When you’re firing up the barbecue on Saturday, dismissing everyone’s advice and recommendations because you are the grill master, you should take some time to consider. The meat needs proper time to cook, anyway.

Perhaps you could cast a reflective eye on the holiday in question, and wonder about this country’s history. If you’re a novice when it comes to your American past, have no fear: This week’s Shelfie Picks consist of entertaining, accessible reads that will put you in touch with your roots. We went to Written Words Bookstore (please note their new address in Shelton, CT!) for these Independence Day recommendations and owner Dorothy Broder was nice enough to deliver three absolute winners.

Here they are:

1. The War That Forged a Nation: Why the Civil War Still Matters by James M. McPherson (Oxford University Press, 2015)


Pulitzer Prize-winning author James M. McPherson tells us that in fact, the Civil War still matters and it will always matter.

Mark Twain first noted, over 140 years ago, that the Civil War had “uprooted institutions that were centuries old, changed the politics of a people, transformed the social life of half the country, and wrought so profoundly upon the entire national character that the influence cannot be measured short of two or three generations.” Now, we still try to understand the impact.

Said Broder:

“We often have in-house Civil War discussions so we see a lot of conversation and exchange. When I come across something like this, I love it because it unifies everything; it looks at the Civil War as a whole and it offers a different perspective.”

2.  George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger (Sentinel, 2014)


Still think history is boring? Wait until you read about a top-secret group called the Culper Spy Ring, a “deeply secretive intelligence network” formed by George Washington to help infiltrate the British army. This one doesn’t read like your standard history book and as The Fifth Assassin author Brad Meltzer says, “This is my kind of history book. Get ready. Here’s the action.” Added Broder:

“The authors make the book fun; it almost reads like a novel. Sometimes you just need that little spark to make it interesting and if you want to learn more, you can always try a more scholarly book. This is easy for those who aren’t history buffs because it’s just not intimidating.”

3. The Constitution: An Introduction by Michael Stokes Paulsen and Luke Paulsen (Basic Books, 2015)


It’s the document that birthed a nation and very often, it’s misquoted, misinterpreted and misunderstood. This is where an accomplished Constitution scholar – and his son! – come into play; Michael Stokes Paulsen and the younger Luke Paulsen have delivered the “definitive modern primer on the US Constitution.” The best part is that it uses clear and accessible terms, which is also what Broder appreciates:

“With the tumultuous political environment we’re in, I see a surge of people coming and buying the pocket version of the Constitution. They want to revisit what it’s all about, so this new guide is actually quite timely. Again, it’s not about taking sides; they’re just giving accessible, important information to people.”

So there you have it, three books that not only celebrate our roots but that also deliver their imperative information in simple, entertaining ways. After you gorge on hot dogs and macaroni salad – with perfect freedom, I might add – maybe you should remember those who made it all happen.