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A History of the American People Hardcover – February 17, 1998

304 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0060168360 ISBN-10: 0060168366 Edition: 1st U.S. ed

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Paul Johnson, whose previous works include the distinguished Modern Times and A History of the Jews, has produced an epic that spans the history of the American people over the past 400 years. The prolific narrative covers every aspect of U.S. history, from science, customs, religion, and politics to the individual men and women who have helped shape the nation. His detailed, provocative examinations of political and social icons, from Lyndon Johnson to Norman Rockwell, are especially strong. Johnson's text is intelligent and rich with detail, and yet extremely accessible for anyone interested in a reinterpretive analysis of America's past.

What makes this book unique is Johnson's approach to this self-professed Herculean task. The prevalent tone throughout is optimism. Whether he's discussing race relations, industrialization, the history of women, immigrants, Vietnam, or political correctness, Johnson--a staunch conservative who was born, bred, and educated in England--is openly enamored with America's past, particularly the hardships and tribulations that the nation has had to overcome. He sees this story as a series of important lessons, not just for Americans but for the whole of mankind as well. At a time when other contemporary scholars find it easier to bemoan the past, Johnson offers the reader "a compelling antidote to those who regard the future with pessimism."

From Library Journal

Johnson (Intellectuals, LJ 3/1/89; Modern Times, LJ 5/1/83) is used to tackling grand themes in his books, and this one is no exception. Even for the comparatively short period of American history, it is a daunting task. Still, Johnson does a good job of weaving together the story of American history. He takes more of a "social history" approach?including presentation of a background for each period and discussion of the various social issues involved in each. The author also uses quotations from personal diaries and other historical documents, providing a refreshing change from the usual "battle & general" technique in retelling the American story. Recommended for all persons interested in American history. Also useful as a college-level introductory text.?Mark Ellis, Albany State Univ., Ga.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 1104 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1st U.S. ed edition (February 17, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060168366
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060168360
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 2.3 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (304 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #331,026 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Beginning with Modern Times (1985), Paul Johnson's books are acknowledged masterpieces of historical analysis. He is a regular columnist for Forbes and The Spectator, and his work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and many other publications.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

342 of 380 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Loveitt on January 9, 2000
Format: Paperback
I find it very disappointing that most people have a kneejerk reaction to Paul Johnson. It seems as though if you are a conservative you love him and if you are a liberal you hate him. I find this very unfair. Mr. Johnson is always entertaining and frequently thought provoking. After reading this book I have already bought biographies of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Edison because Mr. Johnson has brought them to life and has caused me to want to learn more about them. For example, did you know that Mr. Edison would frequently sleep under the table in his workshop so as to be able to go right back to work when he woke up? Or that Calvin Coolidge once summoned some of his staff in the White House and then hid under his desk so that they couldn't find him? But this doesn't mean that this book is full of fluff either. Mr. Johnson also gives you much "straight" history and is not afraid to give you his opinions of the people and their policies. He clearly thinks that Jefferson, FDR and John Kennedy were overrated and Coolidge underrated, for example. He greatly admires Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. Probably one of the great lessons of this book is that some distance is needed before a person or an event can be judged fairly. Years ago one heard almost only positive things about Thomas Jefferson. In recent years the pendulum has somewhat swung the other way especially where Jefferson's writings on slavery are now seen to diverge quite a bit from his practices in real life. But the beauty of this book lies in the uncovering of personality.Read more ›
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127 of 147 people found the following review helpful By Will Riddle on August 19, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
While I wouldn't recommend that my students read only Paul Johnson's work on US History, I would definitely recommend that they read it in accompaniment to their texts. Johnson is rightly to be credited for providing a more balanced and optimistic view of the American people/government than is prevalent in the majority of publishing firms today. He does not shy away from criticism where it is due, but neither is he afraid to assert honor where honor is due--even if it means offending some politically correct ears.

While I agree that he can be classified as a conservative, I would also note that this is not a "conservative's conservative" book. By that I mean that people who are unabashedly Republican, Religious Right, etc., will not find unscrutinized support for their revisionist accounts of history. While Johnson does overlap with certain conservative appraisals of historical events and figures, he does so on a case-by-case basis, always aiming to support his evaluations with fact. In many instances, these facts are not widely known because they have been cut out from liberal textbooks. They are not, however, smelling of the party line.

Indeed, Johnson's book is fascinating for his historical scholarship, research, and deep analysis. His coverage of "forgotten" spans of time (i.e. Grant, Arthur, Hayes, Garfield) is welcome, as is his deft treatment of figures who are normally expansive in coverage (i.e. Lincoln, JFK). I found the 1860-1900 chapters to be personally most enlightening.

Johnson is especially great at noticing overarching themes in government and economic life. He is not a social or sociological commentator, which will relieve some of his more liberal readers. And in fact, I believe most people--liberal or conservatve--would gain an awful lot from his research and presentation if they read with an open mind.
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54 of 63 people found the following review helpful By Warren Parker on September 21, 2006
Format: Paperback
I am an unabashed admirer of Howard Zinn, but I am tremendously impressed with Paul Johnson's A History of the American People. I read this book while attending graduate school, years after reading Zinn's fascinating People's history of the United States. Johnson's interrogation of the polemic characters, social movements, and various ideologies provides readers with a brilliant but conservative perspective that is trenchant and well-detailed. Although I consider myself a moderate liberal, I was intrigued on how Johnson describes certain historical figures, For instances, unlike Zinn, Johnson reveres business potentates, such as Rockefeller and Drew, for their philanthropic activities in the late ninetieth century. He is exceedingly critical of Thomas Jefferson, but he adulates Andrew Jackson for his gallantry during the Battle of New Orleans. I recommend students, scholars, general readers, and history buffs, to read this thought-provoking book with Zinn's People's History to procure a well-balanced understanding of American history and the people and ideas that shaped this great nation.
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89 of 111 people found the following review helpful By Jonathan L. Scheffer on June 2, 2005
Format: Paperback
Paul Johnson's book "The History of the American People" is quite entertaining and full of dizzying facts and anecdotes from history. The major problem with his work, though, is how Johnson confuses the presentation of history and fact with his own opinion and, frequently, extreme interpretations. As the previous reviewer commented ("He Should Have Stopped at 1960"), something happens in the book as the latter half of the twentieth century is approached. The earlier history of America he presents with vibrancy and, I suspect, even-handedness. I did note his celebration of the alleged "Robber-Barrons" and liberal economics, as well as a conspicuous absence of sympathy for unions and the legitimate concerns over labor abuses. He appears to subscribe to the "Great Man Makes History" school - the little man is often overlooked. It was, however, not until his discussion of the 1960's and beyond that his blaring biases become evident. According to Johnson, Kennedy and Clinton could do no right, Reagan no wrong, Nixon is a misuderstood hero, the press is the great liberal villain, and all the ills of American society can be traced to misguided liberalism. He presents the usual smorgasborg of conservative thought as utterly blameless. He picks and chooses historical facts which confirm, but never challenge, his biases.

The truth is that I did enjoy this book, albiet with growing dissappointment in latter chapters. While Johnson does descend considerably into strident ideology at the end, nonetheless he is an eloquent and multifaceted writer. In his defense, he does acknowledge in the preface that he makes no effort to conceal his opinions in this text.
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