Book Notes: 5 books about America for your July 4th reading list

And Stacey Abrams isn’t the only local politician-turned-author.

This week Book Notes gets patriotic with a stack of reads about our great nation, and two local politician-authors make publishing news.

Exercise the freedom to read: Regardless of political affiliation, most of us can agree that this country is flawed, and some days it seems like we’re all headed to hell in a handbasket. But at the same time, the majority of us wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. After all, one of the many freedoms we enjoy is the freedom to leave. If you need a reminder of why our nation is great, here are five books to read over the Fourth of July weekend.

There’s nothing more American than unbridled competition, which makes Michael Loynd’s June release, “The Watermen: The Birth of American Swimming and One Young Man’s Fight to Capture Olympic Gold” (Ballantine Books, $30), an appropriate Independence Day read. Despite a high society pedigree, Charles Daniels had to overcome extreme anxiety, a sadistic father, bankruptcy and a scheme by judges to defeat him in order to emerge a swimming champion at the 1908 Summer Olympics in London at a time when few Americans even knew how to swim.

Credit: Ballantine Books

Credit: Ballantine Books

Recently released in paperback, “Travels with George” (Penguin Random House, $18) by National Book Award winner Nathaniel Philbrick retraces the steps of newly elected President George Washington on his journey from New Hampshire to Georgia in 1789 to foster national pride and good faith in the new government. The result is an engaging blend of biography, travelogue and personal essay about the state of the nation then and now. Spoiler alert: There are a lot of similarities.

Economics professors Ran Abramitzky (Stanford) and Leah Boustan (Princeton) collected data from Ancestry.com, Social Security, the IRS and birth certificate files and crunched the numbers to paint a picture of immigration in the U.S. for “Streets of Gold: America’s Untold Story of Immigrant Success” (Public Affairs, $16.99). Among its findings: Children of immigrants tend to be more economically successful than children of U.S.-born residents, and immigration mitigates economic decline caused by an aging population.

Credit: Public Affairs

Credit: Public Affairs

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jack E. Davis brings a playful tone to his consideration of our national bird in “The Bald Eagle: The Improbable Journey of America’s Bird” (W.W. Norton, $29.95), published in March. The book explores the cultural and natural history of this majestic creature, which we nearly caused to go extinct from hunting, loss of habitat and pesticides. According to the New York Times, the author “shines at most everything in this exuberantly expansive book.”

Journalist Caleb Gayle’s June release, “We Refuse to Forget: The True Story of Black Creeks, American Identity and Power” (Penguin Random House, $28), doesn’t have the same feel-good quality of the other titles mentioned here, but it’s a good reminder of a forgotten piece of American history about the Creek Nation, which both enslaved Blacks and accepted Blacks as citizens. The story focuses on Cow Tom, a tribal leader and Black Creek who negotiated a treaty with the U.S. in 1866 that gave Blacks citizenship status within the Creek Nation. But in 1979, tribal leadership reversed the agreement. Now Cow Tom’s descendants, including a civil rights activist and an attorney, are trying to reverse that decision.

Credit: Penguin Random House

Credit: Penguin Random House

Politicians wielding pens: It’s well known that gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams is a published author of romance suspense novels. Written under the pen name of Selena Montgomery, her 2001 debut novel “Rules of Engagement” has long been out of print, but that’s about to change. Berkley just announced plans to re-release the book, this time under Abrams’ real name and in hardback, on Sept. 6. The book follows the exploits of Dr. Raleigh Foster, a spy for a top-secret intelligence organization tasked with infiltrating a terrorist group that has gotten its hands on technology that could have devastating effects on the environment. Her mission becomes complicated when she’s partnered with fetching Adam Grayson, who poses as her lover.

Joining Abrams in the exclusive club of author-politicans is U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock. On Nov. 15 he will publish the children’s picture book “Put Your Shoes On and Get Ready!” with Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers. Atlanta artist Temika Grooms provides the illustrations for this inspiring book about perseverance based on Warnock’s experience growing up the 11th child in a family of 12 kids.

In a statement released by Penguin Random House, Warnock said: “Growing up, my father told me and my siblings, every day, that we had to put on our shoes and get ready for what was in store. Whether it was church shoes on Sundays or basketball shoes for my brother, cheerleading shoes for my sister, or marching band shoes for me, no matter what else was going on, we put on our shoes and went out into the world and made things happen. My hope is that this book helps children find the right shoes for them, and inspires young and old alike to do our best no matter what shoes we’re in.”

Suzanne Van Atten is a book critic and consulting editor for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Contact her at svanatten@ajc.com and follow her on Twitter at @svanatten.