Photo credit: Thomas Bollier
By Steve Sears
Wayne Hills High School grad, Richard Kreitner, recently published his second book, titled Break It Up: Secession, Division, and the Secret History of America’s Imperfect Union.
Kreitner, 30, who studied philosophy at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, eventually forged a career in writing.
“I came up with the idea about six years ago,” he says about the book, “about 2014. (Barack) Obama was still President. There were kind of two tracks that were going on in my life. I was reading a lot of US history, which I’ve always been quite obsessed with. I didn’t study it in college; I actually went to school in Canada. But I was the archivist at a magazine called The Nation, which was founded in 1865 right after the Civil War. My job was kind of going through the magazine’s old issues and pulling out things that seem to be relevant to the present.” Kreitner started reading a lot about the Civil War, developed a deep interest in it, and then took trips back to the Revolutionary War period. “What was interesting to me was that I found the same themes in the Revolutionary (War era) in founding the Constitutional Convention – that period – that were in the Civil War, even though very few historians were connecting them. The possibility that the Union might break apart, which is the great subject of the Civil War, was also present right after the Revolution.” He continued to trace the possibility throughout American history, while also focusing on the present, where polarization was being discussed before the Donald Trump Presidency. “Although nobody was talking about the possibility of a second Civil War, it seemed to me to be something living on the horizon.”
Work on the book took five years, and the reception has been a good one. Kreitner has been a guest on NPR radio, been interviewed in the New York Times, and mention of the book has found foreign press in Britain, France, Germany, and Iran. The book has also received positive reviews, and Kreitner has been on the receiving end of compliments from readers, including writers he admires.
Kreitner, who is also the author of “Booked: A Traveler’s Guide to Literary Locations Around the World,” considers Break It Up: Secession, Division, and the Secret History of America’s Imperfect Union his first book because he started it first. The former was a book a publisher approached him about, but the latter is “his baby.”
Challenges were keeping his head in the work while the world went on, headlines a many blitzing he and others every day. “To lift my head up from the work (the past research of the historical) to see what was happening in the present was pretty distracting,” he says “but also just very interesting. Tuning out all the circus atmosphere from the past couple of years, which sometimes felt like bad citizenship, but I think it was necessary for good scholarship. That was one challenge. Another major one was I needed to try telling the story of disunion in American history without trying to re-tell all of American history.”
Kreitner, who is married to wife Brahna and is dad to Audrey and Jeremiah, moved to Wayne when he was three years old and went through the school system. He credits a few teachers for his love of history and writing. “In 10th grade I took a History class with Doug Layman. He was just a huge influence on me, both as a teacher and an advisor with student government, which I was involved in. Also, in 11th grade, Michael Shale, who’s still there I believe, teaching 11th grade US History, part two of the AP course. He was also a huge influence.”
Break It Up: Secession, Division, and the Secret History of America’s Imperfect Union can be purchased at Bookshop.org or Amazon.com, or at any local bookstore. Visit the author’s website at RichardKreitner.com.