These 7 Thanksgiving Books And Essays Will Give You Something To Chew On Besides Leftovers

Think of this list as a seven-course meal, with each text flavoring your perception of this American tradition.

Thanksgiving is upon us yet again as we approach the 400th anniversary of that harvest in 1621. But how has the holiday evolved over the past four centuries? And how has the history of the day given way to myth? 


Think of the reading list below as a seven-course meal, with each text flavoring your perception of this American tradition. Some selections may be difficult or even uncomfortable to digest, but they're important reads nevertheless … and yes, we did save one sweet treat for you the end.

"1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving" by Catherine O’Neill Grace and Margaret M. Bruchac

Plimouth Plantation

This National Geographic photo essay presents "a more measured, balanced, and historically accurate version of the three-day harvest celebration in 1621." Bruchac is currently an assistant professor of anthropology and the Native American & Indigenous Studies coordinator at the University of Pennsylvania and served as an advisor to the Wampanoag Indigenous Program at Plimoth Plantation, where this book's photographs were taken.

"The authors posit a provocative and convincing view of what actually happened that first Thanksgiving and note that many modern descendants of Native peoples observe the holiday as a national day of mourning," Publishers Weekly says.

"Thanksgiving: The Holiday at the Heart of the American Experience" by Melanie Kirkpatrick

How did Thanksgiving evolve from that 1621 harvest to a national holiday? How did U.S. presidents — including George Washington and Franklin D. Roosevelt — and ordinary citizens alike shape the tradition? And why do we watch football as we chow down? "Drawing on newspaper accounts, private correspondence, historical documents, and cookbooks, Thanksgiving brings to life the full history of the holiday and what it has meant to generations of Americans," this book's synopsis states.

"Melanie Kirkpatrick shows brilliantly how, from cooking pot to melting pot, America is a product of Thanksgiving as much as Thanksgiving is a product of America," says historian Andrew Roberts.

"Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong" by James W. Loewen

Loewen starts his third chapter of this book, "The Truth About the First Thanksgiving," with quotes such as this one from Howard Simpson: "The Europeans were able to conquer America not because of their military genius, or their religious motivation, or their ambition, or their greed. They conquered it by waging unpremeditated biological warfare." 

The rest of the chapter deconstructs the "origin myth" of the first Thanksgiving, pointing out the marginalization of Native Americans and the ethnocentrism of the Europeans. It's no wonder this book won both an American Book Award and the Oliver Cromwell Cox Award for Distinguished Anti-Racist Scholarship.

“A Native American Considers Thanksgiving” by Scott Bear Don’t Walk

This personal essay from Scott Bear Don't Walk, a member of the Crow Indian Tribe of Montana and a Rhodes scholar, offers a vital message of resilience under oppression. (His people live above coal deposits controlled by large corporations, he says; though a person on his reservation, on average, lives on a yearly income of $9,000.)

"Those who ask whether we celebrate Thanksgiving do so unable to believe that we would celebrate our destruction," he writes. "But we celebrate that we are not destroyed. We are thankful. Where I'm from in Montana, Indians still exist, we still have homelands, we still have culture, language, stories — spirit. We haven't been rubbed out, destroyed, killed off by disease or lack of love."

“Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address”

The Haudenosaunee people (sometimes called the Iroquois Confederacy or the Six Nations) don't just give thanks one day a year — they recite this Thanksgiving Address to "open and close every social and religious meeting," according to Dance For All People

The Six Nation Indian Museum has provided a translation of the Mohawk version of the address, which expresses appreciation for everything from the sun and the stars to the fish and the waters.

"Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade: A New York City Holiday Tradition" by Stephen M. Silverman

For many of us, Thanksgiving is synonymous with Macy's not because of Black Friday deals but because of the department store's annual parade through the streets of Manhattan — the history of which is presented in this glossy book, alongside photography by Matthew Harnick.

"It's a colorful salute to the history and heritage of iconic spectacle of floats, performers, Broadway show casts, the Radio City Rockettes, marching bands, Santa Claus, and other stars that has designated the official start of the holiday season since 1924," raves a review in — what else? — Parade magazine.

"Pie: A Global History" by Janet Clarkson

Finally, while your pies bake in the oven, check out this treatise about the flaky treat. "Pie illustrates how what was once a purely pragmatic dish of thick layers of dough has grown into an esteemed creation of culinary art," its synopsis reads.

"Clarkson's loving ode to pie is a rich, savory history of one of the world's oldest and most iconic dishes," says Publishers Weekly. "With enthusiasm and detailed research, Clarkson's entertaining history is a nutrient-rich meal for the mind, sure to be devoured as happily as its subject."


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