Lo and behold, I opened up this morning’s Wall Street Journal to see a weekend interview with this week’s guest, historian Wilfred M. McClay of the University of Oklahoma, about his brand new book Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story. In the course of our conversation, we cover not only what’s wrong (but also partly right) about Howard Zinn, but how Bill got the audacious idea to write such an ambitious book, why most American history textbooks are so bad, some of our favorite historians past and present, including Kenneth Lynn, Richard Hofstadter, and John Lukacs, and many others.
Toward the end, we pivot to talking about Bill’s experience teaching the legendary “W.H. Auden Syllabus,” which is the great books course Auden taught at the University of Michigan in 1941. The ambitious reading list—nearly 6,000 pages in one semester!—was wrapped under the course title “Fate and the Individual in European Literature,” and this replication of the Auden course, which can be compared with drinking from a fire hose, has been a hit with students, notwithstanding the fact that the course is advertised as “the hardest course you’ll ever take.” Proof that good students like a challenge, and respond to classic literature when taught in a serious was, as Bill explains here.
Meanwhile, everyone should rush out and buy Land of Hope, and recommend it to your local high school (and college) history teachers.