My garden is full of fireflies on these hot summer nights. They sweep through the damp grass, like tiny falling stars. When I was a child in Iowa, we called them lightning bugs and collected them in jam jars to make magical glowing lanterns. Tonight, we’ll have fireworks in the sky above, because it’s the 4th of July, the US Independence Day. Fireworks are an essential part of the celebration. Like lightning bugs, they’re magical and meaningful. A warm hearth or campfire brings a family or a band together, but fireworks are for everyone within view – a symbol of our bigger connections, and of our national unity.

Their brilliance sparks our imagination, and sets off our dreams. Night falls, but light comes. The blazing fountains reach for the sky. This year, they make me think about the dreams and aspirations we have for our country, these United States, this America the Beautiful. Berkshire Publishing is proud to announce the publication of This Is America: A Short History of the United States, which will help students understand the aspirations of our country’s founders and leaders of the past, and to get a better idea of what the American Dream is all about.

In 2014, many people are wondering about the American Dream. Is it about absolute equality or equality of opportunity? Is it about material prosperity and getting rich? Is sustainability the new American dream? A report from the PR firm Ogilvy & Mather found that “local community” was  now the focus for the majority of those polled, and that “consumers didn’t fully understand the idea of sustainability until they found themselves living unsustainable lives – working too hard, carrying too much debt, and not living or planning for the long term. Now consumers are re-imagining their lives for a sustainable future for themselves and their families.” Individuals have dreams and aspirations, and in some sense groups and societies do, too.

Over the past year we’ve heard a lot about the Chinese Dream from president Xi Jinping. This echoes the concept of “The American Dream,” which has been around for nearly 100 years. Journalist Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times recently wrote that “It’s Now the Canadian Dream.”  These national dreams reflect human aspirations for happiness and community as well as for economic prosperity, but economics provide the foundation, the base of the human well-being pyramid, and I’m glad we included a good deal about the wealth question in the final chapter of Berkshire’s newest book, This Is America. You can read an extract at This Is America: Unity From Diversity.

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