October 30th, 2006
It was a thrill for me to interview UCLA historian Gary Nash, my guest on tonight's show (at 7:30; repeated on Friday night at 10:30). Nash's latest book, The Unknown American Revolution: The Unruly Birth of Democracy and the Struggle to Create America, brings together a panoply of amazing-but-true stories about the lesser-known people who contributed to the American Revolution. As Nash writes in the introduction:
We cannot capture the "life and soul" of the Revolution without paying close attention to the wartime experiences and agendas for change that engrossed backcountry farmers, urban craftsmen, deep-blue mariners, female camp followers and food rioters -- those ordinary people who did most of the protesting, most of the fighting, most of the dying, and most of the dreaming about how a victorious America might satisfy the yearnings of all its peoples.
Like Nash -- and like most of us, I imagine -- I have enormous respect for our famous Founding Fathers. They were, for the most part, brilliant political thinkers and doers, and we are all in their debt. But they were not gods, and they did not achieve the Revolution by themselves. The full story is not only richer and more complex, it also allows us non-geniuses of today to find meaningful connections to our nation's founding: politics then were as messy and divisive as politics now. Too often, our history seems like a distant, static thing -- dead and permanent, like marble. What Gary Nash brings us is a historical narrative that we can connect with -- like us, it's alive, contradictory, glorious. He gives us a history that we can not only study, but participate in as well. ...
I also wanted to see how others in the Bay Area felt connected (or dis-) to American history, so my crew and I walked around San Francisco to chat with folks on the street. As you can see in the resulting "Wandering Josh" segment, from the Fillmore to North Beach (where I got an earful from S.F.'s current poet laureate, Jack Hirschman, outside his beloved Caffe Trieste), people had lots to say on the subject. I hope they -- and you -- find Nash's stories as provocative and inspiring as I did.