With Thanksgiving hard upon us, now is a good time to think about our past. History writers can tell the best stories from centuries of human achievement and folly, yet too often they produce recitations of one damned thing after another. A few, though, combine a respect for accuracy with a deep understanding of the longings, fears and triumphs of the people of our past. Such books make magic.
These three works look at the early years of the United States, when the nation's physical boundaries were expanding, and what was beyond those borders was often unknown. It was a time when our moral and political boundaries were elastic, as well. These books will take you through America's infancy, a time of possibilities and promise, and some considerable messiness.