Recommendations on a good American history book

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Recommendations on a good American history book

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maj 20, 2016, 5:10pm

Hi all! I'm hoping my fellow LT'ers can give me some recommendations on American history books. I'm trying to convince someone that history, in this case American history, is exciting, painful, riveting, etc., with equally exciting historical figures that were actually human - ie, not perfect. I've looked at a few titles online and read some I'm second-guessing my own first impressions.

I was interested in Joseph Ellis' Founding Brothers, but the author was supposedly suspended for his own, shall we say, truth-stretching, in his own life affairs....does that take anything away from the book?

Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen looked promising, too, but several comments were made that the author simply did not have all his facts correct - not what I'm looking for in a scholarly tome.

So, without it being overly dry, being factual while avoiding political correctness, etc., - does anything stand out for you? Are the above books still worthy of making a good reading experience?

Am I asking too much for this genre? :) Thanks in advance.

maj 21, 2016, 11:12am

It's been a long, long time ago; but I remember enjoying Kenneth C. Davis' Don't know Much About history and several other of his titles. He was a myth-buster. I would guess his books hold up.

If you want some rounding out of characters from our past, I found The Notorious Benedict Arnold did a nice job of telling his full story in a brief book. My review: "This is remarkable job of bringing Benedict Arnold to full life. He was a passionate character, which was his strength and ultimate flaw. I'm surprised at how little I knew of his story prior to this book, and glad to know more now. How tragic that he soured to the revolution after being such a significant hero. Fault is with him, but also his associates."

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin is also truly engaging. I enjoyed meeting Ben when I was a teenager, and recently listened to the audio book by Fredd Wayne. Wayne is a re-enactor, and has got the voice and mannerisms to a T.

maj 22, 2016, 1:55am

A few recommendations that occur to me at the moment (I'll probably come up with some more in the next few days):

-Almost anything that Bruce Catton wrote about the American Civil War is worth reading. Although his books are a few decades old and he's not the last word when it comes to scholarly interpretation, he was a terrific writer. Possibly his best books are the Army of the Potomac trilogy, which begins with Mr. Lincoln's Army.

-David Hackett Fischer has written several excellent books. Washington's Crossing and Paul Revere's Ride are centered around two of the most famous events of the Revolutionary War period. Albion's Seed is also excellent although maybe better for someone who's already developed a serious interest in history.

-When it comes to recent political history, Rick Perlstein is very worth reading. Start with his Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus, and then continue with his two sequels to that one, Nixonland and The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan.

maj 22, 2016, 1:58pm

Hey, this is a great list so far! I'll be investigating these.

Any more ideas? Keep 'em coming, and thanks again for these suggestions! :)

maj 29, 2016, 12:40pm

A few of my favorites are
The Glory and the Dream - I like the book because Manchester will give you the big picture of a particular period, zoom in on certain significant happenings within that period and then zoom in even closer to give you a brief bio of someone connected with the period...and the repeat the process.

All Aboard: The Railroad in American Life - a well written history of the evolution and impact of the railroads in the U.S. Like the Manchester book the book is a blend of big picture and interesting detail.

Red Scare: A study in national hysteria, 1919-1920 an history of the first national witch hunt in the early 20th century.

Give Your Heart to the Hawks - a very interesting history of the mountain men. Consists of a series of biographies of these men.

The Box- a history of the development and impact of the shipping container. This may sound dull and boring but I would have to disagree.

maj 29, 2016, 1:47pm

The best books on US history I've read in the last few years were The Metaphysical Club and The Legacy of Conquest, both of which I've reviewed on LT.

jun 12, 2016, 1:16pm

Thank you, alco261 and paradoxosalpha! I will be checking them out.

sep 16, 2016, 11:20am

I'm a little late to this party but I saw your request for books on American History which are "exciting, painful, riveting, etc.," and show the human side—i.e. both the good and the bad—of its participants. I immediately thought of Hampton Sides' Blood and Thunder. Our country's westward expansion was both beautiful and horrific, and Sides does a brilliant job exploring one piece of that narrative.