Monday, January 15, 2018

I don’t know if I can watch football anymore


During the Bills-Jaguars playoff game last week, two Bills players went down with head injuries. When I watched football years ago, an injury timeout was a bathroom break. Now it's a lump in my throat.

Head injuries, and what we now know about head injuries, have changed the way I watch the game. Each time a running back gets stood up at the line, I see CTE. Each time a receiver goes up for a ball, I see CTE. Each time the ball is snapped, I see CTE.

CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, is the brain disease that leads to depression, dementia, and early death among athletes who take repetitive hits to the head.

Ive watched football since I was a little boy. I played organized football from ages 11 to 18. It taught me discipline, toughness, teamwork. I knew the primal joy of driving your shoulder into a QBs ribs. I loved football. Part of me still loves the game.

It’s more than just the thrill of being on the field. Its a family conversation topica noncontroversial go-to that serves as a common interest between my dad and me. Since Ive moved away from Buffalo, I no longer pay attention to local news or politics, but I always keep tabs on the Billsone of the few things that tethers me to my hometown. Its a holiday ritual. Its a source of diversion and high entertainment. Its the reason Ive given more Sunday afternoon hugs and high-fives than I can count. I dont want to stop watching football. But I dont know if I can anymore.

While researchers have known about CTE occurring in NFL players since 2002, its only these past couple of years that fans like myself have become aware of the NFLs CTE problem. A spate of shocking CTE-related suicides have raised public awareness, most notably in 2012 when Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau shot himself in the chest, just three years after retiring. Seau had CTE, as have at least eight other former NFL players whove committed suicide in the past ten years. 

CTE sank in for me when, a few years ago, I found out that Pro Bowl linebacker and tackling-machine Darryl Talley, was suffering from CTE-like symptoms. As a boy, I remember watching Talley hunt down running backs in his trademark Spider-Man ski suits that hed wear under his Buffalo Bills uniform on the Billsearly 90s Super Bowl teams. Talley, who retired in 1996, has since suffered from depression, chronic injuries, and suicidal thoughts.

His mental issues have accelerated a lot in the last year,said Darryls wife, Janine Talley, to The Buffalo News. “I dont know what the future holds for either one of us. I dont know if in a few years dementia will set in. I dont know if Ill be able to care for him.

Before, I used to cheer whenever there was a big hit. Now I cringe. Before, when players got concussions, I figured they'd gotten their "bell rung" and would be back the following week. Now I imagine them suffering years later from a horrible brain disease. Before, I thought I was being entertained by rich and very lucky athletes. Now I think I'm watching human beings destroy their bodies. And for what? To entertain me?

Darryl Talley an amazing, unstoppable athlete is now likely up against a brain disease that he's totally defenseless against. And maybe it's partly my fault. It was I who cheered him on to make tough tackles, to play 204 straight games at one of the most punishing positions in the game, to sacrifice his body for his team and fans. Sure, it was Talleys decision to pursue a dangerous career path, but does he deserve all the blame for his condition? Have I not, with my money and my viewership, turned my thumb in approval? As a fan, am I not partly responsible for supporting a game that reloads onto the field one player after another whose body will be injured and sacrificed and eventually golf-carted away?

Societies have done away with gladiatorial combat, duels, and dog fighting because theyve deemed such activities barbaric and inhumane. When does a sport cross the line and become inhumane? What is an unacceptable percentage of NFL players doomed to be diagnosed with CTE? Dr. Ann McKee, a director of neuropathology at the Department of Veterans Affairs in Bedford, Mass, says researchers have an enormously high hit ratefor discovering CTE among deceased NFL players. The brains brought in for study have often been from players who suspected they had CTE, so the numbers are flawed but no less startling: Of the 111 brains of deceased NFL players that have been analyzed, 110 have tested positive for CTE, or 99 percent.

More alarmingly, research has shown that its not just the big-hit concussions that cause CTE, but the frequent subconcussive hits.Dr. Robert A. Stern, a co-founder of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at Boston University, estimates that an NFL lineman experiences 1,000-1,500 hits over the course of a season. So on virtually every play we may be seeing CTE developing somewhere on the field. And despite new rules designed to prevent head injuries, there were 199 concussions in 2015, 77 more than the 2014 season’s total.

In 2015, promising Bills rookie Karlos Williams, a big and fast 230-pound running back, known for his downhill power running, experienced a concussion in Week 4 against the Giants. He was out for a month. For days, Williams had to sit in a dark room without light or sound.

Its not going to change the way I run the football,Williams told reporters. It hasnt changed the way I run the football. I run the football with an attitude. And I think thats what the coaches expect of me coming back.

A player like Williams got to where he is because of his running style. As a fifth round pick in a cutthroat league, Williams knew he couldnt let up. To remain in the NFL, he has to run with attitude,which is another way of saying that he has to continue to run without worrying about getting another concussion. Unlike the players in Talleys era, Williams probably knows of CTE, yet it didn’t slow down him or his fellow players. 

I squirmed whenever Williams got the ball. I want to just root for players to score. But now I root that they don’t get nailed in the head. With knowledge of CTE, the game no longer seems merely tough. Suddenly it feels grotesquely violent, savage, depraved.

Weve long known that football was dangerous. But up until recently, we thought dangerousmeant that the players might retire from the league with busted knees and sore backs. We imagined our childhood heroes leaving the game with a hard-earned limpan inconvenience, but also a scar theyd proudly bear as payment for their years in the spotlight when they had money, fame, and glory. We imagined them coaching a high school football team, or, if theyre lucky, joshing around with fellow ex-ball players on one of those half-time analyst panels. We never imagined them broke, living with dementia, or suicidal.

More and more, I notice the injuries. It seems rare when a full possession goes by without anyone getting hurt. Between 2000 and 2014, there was an average of more than 2,000 injuries in the NFL per year. Because of all these injuries, football players find themselves battered and addicted to pain medications at the end of their careers. The NFL expects that 6,000 of its 20,000 former players will suffer from Alzheimers or dementia. 

Head injuries are not just an NFL problem. The brains of kids between the ages of 8 and 13 are particularly susceptible to concussions, one of which makes them one and a half times more likely to experience a second. High school football players experience 11.2 concussions for 10,000 practices and games, which may be a fraction of the real number, as studies have shown that 50 percent of high school concussions and 70 percent of college concussions go unreported. In the brains of high school football players, CTE has been found in three of 14 cases. In college players, its 48 of 53.

Parents, though, are taking notice. According to an HBO Real Sports/Marist poll, 89 percent of fans are aware of the connection between concussions and long-term brain injury. About a third of adults polled said this information has made them less likely to allow their son to play football. This is supported by a Sports & Fitness Industry Association survey, which found that, between 2008 and 2013, kids playing football between the ages of 6 and 12 fell 29 percent.  

Aside from inventing some new concussion-free super helmet, I dont know if theres much else the NFL can do to limit head trauma. Theyve made late hits and helmet-to-helmet hits big-yardage penalties. Theyve instituted a concussion protocol for injured players. They settled a $1 billion lawsuit with over 5,000 ex-players who have suffered and were mislead about the risks of concussions. Yet there are as many concussions as ever, not to mention the head trauma thats a part of each play.

So, given that the danger inherent in the game will never go away, I feel its up to me as a fan to decide if Im okay watching people destroy themselves every week. I dont think I am, but I still watch.

What will it take? Another high-profile suicide? Another discovery of CTE in one of my favorite players?

Perhaps I should say goodbye, but, after so many years, its hard to look away. 

Monday, January 8, 2018

Predicting the future with kindness

I’m scared of the reader of the distant future.

I’m not so arrogant to think that I’ll have a reader in the distant future. After all, getting read in the present is hard enough. Still, if just out principle, I aspire to be in the good graces of tomorrows readers, as I live far more in fear of being called "backwards" by the future reader than "crazy" by the modern.

It’s a reasonable fear. There are countless examples of slaveholders, racists, anti-suffragists, and others who, to our modern eyes, seem like intellectual dunces for being so terribly, terribly wrong. How could they not see that owning another person might someday seem universally wrong and morally stupid? 

We can't hand out immoral dunce caps just to the ignorant and dimwitted, because even the brightest of minds are limited by the narrowed thinking of their eras. John Muir, despite being broadminded enough to sympathize with even the most loathed animals, still said some inconsiderate things about Native Americans. Walt Whitman, despite his fondness for all things natural and human, had some expansionist rhetoric that rubs modern readers the wrong way. George Washington, despite risking his life to liberate the colonies of British tyranny, couldn’t properly condemn American slavery. In the eyes of posterity, few of the greats have departed from the world without a serious blemish on their moral resumes.

With them in mind, it might be helpful to ask ourselves if we might be clinging onto beliefs that will someday be considered backwards.   

Being ahead of one’s time is not impossible. John Stuart Mill, in 1869, was among the first men to call for gender equality. (This was after many women advocated for suffrage, it should be said.) Henry David Thoreau, in the mid-nineteenth century, was in many ways ahead of his time. Thoreau was sympathetic to the plight of Native Americans, accommodating to runaway slaves, outspoken about environmental degradation, and prescient in forecasting the demise of America’s open roaming culture. Aldo Leopold, in the mid-twentieth century, saw that the arc of justice doesn’t just bend toward humankind, but toward animals and ecosystems, too.

We can learn a thing or two about how to see into the future from these philosopher-prophets. I think all it takes is kindness. Kindness of the expansive and openhearted sort. Kindness and consideration for all of life, human and nonhuman. 

When we look at the world with kindness, it's easy to see injustice and suffering. And when we can see injustice and suffering, we can see into the past and future, because what made one person suffer a thousand years ago will probably make another person suffer a thousand years into the future. Slavery, subjugation, inequality, deprivation—they make us suffer no matter our class, country, or century. We’d feel these indignities just as terribly as a galley slave in Rome as we would a mining slave on the moon. 

If the arc of the moral universe does indeed bend toward justice, then its safe to predict that rights will eventually be given to those who are, and that which is, currently suffering. This is how we can see into the future.

Roderick Nash, in The Rights of Nature, documents the many ways in which the arc of the moral universe has been bent in the last thousand years. Nash suggests that we can anticipate our ethics to expand to welcome other life forms, even lifeless forms, like rocks.

From Roderick Nash's The Rights of Nature

From Roderick Nash's The Rights of Nature

While there’s still much work to be done, we can see, in the past 150 years, amazing progress made in expanding the rights of other races, women, the LGBTQ community, and animals.

What’s next? The climate? Life itself? Ecosystems? Here are a few (plausible) reforms I'd like to see come into force during my lifetime. 
  • We will no longer be okay with letting creatures live and die by the billions in factory farms. 
  • The concept of the nation-state erodes to some extent. Our embrace of humanity widens to more fully accept those currently regarded as foreigners. 
  • Rivers, wildlife corridors, and landscape-scale ecosystems earn legal standing as humans (or some equivalent status that provides them their due protection). 
What are your ethical predictions? I don't think any of the above are a stretch. On all of these topics, books have been written, films have been made, and research has been done that have expanded our knowledge, pricked our consciences, and infiltrated our collective consciousness. If we can predict the things that deserve protection, then maybe, for those of us who consider ourselves writers, we won't be doomed to be remembered as a laughingstock or an absurdity to future readers. We could be more respected, more oracular, more Thoreauvian. 

To the future reader of my work (specifically This Land Is Our Land), if I’m lucky to have one, I’d like to say that I’ve tried to be open minded and forward thinking. Yet I’m sure that I am blind to things that will be self-evident to the people of the future. I’m sure I’ve goofed up. I’m sure I’ve been insensitive. I am, as we all are, constrained by milieus.

I titled my last book This Land Is Our Land because I thought it had a bold and progressive ring to it. The title insinuates that land is too special to be despotically possessed by just one person. It insinuates that we all hold the earth in common.  

Bold and progressive? Maybe in 2018. Yet I wonder if my more sophisticated reader of the future will find something offensive about it. Maybe the idea of people owning land will someday carry the same stigma that people owning people does with us. Maybe I should have titled my book This Land Is Not Our Land or The Land Owns Us. Maybe Woody Guthrie’s lyrics about how this land is “my land” and “your land” will one day seem hopelessly backward. After picking my cover and title, I watched a YouTube video where Native Americans booed Guthrie's song. I understood why they booed and sympathized, and their boos made me wonder if I'd chosen well. 

Accidents happen. While I've tried to write all of my books with sensitivity and a kind heart, I already regret a few ignorant passages in Trespassing across America. I wrote that book just a couple of years ago. How insensitive will I look in 300 years? Let those boos and this regret be a reminder for me to more carefully write with the sophisticated reader of the future in mind.

Writing with a healthy fear of future readers and with an expansive kindness for the universe may be a good way to keep ourselves from saying things we'd later regret. It might be a good way to be one step ahead of our evolving morality.

But this is about more than just how we'll simply lookI'd like to argue that for the sake of our prosperity, for the sake of our collective conscience, for the sake of the health of the earth, we owe it to ourselves, to future generations, and to all existing life, to treat the universe with an expansive and revolutionary kindness. 

Friday, January 5, 2018

The Year-in-Review Outline

I've been doing a "year in review" for the past five years or so. 

I can't tell you how much I've enjoyed writing them and how much I've benefited from them. They help me focus on the future, make plans, think about long-term goals, and reflect on the arc of my life. Plus, they're just a great way to chronicle and document your life, which will make for fascinating and pleasurable future reading.  

I wrote a longer entry about writing year-in-reviews a few years back. In that entry, I go more into detail about why I do them. For this entry, I just wanted to share my outline, in case you'd like to start your own. So feel free to copy and paste this outline (and modify it to your liking). I find the New Year to be a pretty good time for an annual reflection. 

2017 Year in Review

Career Accomplishments

(What were your main career accomplishments?)

Entertainment

[How did you spend your time on entertainment? Make estimates in hours of how much time you spent playing games, watching movies and TV (write down the series you watched), listening to podcasts, etc. How many books did you read?]

Travels and Living Situation

(Where did you live? Write down all the places you traveled to.)

Finances

Major Purchases

(What were you major material purchases over $100? You don’t need to include basics like rent and food.)

Earnings

(How much did you earn? List previous years' numbers for this and all categories.)

Total Savings

(What are your total savings (or debts)?)

Financial reflections

(Make some overall financial reflections about 2017.)

Friends and family

(Write down how your friend and family relationships have evolved. Any new notable friends?)

Health

(What was your health like for 2017?)

Adventure

(What were your adventures/notable outdoor excursions?)

Romance

(How’s your romantic relationship doing? If you're single, how many dates did you go on?)

Exterior Forces

[What major exterior forces (things that are happening at global/national level) played a role in your well being? i.e., the Trump victory got me down and occupied many of my thoughts…]

Addictions

(How have your vices/addictions played a role in 2017? Did you control them better than in previous years, or have they gotten worse?)

Music

(Musical progress? I just started playing the bagpipes, so this is a new category for me.)

Golden Ages

(Here’s a new category. I consider a “golden age” a period of my life when I’m generally content or fulfilled or stimulated or any such combination that makes me feel like my life is being well-lived. What were your golden ages in 2017? What made it feel like a golden age?)

Victories and Losses

Victories

(Write about the successes you’ve had this year, whether they have to do with career, relationships, health, sports, etc.)

Losses 

(List your failures/disappointments/and mess-ups from 2017.)

2017 Goals Review

(If you had goals and resolutions from the beginning of 2017, assess how you did with each.)

Existential themes and life narratives

(Think about your year and pick out a few main story lines. Maybe you dealt with a serious health problem, or a relationship problem, or thought a lot about what you wanted to do with your life. Spend a paragraph or so writing about each theme. Another way to ask this is to think about what things affected you emotionally the most.)

2018 Goals

(Come up with a list of 2018 goals. I usually have 5-10. Pick a few that are easily achievable! Pick a few that will be tough.)

Rough Future Timeline 

(List the next 10 years. Next to each one, write down what you’d like to accomplish.)

Life goals

(List a few long-range goals. Goals for 20, 30, 40 years. i.e., having kids, surrounding life with animals, etc.)

Summary

(Read over this year in review and summarize your year. How was it?) 

Monday, January 1, 2018

George Washington


I wanted this book to go on and on. I’m a nut for presidential biographies, and this is one of the best…

Washington was a flawed man in many ways:
  • In his early years, he was unbecomingly ambitious. He obsessed over his dress, and he would not-so-subtly elbow his way into the lives of the rich and powerful with the hope of elevating his station.
  • His ascent into greatness had as much to do with his qualities as a person as the fortuitous deaths of his relatives, who passed onto him their lands, fortunes, and slaves at critical times in his early career.
  • He loved his plantation and had a passion for agricultural innovation, but he was far from a good farmer, and Mount Vernon was a constant source of debt and disappointment.
  • At best, he had an average military mind. Although he may have been the only person capable of keeping the ragged and starving Continental Army together, his military victories were few, and he was often outdone on the battlefield by his lesser generals.
  • He never sufficiently spoke out against slavery (in fact, he was often quite cruel to his slaves). Given that he was surrounded by progressive thinkers and exposed to abolitionist thought, this is especially unforgivable.
But we can say this about Washington. He recognized that the country needed a leader — if just the symbol of a leader — and he was willing to play the part. He had stature, presence, discipline. He had the right posture, the right disposition, the right look. American citizens needed a symbol of stability. Bickering politicians needed a leader who stood above the partisan fray. Squabbling colonies, that were being asked to dissolve their boundaries, needed a leader in whom they could place their trust. Washington was, as Adams put it, a “center of union” and the “central stone in the geometrical arch.” Washington's defeats and retreats on the battlefield were played down or ignored because the country needed a steady leader — a symbolic figurehead — more than military victories.

He wasn’t all warm eyes and a steely jaw, though. He knew how to play the political game better than anyone. He was a good judge of character. He recognized genius, and surrounded himself throughout his career with bright minds. He picked a good wife, who gave him a life of warmth and emotional support. His emotional IQ was off the charts, and he knew how to win people’s loyalty and scold with grace. Although he began his career seeking fame and fortune, he’d eventually, as Chernow writes, “subordinate his personal dreams and aspirations to the service of a larger cause.”

Adams said, if Washington “was not the greatest president, he was the best actor of the presidency we have ever had.” This wasn’t an insult, I don’t think, because sometimes that’s in large part what a leader needs to be—an actor. Washington was in fact partisan, fiery, hot-tempered—this we see after his presidency, when he abandons the facade of the cool and nonpartisan leader and begins to actively conspire against the Jefferson- and Madison-led Democratic-Republicans. But for the the length of the Revolutionary War and his presidency, he mustered all the self-discipline he had, swallowed his tongue, and gave the disparate and loosely bound band of colonies — shaken by war, revolution, and tumult — what it most needed: a symbol of stability and republican virtue (except for the whole slavery thing). I think it’s fair to wonder whether the U.S. would have formed without Washington. The war may not have been won. The colonies may never have come together. The fledgling nation may never have taken flight with a lesser first president. He may be one of those few figures whose existence has dramatically altered the course of history.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Best Books I read in 2017

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813)

I'd already read P&P, and I was already thinking that I was done with old English lit., so I opened it up without the intention of reading it (figured I'd just thoughtlessly browse the first few lines), but by the end of the first page, I couldn't stop myself. The mother and father feel so “lived in” and real and precise. Lady Catherine and Collins the clergyman, in their stuffy absurdity, are seriously funny. I must confess that I fell in love with Elizabeth, a shining example of emotional intelligence, good cheer, and uncommon sensibility. We should all strive to be as smart and worldly and kind as Elizabeth Bennett, and I fear Austen would be aghast to see the sorts of ways young people occupy their time nowadays (though Austen might argue that young people could be just as frivolous then, as we see in two of Elizabeth's sisters). Darcy is essentially the male version of Elizabeth, equally smart and just as well-equipped with “understanding,” though he lacks the awareness to manage his ego and bloated sense of pride. The days after I read the book, I was speaking and writing with enhanced clarity and precision, which tells me that I should always have some brilliant English book being read in the background.



The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Blythell (2017)

Like books? Used bookshops? Dry Scottish wit?  Blythell uses the diary format better than anyone. Some days are just funny, short entries about running a used bookstore. Other days the prose is enriched with research about the area or the book-selling trade. It makes me wonder whether I could pull off something similar with a travelogue, a style I'd previously been skeptical of.

Here's a job reference Bythell wrote for one of his employees: Sara worked Saturdays at The Book Shop, 17 North Main Street, Wigtown, for three years while she was at the Douglas Ewart High School. When I say “worked”, I use the word in its loosest possible terms. She spent the entire day either standing outside the shop, smoking and snarling at people trying to enter the building, or watching repeats of Hollyoaks on 4OD. Although she was generally punctual, she often arrived either drunk or severely hungover. She was usually rude and aggressive. She rarely did as she was told, and never, in the entire three years of her time here, did anything constructive without having to be told to do so. She invariably left a trail of rubbish behind her, usually consisting of Irn-Bru bottles, crisp packets, chocolate wrappers and cigarette packets. She consistently stole lighters and matches from the business, and was offensive and frequently violent towards me. She was a valued member of staff and I have no hesitation in recommending her.


Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson (2011)

My expectations were low. The book came out soon after Jobs's death, and I was expecting that this was another biography that was hastily written to make money at an opportune time. This isn't the case at all. It's thorough and exhaustive, yet fun, even exciting, to read. Isaacson has somehow made the technical side of Jobs's life engaging, which is noteworthy given that this isn't a subject I usually have any interest in. Jobs reminds me to be dogged about pursuing dreams, meticulous about perfecting one's craft, and always thinking of the future.  










Nutshell by Ian McEwan (2016)

Worth reading if just for the delicious prose. It had a pitch-perfect Lolita-like caustic sense of humor. 

Pessimism is too easy, even delicious, the badge and plume of intellectuals everywhere. It absolves the thinking classes of solutions.











Game of Thrones Books 4 & 5 by George R.R. Martin (2005 & 2011) 

Books 4 and 5 have reputations for being inferior to the first three. They're not inferior. They're just different. The pace is slower and there is less action, but these books still manage to be amazingly addictive. There is wonderful character development and Martin's world is becoming ever more rich in detail. The history and geography of Westeros are getting filled in, and there's a deepening in his world's cosmology. The dialogue and characters and bits of wisdom are as good as ever. The books are not so dynamic as those of Books 1-3, with major beheadings, red weddings, and wildling battles, but I loved these books just as much. Martin’s mind is an international treasure. At the pace he's written these books, there's no way he can finish the series in just two more books...








If they want new boots or a warmer cloak or maybe a rusted iron half helm, they need to take them from a corpse, and before long they are stealing from the living too, from the small folk whose land they’re fighting in, men very like the men they used to be. They slaughter their sheep and steal their chickens, and from there it’s just a short step to carrying off their daughters too. And one day they look around and realize all their friends and kin are gone, that they are fighting beside strangers beneath a banner that they hardly recognize. They don’t know where they are or how to get back home and the lord they’re fighting for does not know their names, yet here he comes, shouting for them to form up, to make a line with their spears and scythes and sharpened hoes, to stand their ground. And the knights come down on them, faceless men clad in all steel, and the iron thunder of their charge seems to fill the world.


Out of the Wreckage by George Monbiot (2017)

I don't know why it's taken me so long to discover George Monbiot. He is a kindred spirit. Not only do we share interests in fringe topics like rewilding and the right to roam, but in this book he speaks to all the things I worry about: runaway consumerism, loss of social capital, our shattered democracy. His diagnoses of our country's ills seem spot-on, and his suggestions are well thought out and practical. He maintains a poised tone, but that doesn't stop him from dreaming big and thinking of the deep future. His style is exceptional. Warm, honest, smart, direct. He can venture headfirst into an idea, but also treat his detractors with respect. 




We are astonishing creatures, blessed with an amazing capacity for kindness and care towards others. But this good nature has been thwarted by a mistaken view of our own humanity. We have been induced by certain politicians, economists and commentators to accept a vicious ideology of extreme competition and individualism that pits us against each other, encourages us to fear and mistrust other, and weakens the social bonds that make our lives worth living.




Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow (2010)

This is one of my favorite presidential biographies, which I put in the same tier as Team of Rivals. John Adams said, if Washington “was not the greatest president, he was the best actor of the presidency we have ever had.” This wasn’t an insult, I don’t think, because sometimes that’s in large part what a leader needs to be—an actor. Washington was in fact partisan, fiery, hot-tempered—this we see after his presidency, when he abandons the facade of the cool and nonpartisan leader and begins to actively conspire against the Jefferson- and Madison-led Democratic-Republicans. But for the the length of the Revolutionary War and his presidency, he mustered all the self-discipline he had, swallowed his tongue, and gave the disparate and loosely bound band of colonies — shaken by war, revolution, and tumult — what it most needed: a symbol of stability and republican virtue (except for the whole slavery thing). I think it’s fair to wonder whether the U.S. would have formed without Washington. The war may not have been won. The colonies may never have come together. The fledgling nation may never have taken flight with a lesser first president. He may be one of those few figures whose existence has dramatically altered the course of history.

Best books read in 2016
Best books read in 2015 
Best books read in 2014