I tend to read non-fiction that is entertaining rather than informative. By this I mean that the book is written more like a novel than a dry, academic tome. The Summer of 1787 fit that bill nicely. I enjoy reading about several periods in history, but mostly Colonial and Revolutionary War-era American history. The Summer of 1787 chronicles the long, drawn-out process that the founding fathers went through during the hot, muggy Philadelphia summer to craft what eventually became the Constitution of the United States.
I don’t know about you, but even though I enjoy learning about history, I still fall into the trap of imagining the founding fathers as stuffy, bewigged intellectuals. What I loved about this book was how David Stewart, the author, crafted realistic and engaging portraits of each of the men in the meeting room that summer. They weren’t stuffy men in wigs; they were men who came from all walks of life. They were lawyers, generals like Washington, farmers, self-educated geniuses like Franklin and many others. Some were quiet, some vocal, and some brash, like Alexander Hamilton. I especially liked learning about men whose sole contribution to history was known through their presence at the meeting. Very little else is known about a few of the men, who came to the meeting to represent their states, participated, then returned to their farms and work.
It was also a good reminder that the document that we in the 21st century take so much for granted now was incredibly difficult to create. How many school children today know and understand the Constitution? I don’t like Fox News much anymore, but sometimes catch a segment called Watters World where reporter Jesse Watters goes out on the street and asks simple questions about politics, economics and history. Ninety-nine percent of the people he finds are completely ignorant about past and present politics and history that it’s no wonder the nation is in the mess that it is in. If you can’t remember the past you are doomed to repeat it, and if you don’t have a basic understanding of how your government works, and why it works the way it does, you cannot be an informed citizen. The scary thing is that I didn’t have one single class in school about government, politics or how the system works; what I have learned, I learned on my own. And the history classes I took in school seemed more concerned about learning dates and names of battles than about how the men of the time struggled to create the brilliance that is the U.S. Constitution.
The Summer of 1787 is an engaging read, well-researched and a good overall book for people like me with a casual interest in history. It is well-worth your time if you are like this period in history or are just curious about the men who shaped the documents that run America.