The Forgotten Founding Father

There is a wide gap in the writing of history. There is academic history and popular history, and really, you wouldn’t think there would be a huge gap between the two, but there is. Academic history is created for, read by and recognized by those who walk the hallowed halls of universities the world over. Popular history is for the rest of the world, and it’s a whole other story—or history. I’m sure a lot of people would be surprised to discover that many mainstream/popular works, even by revered historians, cannot be cited in academic papers. Because, after all, it is just history for the unwashed masses. So, why am I telling you this? So you’ll have a little background before we dive into THE FORGOTTEN FOUNDING FATHER by Joshua Kendall.

The Forgotten Founding Father: Noah Webster’s Obsession and the Creation of American Culture embarks on the tale of the man best known for a dictionary and how he fits into the creation of American Nationalism. Unbeknownst to most American’s Webster was, like many men of his age, a revolutionary and nationalist. Kendall works to build a case that Webster was an integral force in the founding of American nationalism and was a key component in the creation of a distinctly American, as opposed to British, culture.

Kendell presents an interesting case. His depiction of Webster as a founding father is not completely convincing, although he does offer some solid reasoning. There is certainly no escaping the fact that the spelling book Webster produced and his famous dictionary are defining parts of the American experience. Was he a founding father? Was he a definitive creator of American? I’m still not completely convinced.

The truly wonderful thing about this book is its sheer readability. It brings these people, often so remote to most of us, to vivid life. Their infighting, their passions and failings all seen through the eyes of our “hero” Noah Webster. Kendell paints him as a real person, full of passion for his country, dislike for some of his fellow countrymen, love of his work—in other words, a person we can know and see in the larger context of the movements of history. That’s really what makes this book work, the personal feeling that Kendall gives to it, the fact that it reads almost like a novel.

On the other side of the coin there is a problem with books like this—popular history. The writer can often make assumptions and assertions that pass by, and can even be quoted as fact, that are a little shaky in their veracity, and there is no one to call them on it. Piecing together history can be a delicate thing at the best of times, dealing with biographical history is never the best of times, because you are viewing the events through the filter of a single experience—even if you use many sources to produce the work.

The Forgotten Founding Father: Noah Webster’s Obsession and the Creation of American Culture is definitely worth a read, don’t get me wrong. It’s an interesting slice of history that adds to a larger puzzle of the revolution and post-revolutionary years. I hope that reading this book will open up that part of American history to readers again and they will go in search of more books on the subject. It’s such a fascinating time, take a moment and visit it with Noah Webster, The Forgotten Founding Father.

Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars | Publisher: Putnam Adult | Pages: 368 | Source: Publisher | Buy on Amazon

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