41 pages • 1 hour readSteven M. Gillon
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10 Days That Unexpectedly Changed America is a 2006 work of historical nonfiction by author Steven M. Gillon. A professor and the resident historian for The History Channel television network, Gillon worked alongside a panel of other historians to debate and ultimately determine the 10 days that would be included; they range in time from English Puritans settling New England in the 1630s to the civil rights movement in the Deep South of the 1960s. While each of the book’s chapters focuses on a single day, themes develop to tie the chronological events together. These themes include change and reform, liberty and tyranny, and identity.
10 Days That Unexpectedly Changed America was published as a companion book to the 10-part documentary series of the same title that aired on The History Channel in April 2006 and won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Series.
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Each chapter chronicles an event which transformed America, but many obvious days were purposely omitted to examine equally important days that have not received the same historical attention. Each chapter focuses on the individuals who changed the course of American history during the chapter’s events. Some are ordinary citizens, such as Daniel Shays, the Massachusetts farmer who led a massive rebellion against unfair taxation policies; John Scopes, the Tennessee teacher who challenged the state’s law restricting academic freedom; and three young civil rights workers who were murdered in Mississippi while trying to help African Americans register to vote. Others are cultural icons, such as musician Elvis Presley, who became the voice and face of youth culture, and scientist Albert Einstein, who abandoned his pacifist beliefs over concerns about the rise of fascism and catalyzed the creation of the Manhattan Project and the atomic bomb.
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The days chronicled also highlight transformational American presidents, such as Abraham Lincoln, whose Emancipation Proclamation freed millions of enslaved persons, and Theodore Roosevelt, whose willingness to use the federal government as a means for change empowered millions of people. Each of the days chronicled reveals the tensions and contradictions at the heart of American democracy, revealed through such events as the Massacre at Mystic, an episode of the Pequot War when Puritan settlers slaughtered hundreds of Pequot civilians; with the gold rush, which initiated mass immigration and brought unprecedented cultural diversity to America; and with the Homestead strike of 1892, which saw an entire community band together to maintain local control of its steel plant only to have the state government intervene and determine that individual rights outweighed the public good.