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Flag: An American Biography


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About the Author

Marc Leepson has written for many publications, among them The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Smithsonian. He is the author of five books, including Saving Monticello, and lives in Middleburg, Virginia.


Journalist Leepson (Saving Monticello) aims at general audiences with this celebratory biography (or "complete history") of the American national flag, which he describes as "in the social, political, and emotional hearts and minds of millions of Americans." He includes familiar stories, such as Betsy Ross and Francis Scott Key, but also covers such recent initiatives as the campaign to promote the flag as a central symbol of patriotism and the move to outlaw flag desecration. Bringing his discussion into the post-9/11 era, he builds on books published several years ago, such as Boleslaw and Marie-Louise Mastai's The Stars and the Stripes and Scot Guenter's The American Flag, 1777-1924. Leepson would have greatly enhanced his book had he followed through on his reference to the "nation's great experiment in democracy" by discussing Native American views of the flag and by expanding his narrative on African Americans who made enormous contributions to notions of freedom and citizenship. He supplies endnotes, a bibliography, and an appendix listing the dates when the stars for individual states were added to the flag, but unfortunately there is no index. Recommended for public libraries.-Charles L. Lumpkins, Pennsylvania State Univ., State College Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

Leepson notes that "no country in the world can match the intensity of the American citizenry's attachment to the... Stars and Stripes." He goes on to chart the evolution of the flag and Americans' relationship with it in its detail-packed history. Despite the famous image in George Washington Crossing the Delaware, Leepson (Saving Monticello) says, the general's boat did not display the Stars and Stripes; the Continental Congress hadn't yet determined what the American flag would be. And "flagmania," as a 19th-century newspaper termed it, began only with the start of the Civil War. Embraced by the Ku Klux Klan, burned by Vietnam War protestors, the Stars and Stripes was again embraced in the wake of 9/11 as a ubiquitous symbol of American solidarity. Such was the revived flagmania, Leepson relates, that the flag was used to sell everything from contact lenses to disposable diapers. From reverence to kitsch, Americans' attitudes to their flag and its mythology have changed over the years, and Leepson does a creditable job of recounting those changes just in time for July 4. Agent, Joseph Brendan Vallely. (June) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

"Comprehensive, dispassionate chronicle of the potent banner that stirs up passions of every stripe." - Kirkus Reviews

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