It’s the Fourth of July! Have a hot dog and a hamburger—but have a side of history while you’re at it.

While Independence Day is one of the country’s biggest holidays for barbecues, family pool parties, gatherings at the beach (and let’s not forget the fireworks!) I always like to use the Fourth as an opportunity to take a look back at our illustrious (and sometimes infamous) national history. Fortunately, there’s a wealth of books, movies and TV shows that will help you stay true to the red, white and blue—they’ll not only keep you entertained, but they’ll give you a pretty good history lesson as well.

So here’s a TV show, a movie, and three books that will make the rocket’s red glare just a bit brighter this Fourth of July. Oh say, can you see them all in just one day?

Turn: Washington’s Spies

This AMC period drama is based on Alexander Rose’s book Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring, and is currently in its second season. The series tells the story of the Culper Ring, made up of a New York farmer and his childhood friends, who eventually helped the colonists turn the tide against the Redcoats during the Revolutionary War. The first season (which was given the Media and Entertainment Award by the Daughters of the American Revolution) is available on Netflix, so you have all summer to catch up on it.


The Revolutionary War hasn’t been the basis of many great Hollywood films, but this star-spangled extravaganza is a Fourth of July tradition in my home. Based on the Broadway musical, 1776 tells the story of the American Revolution in a way that you never heard it during your high school history classes, complete with song-and-dance numbers.

In the film, the politics and personalities of the Continental Congress clash as the colonies struggle to declare their independence from the British crown. William Daniels shines as the “obnoxious and disliked” John Adams, and once you get used to the idea of the Founding Fathers singing and dancing their way through a debate, the movie is as inspiring as it is entertaining.

The Return of George Washington: Uniting the States, 1783-1789, by Edward Larson (William Morrow Paperbacks, 2015)

Geo Wash coverFollowing America’s victory in the Revolutionary War, only that war’s greatest hero could unite the fractious states as they foundered under the Articles of Confederation. In this book, Larson, a Pulitzer-Prize winning historian, describes how Franklin, Hamilton, Madison, and other great American leaders lured the country’s foremost Founding Father out of his private life as a farmer to reunite and lead the country during the Constitutional Convention and its early days as a nation. Publisher’s Weekly calls the book “compulsively readable,” saying that it “shines new light” on Washington’s role as “the indispensable American.”

Give Me a Fast Ship: The Continental Navy and America’s Revolution at Sea by Tim McGrath (NAL, 2015)

Fast Ship coverAs the colonies and Great Britain plunged into war in 1775, John Adams made a proposal that was as bold as the revolution itself: the colonies should raise a navy to engage what was the mightiest floating arsenal in the history of the world. The Colonial Navy not only became a formidable force, but with their wits, skill and courage, American sailors, led by such captains as John Barry, Nicholas Biddle and John Paul Jones, gave the colonists hope and spread fear throughout England.

Washington and Hamilton: The Alliance that Forged America by Tony Williams and Stephen Knott (Sourcebooks, 2015)

Wash & Ham coverA captivating history of the complex relationship between George Washington and Alexander Hamilton, whose remarkable collaboration not only cemented America’s place as a nation, but led to its emergence as a world power. The book traces their friendship from the start of the Revolution through the early days of the American presidency, and shows how that relationship led to the foundation of politics as we know it today.