The University of Chicago Press continues to offer one free e-book every month. While most of these are academically challenging, this month’s free selection is excellent. The July 2010 free e-book selection is Making Patriots by Walter Berns.
Walter Berns, an eminent constitutional scholar, plumbs the mysteries and paradoxes of American patriotism in this slim volume. How is it, he asks, that Americans can pursue their individual liberties and at the same time demonstrate public spirit? “Patriotism means love of country and implies a readiness to sacrifice for it, to fight for it, perhaps even to give one’s life for it,” writes Berns. “Why, especially, should Americans be willing to do this? In theory, this nation began with self-interested men, by nature private men, men naturally endowed not with duties or obligations but with certain unalienable rights, the private rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that each defines for himself.”
The short answer is that Americans dedicate themselves to universal principles enumerated in the Declaration of Independence and other founding documents. This is, at bottom, a book on why Americans love their country. But it does not drip with star-spangled sentiment. Rather, it is almost wholly intellectual. Berns might have included more storytelling and less analysis on these pages. His narrative is occasionally character-driven–Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass make significant appearances–but Berns is primarily interested in their ideas. Making Patriots has the virtue of being both succinct and direct, and it addresses a set of thorny problems in clear language. Berns offers smart chapters on how patriotism interacts with religious devotion and racial identity, plus commentary on how patriotism is learned (“No one is born loving his country; such love is not natural, but has to be somehow taught or acquired”). Making Patriots may be read quickly, even as its insights are deep. Readers will find themselves returning to the book again and again, long after they thought they were done with it. –John J. Miller
Also, Adobe has lots of good free ebooks including:
About Chicago’s e-books: The University of Chicago Press has over 900 titles in its Chicago Digital Editions e-book program. See our complete list of e-books by subject. Chicago’s e-books require Adobe Digital Editions software, which is freely downloadable. Chicago Digital Editions are powered by BiblioVault.