Don't Know Much About American History Paperback – Mar 1 2003
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From School Library Journal
Grade 4-7-American history comes alive in this witty, yet informative account. Kenneth Davis (HarperCollins, 2003) explains complex issues like the controversy over slavery that led to the Civil War, the reasons for the Great Depression, and why terrorists would want to attack the United States on 9/11 in language that is easy for young people to understand. The narration by actor Oliver Wyman is broken up by the voices of three other actors who ask questions like: "How did Theodore Roosevelt get rid of 7,400 miles?" and "Were the Little Rock Nine a rock-and-roll band?" The narrative is also broken up by "American Voices," which include first-person accounts; American Portraits-brief biographies of noteworthy people, ranging from Harriet Tubman to Harry Houdini; Great American Pastimes, ranging from baseball to jazz; and American English, discussing how words became part of our language. Davis doesn't gloss over controversial parts of history, such as why not all Americans consider Columbus Day a holiday. and why the U.S. didn't do more to help prevent the Holocaust. He also addresses what our founding fathers meant when they said, "All men are created equal." As lively as this history book is, though, it's unlikely that young people will want to listen to it just for fun.
David Bilmes, Schaghticoke Middle School, New Milford, CT
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“[Davis] steers an intelligent, non-partisan course through the thorny issues of the past.” (USA Today)
“Put the zest back in history” (Washington Post Book World)
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Top Customer Reviews
Each chapter begins with a list of questions on a given period of history. Then Davis begins describing what happened during this period, taking up and answering each question in turn. Starting with Teddy Roosevelt, Davisï¿½ own political persuasion starts to come through more and more clearly. While I myself agree with Davisï¿½ comments about FDR and Ronald Reagan, I think conservative readers might find some of them a bit objectionable. In general, I found this a very readable concise history of the United States, but itï¿½s not for everyone.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Drawing on reports of the period and on revisionist histories, Davis concisely shows the humanity in American icons known only by one name: Lincoln's views on race relations, Washington's at times bawdy sense of humor, Franklin Roosevelt's thirst for power and gift for political (and apparently, personal) compromise, Ford and Lindbergh's disquieting bigotry and animosity. (Robert E. Lee's quote on slavery's positive effects show him, despite honors afforded him in the Civil War's losing cause, very much a man of his time.) Davis also provides short biographies of historic's outstanding black voices, from Frederick Douglass and W.E.B. DuBois' passion to the Mohammad Ali's athletic urban poetry.
Davis also shows a refreshing desire not to be objective, a rarity in books like this. He attacks the nation's great shames (treatment of Native and African Americans, Japanese-American internment during World War II), targeting history's cynics and opportunists whose names still ring of American royalty: Vanderbilt, JP Morgan, Rockefeller, even the Kennedys. (Davis' coverage of the reasons and results of 1898's Spanish-American War will disturb those always thinking Americans fought defensively and for the right causes.) Davis also explains the interlocking events which started WWI, which (should you choose to read the book cover to cover) pour into every other tragic conflict which followed up to and including September 11.
Davis misses some steps covering the last 30 years. He covers Watergate in depth, including an events timeline, which he does for every war covered in the book. But he glosses over Richard Nixon's historic trip to China and for that matter, much of the Ford-Carter years. He again retells Monica Lewinsky's affair with President Bill Clinton but fails to capture (in fact, hardly mentions) the Whitewater and Travelgate scandals inspiring Ken Starr's investigation and staining Clinton's administration and legacy.
Davis` summary of American tragedies tying into September 11's horror is heartfelt but forced. But he also explains Electoral College and US Constitution, charts the US presidents, and provides an exhaustive list of referred readings to complete an exceptionally exciting retelling of history. "Don't Know Much About History" is a title only true until the book is completed; it is exceptionally helpful as a primer and essential as a supplementary history book.
Each chapter begins with a list of questions on a given period of history. Then Davis begins describing what happened during this period, taking up and answering each question in turn. Starting with Teddy Roosevelt, Davis� own political persuasion starts to come through more and more clearly. While I myself agree with Davis� comments about FDR and Ronald Reagan, I think conservative readers might find some of them a bit objectionable. In general, I found this a very readable concise history of the United States, but it�s not for everyone.
In the book, Davis gives a fairly complete overview of the most significant people and events in American history. His writing style is casual, almost folksy. I particularly appreciated the fact that the author discusses both the good and the bad of American history. While I am proud to be part of this great nation, there are many events in our history that we should not be proud of - things that were not discussed in your high school history class. As other reviewers have pointed out, the author occasionally injects his own biases into the text. But, when he does, he backs up these beliefs with facts that are hard to dispute. Whether you're a history buff or someone that just wants to learn more about this country, this is a great text. I plan to read the other "Don't know Much..." books by this author.
Comments specific to the audible.com version: The reader is Dick Estell (of Radio Reader fame). He does an excellent job. His voice is clear and has a lively tone to it - perfect for those long commutes
Recently, I picked up this book again and thumbed through it. My one criticism is Davis's "anti-Manifest Destiny" rhetoric, which is true, I suppose, of most modern historians, with the exception, perhaps, of the incomparable Stephen E. Ambrose. General George A. Custer described as "probably deranged" is pure revisionism! Straight out of "Little Big Man," the 1968 movie with Dustin Hoffman. Anyhow, that's my one beef in an otherwise fun and engaging read.
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