• We Gather Together

  • A Nation Divided, a President in Turmoil, and a Historic Campaign to Embrace Gratitude and Grace
  • By: Denise Kiernan
  • Narrated by: Denise Kiernan
  • Length: 7 hrs and 15 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History, Military
  • 4.1 out of 5 stars (9 ratings)
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Publisher's Summary

From the New York Times best-selling author of The Last Castle and The Girls of Atomic City comes a new way to look at American history through the story of giving thanks.

From Ancient Rome through 21st-century America, best-selling author Denise Kiernan brings us a biography of an idea: gratitude, as a compelling human instinct and a global concept, more than just a mere holiday. Spanning centuries, We Gather Together is anchored amid the strife of the Civil War, and driven by the fascinating story of Sarah Josepha Hale, a widowed mother with no formal schooling who became one of the 19th century’s most influential tastemakers and who campaigned for decades to make real an annual day of thanks. Populated by an enthralling supporting cast of characters including Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, Sojourner Truth, Walt Whitman, Norman Rockwell, and others, We Gather Together is ultimately a story of tenacity and dedication, an inspiring tale of how imperfect people in challenging times can create powerful legacies. 

Working at the helm of one of the most widely read magazines in the nation, Hale published Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and others, while introducing American readers to such newfangled concepts as “domestic science”, white wedding gowns, and the Christmas tree. A prolific writer, Hale penned novels, recipe books, essays and more, including the ubiquitous children’s poem, “Mary Had a Little Lamb”. And Hale herself never stopped pushing the leaders of her time, in pursuit of her goal. The man who finally granted her wish about a national “thanksgiving” was Lincoln, the president of the war-torn nation in which Hale would never have the right to vote. 

Illuminating, wildly discussable, part myth-busting, part call to action, We Gather Together is full of unexpected delights and uneasy truths. The stories of indigenous peoples, immigrant communities, women’s rights activists, abolitionists, and more, will inspire listeners to rethink and reclaim what it means to give thanks in this day and age. The book’s message of gratitude - especially when embraced during the hardest of times - makes it one to listen to and share, over and over, at any time of year.

©2020 Denise Kiernan (P)2020 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

We Gather Together reminds us of the importance of gratitude in our own lives, especially during our darkest hours. It uncovers the profound ways in which a seemingly simple holiday has helped shape American history and how it has brought solace during times of upheaval and loss. Kiernan reminds us of the healing power of gratitude." (Kate Andersen Brower, number-one New York Times best-selling author of The Residence and Team of Five)

"As a researcher, Denise Kiernan is skilled at finding the lost moments of our national conscience; as a writer, she is brilliant at explaining why these moments matter. Only a writer of Kiernan's ability can cut through great swaths of history to locate the germinating seed of a national movement that is still moving us.” (Wiley Cash, New York Times best-selling author of The Last Ballad and A Land More Kind Than Home)

We Gather Together is a surprising and enlightening gem of a book that reexamines the history of one of America’s most beloved traditions. With her trademark wit, verve, and impeccable research, Denise Kiernan brings to full and vibrant life the characters and conflicts surrounding America’s day of gratitude, and shows us how we might all reclaim its stirring power.” (Karen Abbott, New York Times best-selling author of The Ghosts of Eden Park and Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy)

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Fascinating and Surprising Book

Author Denise Kiernan traces the origins of the Thanksgiving holiday and explores the idea of expressing gratitude collectively as a nation in her book, We Gather Together. Through the perseverance of writer, editor and women's rights activist Sarah Josepha Hale, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday to be held on the 4th Thursday in November, during the Civil War in 1863. Hale was an incredibly accomplished "influencer" of her day, and had campaigned presidents for 33 years to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. Her vision was to set aside the day as a time for Americans to enjoy a hearty meal with loved ones and to express gratitude for the harvest and for their many blessings. Lincoln agreed to proclaim the holiday out of a wish to bring our warring nation together.

The most surprising takeaway for me was that Thanksgiving was not associated with the Pilgrims until 1939 when Franklin Delano Roosevelt mentioned in his proclamation: "More than three centuries ago, at the season of the gathering in of the harvest, the Pilgrims humbly paused in their work and gave thanks to God for the preservation of their community and for the abundant yield of the soil." We Gather Together describes how the Wampanoag tribe signed a treaty with the Pilgrims and taught the Pilgrims how to plant in the harsh Massachusetts climate. Though this alliance enabled the Pilgrims to survive the year, the Native Americans were not honored or even acknowledged in Thanksgiving tales until after Senator Edward Kennedy and his subcommittee issued a report on Indian education, unemployment and infant mortality in 1969.

We Gather Together enlightens us to the fact that Thanksgiving is understandably mourned by many Native Americans who see the arrival of the Europeans as the beginning of the end of their civilization.

Kiernan has written a very even handed story of Thanksgiving, with lots of interesting historical details that kept me engrossed from the start. She takes the reader beyond the tired old stereotypical stories of Thanksgiving, and presents the facts with honesty and good humor.
Hardcover 304 pages, Audiobook 7 hours, 15 minutes. ⭐⭐⭐⭐/5 on Goodreads, Ripe Reads group.