American Story: A Lifetime Search for Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things

by Bob Dotson

(Viking, $26.95, 256 pages)

Who is this author?

If you are a fan of NBC’s “Today Show,” you are familiar with Bob Dotson, the NBC News correspondent, whose “American Story with Bob Dotson” is a regular feature there and on other NBC News programs and has won more than 100 broadcast journalism awards.  He also wrote and hosted “Bob Dotson’s America” on the Travel Channel. Dotson lives in New York City and Mystic.

What is this book about?

Ordinary citizens making a difference – that’s a staple of media news features, in print or on the air – and such stories never fail to make readers (or viewers) feel good about America. For example, in the recent horrific bombings in Boston, reports of people going out of their way to help the injured and identify the bombers brought a ray of hope into that darkness.

Bob Dotson understands this dynamic and his book, which reflects more than 40 years of reporting such inspirational stories, celebrates the ideas and actions of good-hearted people who stepped up to help others. They include a boss who “un-retired” to found a new business when his former employees could not find new jobs, the doctor who developed the vaccine for whooping cough and kept on practicing till age 104, a truck driver who designs tools used in microsurgery, an Oregon sawmill owner who gave scholarships to seniors who wanted to attend college and many, many more.

Why you’ll like it:

In these days of vicious political partisanship, natural and man-made disasters and the endless outpouring of angry commentary in the social media, we could all use some stories that remind us of the essential goodness of most Americans. Dotson’s tales are brief, but compelling, told in an easy-to-read style and with heart. This book serves as antidote to the despair many feel about where the nation is heading.

What others are saying:

Publishers Weekly says: “In this powerful collection, NBC News correspondent Dotson compiles dozens of the human interest stories featured on his segment of the Today show….He’s traveled the country for decades interviewing remarkable people, many of whom have overcome great adversity and are actively working to make the world a better place for others. Some are quintessential innovators, like Jimmy Crudup, the truck driver who designs microsurgery tools on the side. Others defy the odds: in 1928, Leila Denmark became Atlanta’s first female pediatrician, and when she retired at the age of 103, she was the world’s oldest practicing doctor. (She died in 2012 at 114 years of age.) Elma Sneddeker’s tale is nothing if not miraculous: she was pulled from her burning car by a man born without arms who shattered a window with his foot to rescue her. Throughout, Dotson interweaves trying episodes from his own life, from being stricken with polio as a young boy to his decision to quit hard news and “look for people who offered solutions to problems that didn’t require bullets.” The details of their stories are unique, but their effect is not—they all inspire.”

“We’ve always known in our heart of hearts that the best of the country was bottom-up, not top-down, and now Bob Dotson, with this superb new book, proves us right.  These are remarkable and poignant and important stories that need to be told,” says documentary filmmaker Ken Burns.

Says  Kirkus Reviews: “The longtime Today Show correspondent offers a collection of heartwarming stories about ordinary citizens, “people who live the values our country cherishes.” For more than three decades now, Dotson …has specialized in Charles Kuralt–like stories about people “whose values were never preached, just lived.” Thus, we learn about the photographer whose 10-year project memorializing the giant cedars of western Washington led to the creation of Lewis and Clark National Park; the physician who recruited other retired doctors and nurses to establish a health clinic for the poor on Hilton Head Island; the first African-American in the U.S. Navy to earn a rank that took him out of the galley; the New York artist who traveled the country, exchanging his paintings for room and board. Dotson has found the last living member of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, the migrant mother captured forever in Dorothea Lange’s iconic photo and a Ziegfeld Follies chorus girl, still dancing at 105. The author mixes in a little autobiographical information, but he focuses on a succession of quiet achievers, people whose imagination, grit and goodness might otherwise have escaped the news, had he not gone in search of their stories. Many of the characters require more than the three or four pages Dotson allots them to make any lasting impression, but the sheer multitude of tales underscores his argument about an America chock-full of unassuming people whose lives enrich the nation.”

“Throughout his remarkable career Bob Dotson has searched for the real essence of America–not by interviewing the so-called famous, but by seeking out those unnoticed  people we pass by every day. Those quiet souls are the ones who ‘live up to the brag,’ as he puts it, and remind us what truly makes this country great.  Every story they tell is a jewel…and Dotson a national treasure for caring enough to listen,” says TV journalist and host Meredith Vieira.

When is it available?

You can search for “American Story” on the new books shelf at the Downtown Hartford Public Library.

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