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Don't Know Much About American History Paperback – Apr 1 2003

3.6 out of 5 stars 78 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; 1 edition (April 1 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0064408361
  • ISBN-13: 978-0965739870
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 1.4 x 22.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 259 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars 78 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,252,409 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

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
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


“[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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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Audio Cassette
(This review refers to the audio edition)
"Don't Know Much About History" is as hard a book to recommend as it is to truly scorn. Author Kenneth Davis succeeds in offering a single-volume of American history covering most major events and eras in simple, accessible language. Yet Davis fails to craft a balanced book, his own political viewpoints and biases too often intruding upon the text. It's unfortunate, because his victory in putting together such a book is noteworthy.
The audio reading here is extraordinary. The tone is lively and engaging, and the use of several narrators (changing places for chapter titles and famous quotes) brings a welcome change of pace to what could be a monotonous 20-plus hours. The production is very good, the sound crisp, and chapter titles are read aloud. (I hate audio books that skip chapter titles).
As it purports to do, "Don't Know Much..." runs the gamut of American history, from the earliest explorers to September 11, 2001, and just about every major event in between. Events are summarized and explained in easy to understand language, making a great starting point for those developing a love for history, or readers looking to refresh their memory of history lessons learned long ago. Throughout are timelines on major events (the Civil War, World War II, etc.) and quotes from key historical figures. Overall, the presentation is wonderful and will be a boon to those with even a passing interest in history. A well-formatted piece.
In the audio edition, the timelines come across as awkward. The quotes, however, are wonderful. Two other narrators, a male and female, handle the chores here, serving to break the listener away for a moment and sink into the famous quote. Impersonations are also excellent.
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Format: Audio Cassette
Author Kenneth Davis has provided the reader with over 600 pages covering a concise history of the American republic. Yes, I do agree with other reviewers that Davis is biased in some instances, but it may also be that he is just calling the shots as he sees them. President Eisenhower is criticized for his look-the other-way attitude towards civil rights, and quotes Ike as saying that appointing Earl Warren as chief justice of the United States was "the biggest damnfool mistake I every made." This came after Warren was instrumental in advancing civil rights of blacks. Should we not know Eisenhower's attitude in this regard? A courageous stance by this popular president may have done a lot of good, but Ike chose the easy way out. A couple of other quotes I enjoyed in the book may speak of bias, but I found them to be worth remembering. The earthy Lyndon Johnson saying of Gerald Ford: "Shucks, I don't think he can chew gum and walk at the same time....He's a nice fellow, but he spent too much time playing football without a helmet." The line I like the best will hit a nerve with a lot of people, I'm sure, but it was attributed to Soviet leader Joseph Stalin while you might want to assign it to former Chicago mayoral windbag, Big Bill Thompson, New York City political fixer William "Boss" Tweed, or someone else who may come to mind. It reads as follows: "Those who cast the votes decide nothing. Those who count the votes decide everything." To sum up the book I would say the United States of America has to be a great country to survive a great number of the presidents that have been at the helm throughout its history. Scandals of one kind or another have plagued several administrations while others have been highlighted by mediocrity. I found the book to be both informative and entertaining. It took me a week to pioneer my way through it, but it was worth the time.
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Format: Audio Cassette
This is a concise history of the United States, told from a decidedly liberal point of view. Davis begins his story with the various discoveries of America, informing us of Columbus� motivations, Erickson�s settlements, and the Native American migrations of 35,000 years ago. He continues with stories of the French and Indian Wars, the founding of the United States, the Civil War, Teddy Roosevelt, and the Twentieth Century events through the presidency of Ronald Reagan.
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.
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Format: Audio Cassette
The author boldly states in his pre-amble that the reason most Americans don't know much about their own history is primarily twofold -- first, that schools cut out much of what is "bad" in our history, and second, that schools make history dull. This series goes a long way toward overcoming the first short-coming of school history by presenting both the heroic and not-so-heroic moments in the history of our country. On the second point, it makes a little headway, but not enough. One of my great objections to the study of history in school was always that it involved the rote memorization of dates, place names and events, without any real analysis or context. Here, everything is set in a context that gives the dates and names meaning, but it is impossible to give even an overview of 200 years of history in 22 hours without lists of names, places and dates, and there is still plenty of that here. In addition, Davis goes a little too far in trying to rectify the often candy-coated view of history, thus spending an awful lot of time on the United States' mistreatment of native Americans and African Americans (referred to as Indians and blacks in the book), while giving short shrift to science and culture and barely touching on such things as the extent to which the U.S. government was aware of the Nazis' treatment of jews during World War II.
All that said, one of the joys of this series is Dick Estell's excellent narration, which gives life to even the dullest of passages. It is also refreshing to finally be able to hear about the more human side of history, or at least the more human side of our presidents and other political leaders as well as the leading men of industry.
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