Since the completion of the interstate highway system, we have paid for transportation—and paid a lot: 40,200 deaths last year, up 6 percent from the 37,757 automotive fatalities of the year before. By a huge margin, car wrecks are the leading accidental cause of death in America. Year after year, we hurtle down the road in multi-ton machines and smear our blood across the asphalt.
The Donald Trump of the 1856 presidential election was a celebrity explorer named John C. Frémont, nominated by the recently founded Republican party. The Hillary Clinton was a tired old perennial presidential candidate named James Buchanan, chosen by the Democrats—although they had to dump Franklin Pierce to do it. Pierce’s convention defeat marks the only time in American history a sitting president has lost a campaign for renomination by his own party.
In the spring of 1927, the modern world was born. Or at least the great interconnectivity of modern social life rose up and declared itself in the spring of 1927, with two key events. The first was Charles Lindbergh winning the race to make a solo non-stop flight across the Atlantic from New York to Paris. The second was President Calvin Coolidge’s decision to spend the summer in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
Back in 1864, a French historian named Fustel de Coulanges published a book called “The Ancient City,” in which he argued that urban life began with graveyards. Nomadic peoples found themselves needing ways to care for and memorialize their dead. The social unity of the tribe, the sense of their families, and the force of their religious cults depended at least in part on an enduring feeling for heroic figures from the past and an objective symbol of a people who extend through time. Graveyards gradually grew into temples, and temples gradually flowered into cities.
If you thought Odysseus had it bad, taking years to win his way back to Ithaca after the Greek triumph in the Trojan War, at least he eventually found his way to fond reunion with his wife, son, and small island kingdom. The rest of the Homecoming tales about the heroes’ return to Greece tend to be less cheery. Odysseus had a woman named Penelope waiting for him. Agamemnon had a woman named Clytemnestra.