Book Nook: What Unites Us, by Dan Rather

I’m 43. I’ve had the conversation with some of the elder generations at the newspaper that I was largely the last generation that grew up wanting to be a “newsman”. Kids younger than me really didn’t grow up seeing newspapers or magazines as a possible future.

I was lucky to have a couple of strong newsmen to look up to locally. Nationally, I grew up on Dick Schapp and Peter Gammons in sports. For news, it was Dan Rather. He was the news voice of my childhood. I’m not sure why it was Rather, and not Brokaw or Jennings or Cronkite. I suspect it was because he reminded me of my great grandfather. Rather was to my childhood as Murrow was to his.

I listened to his quick audible performance Stories of a Lifetime last year. That was a quick listen, however, at just 84 minutes. Recently, I circled back to his 2017 work, What Unites Us, a book written with frequent collaborator Elliott Kirschner. What Unites Us is more of a collection of essays than it is linear book. Rather intersperses a lot of his childhood into the book, but mostly as support to what has led him to form the principles he values.

I start my day every morning walking my dog, a very good boy. And for the last couple of weeks, that first walk has also included a chapter a day of Dan Rather in my ear, telling me what is good in the world. It has been…comforting. Nostalgia is undefeated.

Each chapter/essay covers something that inherently belongs to all of us, something we should all value. It explains why they are important to the author, and why they should be important to the reader. Schools, libraries, empathy, science, inclusion and so on.

None of these essays are new information, or even fresh perspectives on their value, other than why they matter to Rather. But, they are nourishment for the soul. I liken this book to an old preacher parable. As the preacher tells it, a patron stopped coming to church for a long time and they bumped into each other. Preacher asks Man why he stopped. Man says he never remembers the sermons all that well just a week later, figured he wasn’t getting much out of them. Preacher says “I look at it like Sunday dinners with the family. I may never remember the exact meal, but I know I got life-sustaining nourishment from those meals, so we keep having them.” Man came back to service the next week.

What Unites Us is that nourishment in a time when it is easy to find what divides us.

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