My book of the year looks and feels like a college textbook. Would that it were. Wilfred M. McClay’s magisterial Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story is, quite simply, the fairest, most objective and most beautifully written history of this country published in my lifetime – if not ever.

In 24 short, lucid and occasionally lyrical chapters, Professor McClay (of the University of Oklahoma) takes us from the European colonization of America through the 2016 presidential election. He reports the political, social and economic developments that have made this the world’s most successful (and richest) democracy without in any way soft-pedaling the serious injustices in our history. The result is history as literature.

Professor McClay has no agenda, other than reporting the facts. He does so with consummate skill and vivid insights. Consider: “If Jefferson had believed that education could raise the commonest man to the same station as the well born, then Jackson believed that the commonest man was already where he needed to be and needed no raising – that his innate capacity for deciding questions of politics and economy on his own was sufficient, the hallmark of democracy.”

Indeed, that’s Professor McClay’s greatest gift to the reader of Land of Hope: he never condescends. In another reviewer’s words, “he assumes that Americans who can read plain English can also understand complex ideas when they are competently explained.”

I persist in the belief that what divides us Americans so bitterly isn’t partisanship and ideology. Rather, I think it’s that too few of us really know our history. If we did, we might be able to deal with our very real differences in a more constructive and even collegial way. In that context, Land of Hope isn’t just a helpful book – it’s indispensable.

© 2020 Nick Murray. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission. Nick’s latest book Scripts was published in November and is available only on