11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on March 14, 2002
Although I've only read a small fraction of this delightful reference work, I'm quite grateful to own it. It allows you to quickly research difficult topics, check the veracity of a book, and follow your intellectual curiousity.
For example, I recently watched a biography of Frederick Douglass, the 19th century abolitionist. That revitalized my interest in the fiery orator and the abolitionist movement. The Reader's Companion contains a concise, yet in-depth profile that emphasizes Douglass' insights into the roots and consequences of racism in the 19th century.
This hefty reference work, featuring the work of respected scholars should be used by anyone enrolled in a United States History course, professional historians, and amateur historians.
There is also enough balance that you can easily detect the biases of various writers.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on November 10, 2000
the book is invaluable as it is quite difficult to read any history book and know every subject or person involved in the reading. Therefore, the reader's companion is a great source when doing history projects or simply reading history. One does not need to pull out all his encyclopedias or go online to find out who a person in his or her reading is. For any student, especially those of history, this book comes highly recommended. The exerpts are detailed, yet not too lengthy, and provide enough bacground for the average researcher.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on January 18, 2004
The Reader's Companion to American History doesn't over-explain. Instead, it provides just enough information to help contextualize a period novel or, in my case, Constitutional law material, quickly. Without this book, I would have been forced to consult any number of sources to gather vital facts about people or events. This book is worth having around for reference.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on February 6, 2003
Let's admit it...all parents help out with homework. Sometimes the help is simply altruistic, other times it is to meet a glaring deadline and of course there are times we just want to make sure everything is done right. To this end, "The Reader's Companion to American History," is a solid companion for parents who pitch in and help their kids finish their homework. It is also a valuable source to make sure our kids are not cutting corners.
This book has it all...brief entries, articles, essays, maps, tables, bibliographies, thorough cross-references and a big-time index. If you want to find out facts about political, economic, social and cultural history, editors Eric Foner & John Garraty do a splendid job. Moreover, the first-class collection of nearly four hundred contributions from eminent scholars, biographers and journalists is very impressive.
Name it...James Monroe (fifth president of the United States), Marilyn Monroe, The Monroe Doctrine...its all there. This book is great to have around during crunch time on homework. It is reliable and easy to use. Its big and heavy and not easy to carry around but when it comes to your kid's education...its worth its weight in gold.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
When the great 4th-century BC scholar of the library at Alexandria, Callimachus, wrote "Mega Biblion, Mega Kakon" (loosely translated, a big book is a pain in the neck!), he was praising brevity in poetry, not size. So when "The Reader's Companion to American History" arrived on my doorstep, I was totally unprepared for the sheer volume of the volume. a) My friend who recommended it to me as useful for teaching a class in US History, neglected to inform me of its considerable heft; b) nor did I bother looking at the specifications so conveniently provided by Amazon (I can't believe that it weighs only 5.7 pounds--It feels like 20!); c) The comfy word "companion" is so misleading (Elephant in the room might be more appropriate!).
As to it's content, I found its historical entries *extremely useful* and the articles excellent (e.g. personages, John Adams, Clarence Darrow; British Parliamentary Acts against the colonies: Stamp Act, Townshend, Act; Supreme Court decisions, Marbury vs Madison, Roe vs Wade), but I question its inclusion of singers, such as Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra; or even authors, such as Saul Bellow (who's from Canada); or artists, such as choreographer, George Balanchine, and composer, Irving Berlin. To me, the book is trying to be too many things to too many people, especially now that we can get so much information online (My laptop weighs less than the book!).
For readers whose homes come equipped with large libraries, "The Reader's Companion" is just the thing. If you live in a small apartment where space is limited (or if you have a dicky back), you might want to consult the vast resources out in cyberspace!
They weigh far less!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on May 20, 2006
Whether your personal library has only a handful of books or countless hundreds, 'The Reader's Companion to American History' should be on your shelf. It is in fact what the title claims it to be. Dozens of authors have written concise entries covering thousands of American history topics. Topics range from the obvious (Civil War) to the obscure (say, the Granger Movement). Most articles are a few paragraphs of several hundred words while a few range over several pages (e.g. railroads).
Highest recommendation for anyone with an interest in American history of any era.
on November 26, 2014
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
This is the best recent one-volume dictionary-style reference for American (USA) history I've found. The Oxford Companion is valuable as well, containing more material, but the Foner & Garraty work is to be preferred, in my view, as a first resort. There are far more head words here (among them usefully more biographical entries) so readers don't have to resort to an index and beat about in long general articles, and the see-refs are correspondingly more useful ; there is, however, an index included as well.
Both works leave a lot to be desired; I have found both to be less than fully adequate when looking up people and concepts relating to the colonial break-off from the Britain, and both have over-exerted themselves in bringing in entries of doubtful historical value: flash-in-the-pan people and topics within the last lifetime that are unlikely to be of long-standing significance, and topics of great interest that just seem to me not to belong in such a dictionary, mostly of cultural & artistic significance. I allow that it's hard to make unobjectionable judgments about this sort of thing, though. I realize, as well, that my preferences in historiography are rather out of style.
Some prissilites have shouted about the "bias" of this dictionary. I can see many examples of judgments that would bother not just such people (of conservative politics) but just about anyone who would think that a work of this type should strive to avoid "POV" as it's called on Wikipedia and elsewhere these days. However, I didn't find that such business impaired the informational value of the work. The main problem is that it's too short, but most of us prefer to have a one-volume work ready at hand. Such multi-volume works as:
The Dictionary of American History (ed. Kutler, originally Scribner's, the earlier editions are better, in my view)*
The American National Biography (ed. Garraty and Carnes)
The Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History (ed. Salzman, D.L. Smith & Cornel West, originally MacMillan; get the first edition of this paragonish work)
are beyond the shelf-space capacity of most of us, and, at one time, beyond our budgets. Nowadays, books are being thrown out everywhere and many books have become astonishingly cheap, especially through such channels as this Amazon. Check out, for instance the mere penny-purse you'll have to hand over for the African-American set mentioned above. We should build more shelves, I suppose, in these end-days, so we'll have something to read with the power out, as the savages about us are fighting World War Four with stones, as Einstein predicted.
*This is where I had to look for "writs of assistance".
on February 21, 2015
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Great reference book! I use it often to verify information and create various activities in my lesson planning
20 of 42 people found the following review helpful
Authors Foner and Garrity warn the reader in the Introduction that this volume is not a presentation of historical facts, but rather an INTERPRETIVE History. Boy is it ever! Their bias is the contemporary far-left, "America has much to apologize for" viewpoint held by the vast majority of tenured academicians today. That makes this volume extremely useful for college and high school students -- they can liberally lift their term papers from this book and readily find favor with their professors and teachers. In so doing, however, we all lose.
The authors made a special effort to include biographical sketches of members of minority groups and women, in their own words, "... partly because such people have often been neglected in encyclopedias." When this book was first published a storm of protest arose due to this careful selection of biographical entries, leading to incongruous abnormalities such as giving more space to Alice Hamilton, Dorothea Lange, Richard Allen and Jacob Lawrence than to Jefferson Davis. Historical figures like Generals James Longstreet or "Mad" Anthony Wayne are, of course, not mentioned at all. Foner and Garrity have turned American history on its head with this volume, but it is useful as a reference on people the reader has never heard of.
There is a central theme to this interpretive history as noted, and the authors appear to have controlled its content to fit their agenda. The short articles were written by graduate students or post-doctoral writers working under their supervision. The longer, interpretive essays were written by other authorities, but their editorial hand appears heavy and consistent. I am reminded of the statement made by an editorial writer of the Atlanta Constitution, "It doesn't make any difference who writes the editorial, we all pretty much think alike." So it is in this book.
The authors also state that there are two histories: that what actually happened, and that what historians write. They may be literally correct, but one should be aware that much of what is written can be inaccurate or simply propaganda. The German atrocities in Belgium during World War I, for example, were actually fabrications to whip up war fever against the Germans. Such writing is not history, although it fits the author's very liberal second definition. I would contend that the thrust and much of the context of this book is also designed to create a new social history of the US for the authors' own political purposes and as such is hardly history. What is written should be fair and balanced as much as possible given the source materials.
I would recommend buying this book if only to see the depths to which contemporary revisionism has fallen. If the reader is traveling to New York, Hollywood, or attending an elite university, I recommend that large parts of this work be committed to memory. The reader will be able to amaze his acquaintances at cocktail parties or thrill his professors with his knowledge of the contributions made by women and blacks, and become much in demand among limousine liberals. In the red (enemy) states such knowledge will be useless.
7 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on December 20, 2007
Being somewhat of a "history buff," I initially thought that this book would be a useful addition to my library in order for I or anyone else to quickly find information on a variety of topics relevant to American history. In scope and usability this book is good. However, after actually using the book several times time it became increasingly evident to me that the portrayal of American history in this book is consistently biased, in this instance from a liberal/progressive/apologetic tilt, to the extent of which I believe it to be detrimental to the reader on account of the selectivity of the information included (or especially not). While many historical essays and other writings are not necessarily objective, I do not believe that a general reference book should be written in such a fashion. Needless to say this book is no longer a part of my library.