At first glance, this book would seem destined for the bedside table in the guest room or perhaps that tatty little basket of diverting reading material in the downstairs loo. But as Mark Twain once said about Wagner’s music – that it’s better than it sounds – so this slim tome is better than it looks.
Jan van Meter, a former CIA analyst and professor of English, has compiled a collection of fifty-seven quotations from the annals of American history. He distinguishes between a slogan, which is a word derived from a Scottish battle cry and is a call to action, and a catchphrase, which encapsulates a national characteristic or attitude. Almost all the quotes he has chosen would be recognisable to the average, university-educated citizen of a certain age, but a fair guess would be that only half would be identifiable as to who said them and in what circumstances. So van Meter writes a brief essay setting each quote in historical context, and his compositions are concise, lucid and factual. Together, they make up an excellent refresher summary of American history.