cover image The American Experiment: Dialogues on a Dream

The American Experiment: Dialogues on a Dream

David M. Rubenstein. Simon & Schuster, $32 (480p) ISBN 978-1-9821-6573-4

Rubenstein follows The American Story with another stimulating collection of interviews with prominent historians and public figures. Focusing on 13 “key genes,” including freedom of speech, immigration, and the American dream, that have “enabled the American Experiment to blossom,” Rubenstein and his interview subjects touch on a wide range of topics, including whether U.S. capitalism would have developed differently without slavery, and the crucial role Al Gore played in “open[ing] up the Internet to people who want to dial in and use it for personal or commercial reasons.” Other notable discussions include Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor on the need for better civic education in the U.S., West Side Story star Rita Moreno on her life, and Henry Louis Gates Jr. on Reconstruction. In one of the book’s most memorable conversations, Medal of Honor recipient Jack Jacobs discusses his parents’ horror at his decision to enlist and fight in the Vietnam War after graduating from college, and describes the Viet Cong ambush from which he rescued several wounded colleagues, despite taking shrapnel to the head (“the least significant portion of my body,” Jacobs quips). Enriched by the diversity of its interviewees and Rubenstein’s simple yet illuminating prompts (“Explain the Tet Offensive”; “When there were just thirteen colonies, did any let women vote?”), this is a rewarding survey of what makes America tick. (Sept.)