My wife Katie and I both love history. She’s into ancient Egypt; I gravitate toward Colonial America, between 1620 and 1787. Both of us are reasonably avid readers, with multiple books in play at any given time, always at least one history book on our respective nightstands and living room end tables. We both suffer from the same affliction as well: we can’t just read one history book at a time.
The thing about reading history is that it leads you down rabbit holes. I’ve been re-reading David McCullough’s 1776 for at least six months. I’ll come across a passing mention of some person or event, and I’ll want to know more, but it’s tangential to the narrative so the author doesn’t got into a lot of detail. For example, in discussing George Washington, McCullough talks briefly about Nathaniel Greene. Now, Greene is one of the most fascinating and under-acknowledged characters in the American Revolution. So now I’ve put down 1776 and I’m reading Washington’s General by Terry Golway, a book about Nathaniel Greene. Golway mentions Roger Williams, whose peculiar notions, such as proposing to strike “so help me God” from official oaths on the grounds that it might be offensive to people who don’t believe in God, got him exiled from Plymouth in 1636. He also name-drops Samuel Gorton, who got gently nudged out of Providence, Rhode Island for his belief that men and women were equal. I’m now seeking out books on those men, meaning I’ll likely set aside the book on Greene for a bit as well.
While my journeys are more curious, Katie’s are more scholarly. She’ll pull out other books to see what their summary of a person’s character is, or to compare the details of an event, and try to rectify the contradictions. She can look at the publication date of a book and know what later discoveries are missing, or look at the nationality of the author and know what biases will have crept into the text. I’ve seen her get excited when a book gets some small detail right, and grumble when they cite as fact something that was disproven a hundred years ago. I’ll walk into the bedroom to find her laying there with five or six books spread out on the bed, open and bookmarked to key pages, moving back and forth between them.
As hobbies go, we could be engaged in things less intellectually stimulating. My love of history stems from growing up in eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey, where I was constantly being exposed to historical sites and markers. Katie’s pop was an historian. Growing up the house was filled with history books, and it was something they spent many, many hours discussing. As we put together our joint bucket list, things we want to do together as a couple, visiting historical places takes up a lot of space. The more places we decided on, the more we discover that we want to visit. We keep getting lured further down the rabbit holes of history, and we love it.
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