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Brush up on history for Patriots Day

Believe it or not, Monday isn't a holiday because of the Boston Marathon. It's Patriots Day, the day set aside to honor the Battle of Lexington and Concord, which began the Revolutionary War.

So this weekend, why not bone up on your American history?

Pauline Maier, William R Kenan Professor of History, recommends the books below about life in the young U.S.A.--a little later than the Revolution, but in a formative period. Maier is the author of "American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence" and "From Resistance to Revolution: Colonial Radicals and the Development of American Opposition to Britain 1765 to 1776."

Maier, who first picked the books for the November/December 2004 issue of American Heritage magazine, described the list as "idiosyncratic, favoring titles I have read and loved, that seemed to work well with my students or that my friends and colleagues praise."

Maier recommends several works about prominent historical figures. "Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation," by Joseph J. Ellis, was "long on the bestseller list and won the Pulitzer Prize for all the right reasons: solid scholarship, full of insight and written with a style leavened by Ellis' un-intrusive sense of humor," she said.

Already read "Brothers"? Try Maier's personal favorite, a book on Massachusetts' native son, President John Adams. Ellis' "Passionate Sage: The Character of John Adams," captures the "endearingly crusty Adams in ways that are missing even in David McCullough's massive 'John Adams,' " Maier said.

Lowell, Massachusetts, just an hour north of Boston, played an instrumental role in the industrial development of New England, and Maier recommends two books on the subject. "Women at Work: The Transformation of Work and Community in Lowell, Massachusetts, 1826-1860," by Thomas Dublin, is a "terrific book on the country's pioneering textile industry and the first generation of female factory operatives."

"Enterprising Elite: The Boston Associates and the World They Made," by Robert F. Dalzell, examines the industry from management's side.

For contrast, Maier also recommends "Bond of Iron Master and Slave at Buffalo Forge," by Charles B. Dew, a "gem of a book about an antebellum Virginia ironworks that used slave labor, its Pennsylvania-born owner and the enslaved men who worked there."

Harriet Beecher Stowe's 1852 fictional account of the "sinful institution of slavery," "Uncle Tom's Cabin," is the "most important novel, and perhaps the most important book, in American history," Maier notes.

A few more recommendations:

• "Harpers Ferry Armory and the New Technology: The Challenge of Change," by Merritt Roe Smith, MIT's Cutten Professor of the History of Technology.
• "American Reformers, 1815-1860," by Ronald G. Walters.
• "The Discovery of the Asylum: Social Order and Disorder in the New Republic," by David J. Rothman.
• "Democracy in America," by Alexis de Toqueville.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 13, 2005 (download PDF).

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