Authentic Patriotism How to Restore America's Ideals---Without Losing Our Tempers or Our Minds

Stephen P. Kiernan

St. Martin's Griffin



Trade Paperback

320 Pages



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Winner of the Nautilus Silver Award In today's America, patriotism has become a loaded word, wielded against people with whom we might disagree, or whose cultural origins don’t match our own. But our founding fathers—Washington, Jefferson, Adams, and others—saw patriotism as a dynamic force: an act of service, in an evolving nation that defined its purpose by offering all people a better way of life.

In Authentic Patriotism, author and award-winning journalist Stephen P. Kiernan explores the original ideals that have been lost in our current climate, where war and economic turmoil have eroded our sense of civic obligation. Kiernan describes “a nation adrift,” out of touch with its origins—and then introduces a range of inspiring people who have revived our national purpose by taking action:

     —The out-of-work college graduate who led an economic and environmental renewal of her blighted home community.
     —The retired executive who pioneered a revolutionary concept in health care for people without insurance.
     —The minister who created a legendary choir, with the goal of uniting children of different races, genders, and classes in one voice.
     —The family who donated their daughter’s heart, so that another might live.

These and other “New Americans” are profiled in a book that offers a history and a renewal of the American spirit.


Praise for Authentic Patriotism

"Kiernan's book and speaking appearances are certain to change lives and make a significant difference for those fortunate enough to read his book or cross his path. I have been witnessing these kinds of appearances for decades and I could not recommend any writer or speaker with more enthusiasm. Stephen Kiernan will change your life."—David Wolk, president, Castleton State College

"From retiree Jack McConnell in South Carolina to Majora Carter in the South Bronx, Americans who brought real change to their communities have maintained a great nation while our institutions failed us. Authentic Patriotism is the story of those people whom you have never heard of, but who are most responsible for the greatness of America."—Howard Dean

“Authentic Patriotism is poignant, powerful, and deeply inspiring. It reminded me of something we all tend to forget in the maelstrom of partisan politics and corporate bureaucracies: A single, ordinary person still can make a difference—and single, ordinary people are doing precisely that every day. This is an absolutely terrific book.”—Chris Bohjalian, author of Midwives, The Double Bind, and Secrets of Eden

"An award-winning journalist offers a prescription for a nation adrift: citizen initiatives on behalf of the common good. For Kiernan (Last Rights: Rescuing the End of Life from the Medical System, 2006), patriotism is more than a set of beliefs or a matter of opinion-authentic patriotism is action, work that solves some of today's toughest problems. To recover America's greatness, he says, we must look neither to a cumbersome government nor an indifferent marketplace, but rather to the courage, determination and willingness to sacrifice-the traits that characterized the Founders-of ordinary citizens making a difference in their communities and beyond. In a friendly, readable text, the author introduces people like Jennifer Estess, who founded Project ALS, responsible for groundbreaking research in attacking Lou Gehrig's disease; Christopher Moore, founder of the Chicago Children's Choir, whose multiracial composition and high artistic standards serve as a model for cooperation and achievement; Dr. Jack McConnell, who established the Volunteers in Medicine clinic for the poor and underserved in wealthy Hilton Head, S.C.; Barry Scheck, whose well-known Innocence Project, through its pioneering use of science in the courtroom, has freed hundreds of wrongly convicted prisoners; Majora Carter, founder of Sustainable South Bronx, builder of parks and fierce opponent of unthinking environmental racism; and Tara Diane, whose decision to donate an organ made an impact that extended far beyond a single, benevolent deed. Though the author focuses on these six people, Kiernan looks at scores of other folks, some famous-environmental author Bill McKibben, singer Dolly Parton, tree-sitter JuliaButterfly-but most not, whose simple decisions to engage with their community has vastly improved the lives of others. The author identifies the signal elements of an act of authentic patriotism: It makes excellent economic sense; it can be duplicated elsewhere; it rewards the helper every bit as much as the helped; it sends out ripples of benign consequence in directions perhaps unforeseen. He concludes with a call for everyone to make a sacrifice, no matter how small, for a civic renewal worthy of our ideals. A good-hearted and hardheaded appeal."—Kirkus Reviews

"Kiernan (Last Rights) urges Americans to take on the challenges facing our society in this heartfelt look at everyday heroes who are reshaping society. Patriotism, Kiernan argues, transcends empty flag waving and political posturing, and lies instead in our service to each other and our willingness to sacrifice for the sake of our country and its people. For the author, authentic patriotism is found in the actions of people who take on our most profound social problems—problems the free market ignores in the absence of a clear profit to be had, and that our government has grown too slow moving and detached to effectively address. For example, retired pharmaceutical researcher Jack McConnell saw thousands of people in his community struggling without adequate health care and launched a free clinic that has grown into the Volunteers in Medicine program with 78 clinics in 24 states. Attorney Barry Scheck could not bear the injustice of innocent people languishing in prisons and founded the Innocence Project; today, hundreds of innocent prisoners have been exonerated. With these and other examples, the author constructs a stirring argument against apathy and for engagement."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

STEPHEN P. KIERNAN is the author of Last Rights (SMP, 2006). His numerous awards include the Gerald Loeb Award for Financial Journalism, the Associated Press Managing Editors’ Freedom of Information Award, and the George Polk Award. He lives in Charlotte, Vermont.
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  • Stephen P. Kiernan

  • Stephen P. Kiernan is the author of Last Rights. His numerous awards include the Gerald Loeb Award for Financial Journalism, the Associated Press Managing Editors’ Freedom of Information Award, and the George Polk Award. He lives in Charlotte, Vermont.
  • Stephen P. Kiernan


    Stephen P. Kiernan

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