csar Chvez's speech to striking grape workers, the documents in this book cover many areas, including politics, human rights, and environmental issues.
Each document is given its own chapter, which includes information about the author(s), historical background, and a section titled "Response" that discusses the impact and the repercussions of the document. The documents appear in chronological order. Some selections, such as the Mayflower Compact, George Washington's farewell address, and Malcolm X's 1964 speech before the Congress of Racial Equality, are presented in their entirety. Others are excerpted from speeches, Supreme Court decisions, and books -- both fiction and nonfiction -- with social or political relevance.
Miller is careful to choose works from a diverse group of writers. Several women are represented, including Abigail Adams, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Hillary Rodham Clinton. Speeches from Martin Luther King Jr. and Shirley Chisholm have been included, as have selections from the Nez Perc leader Chief Joseph and the Sioux chief Red Cloud.
The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights are probably the most widely read documents in Words That Built a Nation; however, Miller is still able to provide interesting, lesser-known facts in her sidebars:
"The entire Constitution is on display at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., only once a year -- September 17, the anniversary of the date it was signed. The other days of the year pages one and four are displayed in a bulletproof case. At night the pages are lowered into a vault with doors so thick, they can withstand a nuclear explosion."
Each chapter contains photographs, etchings, or other contemporary illustrations to help set the background for each document. Miller includes a table of contents, an index, and an afterward, listing some Internet resources for additional study.
With a clear, easy-to-read layout, interesting background information, and an eclectic choice of documents, Words That Built a Nation would make a worthwhile addition to the study of American history through the words that helped define who and what we, as a nation, are.
The book highlighted this week is available in most bookstores. If you are unable to locate the book, ask your bookseller to order it for you, or contact the publisher directly:
Words That Built a Nation: A Young People's Collection of Historic American Documents, written by Marilyn Miller, published by Scholastic, Inc. Call 1-800-SCHOLASTIC.
Lauren P. Gattilia
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