Checking out the event calendar for the National Museum of American History for the days I would be in DC, I was thrilled to see that my favorite non-art museum was hosting an author talk and book signing the day I was visiting. I had a lovely chat with John Ferling about his book, Independence: the Struggle to Set America Free. The timing was perfect, on July 5th we just finished celebrating Independence Day. Ferling described two of the book’s premises, that independence from Britain wasn’t inevitable and that as the war continued, it radicalized the population (a tendency seen over and over again in war torn areas). His book is organized around various historical figures each giving a different perspective. The book sounds fascinating, I’m looking forward to reading it. The presence of the author demonstrated that the bookstore at the National Museum of American History is well worth stopping by.
At the risk of being redundant, the books here are about American history, but what a variety of options. There are shelves and shelves towards the back of the main store that cover just about every topic. There are scads of books concerning Revolutionary, Civil War, Presidential, African-American, World War II, and general history. I was particularly interested in the Civil War shelves given the current 150th anniversary of the start of the war. I wanted a general history that I could follow along with the events as they happened and settled on James McPherson’s well known Battle Cry of Freedom. I’m a little daunted by the fact that just to catch up to 150 years ago, July, 1861, I need to gulp down 360 pages. I’m feeling a little behind. The selection isn’t just about wars and politicians, there are dozens and dozens of cultural options, books on Barbie, baseball (lots of baseball books everywhere), sports, gun collecting, gardening, comics, cooking (a good selection of cooking, but I wouldn’t expect anything less from the museum that houses Julia Child’s kitchen). The options are a snapshot of Americana.
What really wowed me was the curator’s recommendation shelves, they showed a real indie bookstore spirit. The Curator’s Choice books reflected the diversity of our history, one book was about cooking another Malcolm X.
The slice of America doesn’t stop with books, there are all kinds of jewelry, clothing, and knick-knacks that incorporate American history. It’s a shopper’s delight.
This is a museum worth spending a day wandering around in and a bookstore worth dropping by even if you aren’t looking at an exhibit.
1400 Constitution Ave, NW