Book Breaks

Gilder Lehrman Book Breaks features the most exciting history scholars in America discussing their books live with Book Breaks hosts, followed by a Q&A with home audiences. Check out previous sessions in the Book Breaks Archive.

Every Sunday at 2 p.m. ET (11 a.m. PT)

Student Question Submission Competition

Middle and high school students (age 13 and up), submit your questions for one of the historians being featured on Book Breaks! If your question is chosen, it will be announced live on the program and both you and your teacher will win a $50 gift certificate to the Gilder Lehrman Gift Shop. Your question can be about the book or the topic in general. Please, only one submission per program.

Submit your question here.

The deadline to submit a question for the upcoming Book Breaks is Thursday.

Upcoming Book Breaks


December 5, 2021 - Joseph J. Ellis discusses his book The Cause: The American Revolution and Its Discontents, 1773–1783.

Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Joseph J. Ellis offers an epic account of the origins and clashing ideologies of America’s revolutionary era, recovering a war more brutal, and more disorienting, than any in our history, save perhaps the Civil War.

For more than two centuries, historians have debated the history of the American Revolution, disputing its roots, its provenance, and above all, its meaning. With this much-anticipated volume, he at last brings the story of the revolution to vivid life, with “surprising relevance” (Susan Dunn) for our modern era. Completing a trilogy of books that began with Founding Brothers, The Cause returns us to the very heart of the American founding, telling the military and political story of the war for independence from the ground up, and from all sides: British and American, loyalist and patriot, White and Black.

Countering popular histories that romanticize the “Spirit of ’76,” Ellis demonstrates that the rebels fought under the mantle of “The Cause,” a mutable, conveniently ambiguous principle that afforded an umbrella under which different, and often conflicting, convictions and goals could coexist. Neither an American nation nor a viable government existed at the end of the war. In fact, one revolutionary legacy regarded the creation of such a nation, or any robust expression of government power, as the ultimate betrayal of The Cause. This legacy alone rendered any effective response to the twin tragedies of the founding—slavery and the Native American dilemma—problematic at best.

Written with the vivid and muscular prose for which Ellis is known, and with characteristically trenchant insight, The Cause marks the culmination of a lifetime of engagement with the founding era. A landmark work of narrative history, it challenges the story we have long told ourselves about our origins as a people, and as a nation.

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Joseph J. Ellis is the best-selling author of twelve previous books, including American Sphinx, which won the National Book Award, and Founding Brothers, which won the Pulitzer Prize.

Order The Cause at the Gilder Lehrman Book Shop

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December 12, 2021 - Melanie Kirkpatrick discusses her book Lady Editor: Sarah Josepha Hale and the Making of the Modern American Woman.

Sarah Josepha Hale was the most influential woman of the nineteenth century but she is all but forgotten in ours. As editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, she used her powerful pen to promote women’s right to an education, to work, and to manage their own money—twenty years before the declaration of women’s rights in Seneca Falls, New York. She was one of the first editors to promote American authors writing on American themes. She wrote the first anti-slavery novel, compiled the first book of women’s history, and penned the most recognizable verse in the English language, “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” She created the term “domestic science” to elevate the status of women who worked in the home. Americans’ favorite holiday—Thanksgiving—wouldn’t exist without Hale’s decades-long campaign to make it a national holiday.

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Melanie Kirkpatrick is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, DC, and a former deputy editor of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page. She is the author of Thanksgiving: The Holiday at the Heart of the American Experience and Escape from North Korea: The Untold Story of Asia’s Underground Railroad.

Order Lady Editor at the Gilder Lehrman Book Shop

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December 19, 2021 - Allen C. Guelzo discusses his book Robert E. Lee: A Life

Robert E. Lee is one of the most confounding figures in American history. Lee betrayed his nation in order to defend his home state and uphold the slave system he claimed to oppose. He was a traitor to the country he swore to serve as an Army officer, and yet he was admired even by his enemies for his composure and leadership. He considered slavery immoral, but benefited from inherited slaves and fought to defend the institution. And behind his genteel demeanor and perfectionism lurked the insecurities of a man haunted by the legacy of a father who stained the family name by declaring bankruptcy and who disappeared when Robert was just six years old.

In Robert E. Lee, the award-winning historian Allen C. Guelzo has written a comprehensive biography of the general, following him from his refined upbringing in Virginia high society, to his long career in the U.S. Army, his agonized decision to side with Virginia when it seceded from the Union, and his leadership during the Civil War. Above all, Guelzo captures Robert E. Lee in all his complexity--his hypocrisy and courage, his outward calm and inner turmoil, his honor and his disloyalty.

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Allen C. Guelzo is Senior Research Scholar at the Council of Humanities at Princeton University. He is the author of several books about the Civil War and early nineteenth-century American history. He has been the recipient of the Lincoln Prize three times, the Guggenheim-Lehrman Prize for Military History, and many other honors.

Order Robert E. Lee at the Gilder Lehrman Book Shop

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Coming Soon

Claire Bellerjeau and Tiffany Brooks on Espionage and Enslavement in the Revolution: The True Story of Robert Townsend and Elizabeth

Michael Neiberg on When France Fell: The Vichy Crisis and the Fate of the Anglo-American Alliance

Jim Downs on Maladies of Empire: How Colonialism, Slavery, and War Transformed Medicine

November 28, 2021 - Bruce Levine discussed his book Thaddeus Stevens: Civil War Revolutionary, Fighter for Racial Justice.

Order Thaddeus Stevens at the Gilder Lehrman Book Shop

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View the full archive of past sessions