Pursuit of Happiness in Times of War

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Overview

The Founders wrote in 1776 that "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" are unalienable American rights. In The Pursuit of Happiness in Times of War, Carl M. Cannon shows how this single phrase is one of almost unbelievable historical power. It was this rich rhetorical vein that New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and President George W. Bush tapped into after 9/11 when they urged Americans to go to ballgames, to shop, to do things that made them happy even in the face of unrivaled horror. From the Revolutionary War to the current War on Terrorism, Americans have lived out this creed. They have been helped in this effort by their elected leaders, who in times of war inevitably hark back to Jefferson's soaring language. If the former Gotham mayor and the current president had perfect pitch in the days after September 11, so too have American presidents and other leaders throughout our nation's history. In this book, Mr. Cannon—a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist—traces the roots of Jefferson's powerful phrase and explores how it has been embraced by wartime presidents for two centuries. Mr. Cannon draws on original research at presidential libraries and interviews with Gerald R. Ford, Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush, and Bill Clinton, among others. He discussed with the presidents exactly what the phrase means to them. Mr. Cannon charts how Americans' understanding of the pursuit of happiness has changed through the years as the nation itself has changed. In the end, America's political leaders have all come to the same conclusion as its spiritual leaders: True happiness—either for a nation or an individual—does not come from conquest or fortune or even from the attainment of freedom itself. It comes in the pursuit of happiness for the benefit of others. This may be one truth that contemporary liberals and conservatives can agree on. John McCain and Jimmy Carter both envision happiness as a sacrifice to a higher calling, embodied in everything from McCain's time as a prisoner of war to the N

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Editorial Reviews

Washington Times
A highly readable and interesting volume.
Publishers Weekly
This optimistic, meandering look at the peculiarly American phrase "pursuit of happiness" is strong on research but weak on analysis. What did Thomas Jefferson mean in the Declaration of Independence when he listed "the Pursuit of Happiness" among the "unalienable rights" of all men, and what has the phrase meant to Americans since? Veteran journalist Cannon (Boy Genius) explores the term's origins and uses, particularly in times of war. Beginning with the observation that Americans after 9/11 and during World War II showed their stuff as patriots by doing things like attending baseball games and eating pie, he proposes that the pursuit of happiness is "the best working definition of freedom that has ever been devised." Much of American history, Cannon argues, is best seen as a fight to allow more people at home and abroad to enjoy the right to chase personal dreams. He sets forth this thesis with long quotations from American presidents and investigations of such topics as Jefferson; the Civil War; Franklin D. Roosevelt; American generosity; and the current U.S. intervention in Iraq. Cannon's vision is cheery, his style friendly and informative. But numerous digressions blur the book's focus, and the author takes a generally shallow approach. Like a civic booster talking up his town, Cannon never subjects official pronouncements about "freedom" and "pursuit of happiness" to critical scrutiny. The result is a dull centrism that winds up as an apology for the present war in Iraq. The book has some good storytelling, but treads too softly to satisfy serious inquirers about Jefferson's phrase. (Dec.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Wilson Quarterly
In this sprawling meditation, Carl Cannon, a White House correspondent for National Journal, looks at how a large cast of notables have spoken of the pursuit of happiness during wartime. The results are sometimes surprising.
Chicago Tribune
Cannon has filled Pursuit of Happiness with lots of tasty details that make the broader lessons about politics and presidents go down more easily.
The Washington Times
A highly readable and interesting volume.
Dayton Duncan
In this important and compelling book, Carl Cannon follows 'the pursuit of happiness' through American history, demonstrating both how vibrantly enduring the idea has been for two hundred years and how essential it is to understanding who we are as a people. Here is a history lesson and a contemplation on what it means to be an American in the same book.
Joel Garreau
In this wonderful read, Carl Cannon has charted how U.S. presidents from George Washington to George Bush—and patriots from Frederick Douglass to John McCain—have used the galvanizing language of the Declaration of Independence to rally Americans to a cause larger than themselves. That cause—that truly noble cause—is the inexorable expansion of Thomas Jefferson's 'unalienable rights' to those who do not have them. The book has a strong narrative thread from start to finish, but each of Cannon's dozen chapters comprises an essay that would be worthy of the price of the book by itself.
Richard E. Neustadt
One of our ablest President-watchers tackles an even bigger subject with grace and originality.
Michael D. McCurry
Carl Cannon gives us an elegant tone poem to the purpose of the American idea. Through reflections on leaders historic and contemporary, Cannon delivers a patriotism far more engaging and profound than sticking an Old Glory pin on the lapel. He has captured something essential about the American spirit—at a time we need it most.
David Frum
A moving, personal restatement of America's ideals by one of the very finest of American journalists.
Michael Barone
Words matter. Carl Cannon tells the story of how the words 'the pursuit of happiness,' have led generations of Americans to understand why they are willing to fight for their freedom. Cannon is a gifted writer, and this is a book you will find hard to put down.
Martha Joynt Kumar
As a White House correspondent who covers his beat from a broad perspective, Carl Cannon is the perfect reporter to explore the ways in which our presidents have used the term 'pursuit of happiness.' Including in his discussion presidents from George Washington to George W. Bush, Cannon demonstrates how significant the concept has been to our presidents and how Chief
Executives have used the term in ways mirroring their contemporary political values.
Nationally Syndicated Columnist For The Orlando Sentinel< - Kathleen Parker
I intend to keep this book close by as a reminder that pursuing happiness is not a guilty pleasure, but an act of defiance against tyranny. Against a nation thus armed, terrorists don't stand a chance.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780742525917
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
  • Publication date: 11/15/2003
  • Series: American Political Challenges Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.44 (h) x 0.95 (d)

Meet the Author

Carl M. Cannon is a White House correspondent for National Journal, Washington's highly respected, non-partisan weekly journal on politics and government. Previously he worked for six different newspapers over a twenty-year span. He was a member of the San Jose Mercury News staff awarded the Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Loma Prieta earthquake in the San Francisco Bay area in 1989. He has written for numerous magazines including The Atlantic Monthly, New Republic, Forbes ASAP, Brill's Content, George, Mother Jones, and National Review. He is the coauthor of Boy Genius, a new book about top White House adviser Karl Rove. A native of San Francisco, Cannon attended the University of Colorado at Boulder and currently resides in Arlington, Virginia.

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Table of Contents

Preface
1 American pie 1
2 A Felicitous Choice of Words 13
3 Everywhere in Chains 47
4 Unfinished Work 65
5 Peace Now! 99
6 Happy Warriors 131
7 More Unfinished Work 161
8 Pursuit of Knowledge 191
9 True Happiness 217
10 Freedom Man 239
Epilogue and Acknowledgments 273
Notes 283
Index 317
About the Author 329
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