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Don't Know Much About History: Everything You Need to Know About American History but Never Learned (Don't Know Much About Series) Hardcover – April 1, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Davis, author of the trademarked series of Don't Know Much About primers, seeks to dispel public boredom and ignorance about history and correct mistakes about various historical events in this update of his bestselling survey of American history. He arranges the book around a series of short essays on questions ranging from the basic (e.g., "Why did the southern states secede from the United States?") to the esoteric ("What was Teddy Roosevelt's grandson doing in Iran?"), intended to crystallize larger themes in our country's past. Davis's engaging treatment is spicy but judicious. He notes sex scandals from Alexander Hamilton's to Bill Clinton's, tamps out JFK conspiracy theories and speculation about J. Edgar Hoover's cross-dressing, and debunks myths like the legend of Betsy Ross and the movie Mississippi Burning. He provides sharply drawn, even-handed accounts of controversies, and his verdicts are generally well considered. Unfortunately, because discussions are usually tied to colorful personalities, heroic movements and dramatic crises, processes that are quiet but profound, such as the post-war rise of suburbia and the decline of unions, tend to get slighted. There's lots of history to browse through here, but little historiography to tie it together; while the book is far superior to standard high-school treatments, and a valuable reference for students young and old, it still leaves the impression that history is just one damn thing after another.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

This revised edition of a book Davis wrote 13 years ago is part of a series that includes Don't Know Much about the Civil War (1996) and Don't Know Much about Geography (1992). As in other volumes in the series, Davis strives to dispel myths and misconceptions about American history that he asserts people have learned in school. This updated version covers, chronologically, topics from the migration routes of Native Americans to the destruction of the Twin Towers. In his zeal to correct these misconceptions, Davis frequently employs a condescending and irritating tone. In truth, many of his "corrections" are unnecessary because most reasonably well-informed Americans are already aware of them. Still, if one can get past the smugness, there is considerable merit in this book, especially for laypeople. It is replete with interesting tidbits of information that can enrich one's general historical knowledge and stoke interest in further reading. Jay Freeman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Series: Don't Know Much About Series
  • Hardcover: 704 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1 edition (April 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060083816
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060083816
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (288 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #246,681 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Kenneth C. Davis is the author of Don't Know Much About® History, which spent 35 consecutive weeks on The New York Times bestseller list, and gave rise to the Don't Know Much About® series, which has a combined in-print total of 4.3-million copies. Davis has been dubbed the "King of Knowing" by Amazon.com because he becomes a subject expert in all of the areas he writes about: the Bible, Mythology, snd the Civil War, for example, and his latest Don't Know Much About® the American Presidents. Davis's success aptly makes the case that Americans don't hate history, just the dull version they slept through in class. But many of them want to know now because their kids are asking them questions they can't answer. Davis's approach is to refresh us on the subjects we should have learned in school. He does it by busting myths, setting the record straight and always remembering that fun is not a four-word letter word. Kenneth C. Davis is a frequent media guest and has appeared on hundreds of television and radio shows, including NPR, The Today Show, Fox and Friends, CNN, and The O'Reilly Factor. He has been a commentator for All Things Considered, and has written for the New York Times Op-Ed page, Smithsonian magazine and CNN,com and other national publications. In addition to his adult titles, he writes the Don't Know Much About Children's series published by HarperCollins. He lives in New York with his wife. They have two grown children.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

110 of 115 people found the following review helpful By Anthony G Pizza VINE VOICE on May 16, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Like a great baker, a great writer can turn even what might have been stale into something not just digestible, but delicious. Clever turns of phrase and crisp, engaging writing style (in an easily referenced question and answer format) allow historian Kenneth Davis to chart American history and debunk many of its myths in this exceptional update of his 1990 best-seller.
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.
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52 of 52 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 16, 2004
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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154 of 166 people found the following review helpful By David E. Levine on July 18, 2000
Format: Paperback
Davis is very opinionated in his writing of history and furthermore, I happen to be politically conservative and he is very liberal. However, I nontheless really liked the book. Opinons are OK if the author does not let them detract from the presentaion of the facts. I have read several good histories of the United States and I am satisfied that Davis presents the essentials and then some. I think that if a high school student were to use this as a review book before the final examination, he/she would get the essential information and do well on the exam. Obviously, this book is not as comprehensive as, say, Paul Johnson's "History of the American People," however, it does what it sets out to do. That is to provide a reasonably comprehensive history of the United States for people who are not well versed in the subject. The facts are presented in a well organized and easy to follow question and answer format. The opinions drove me crazy at times but, then again, perhaps they kept me interested. All in all, a good book.
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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By John VINE VOICE on January 29, 2001
Format: Paperback
Although I'm an avid non-fiction reader, my tastes run more towards the sciences. While I do read a lot about Arizona history ( I live there) I must admit that I haven't read much on general American history since I left school. I decided to download the unabridged audio version of this book from AUDIBLE.COM.
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
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Don't Know Much About History: Everything You Need to Know About American History but Never Learned (Don't Know Much About Series)
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