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The American Reader: Words That Moved a Nation [Paperback]

Diane Ravitch
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)

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Book Description

September 5, 2000 0062737333 978-0062737335 2 Rev Sub

The American Reader is a stirring and memorable anthology that captures the many facets of American culture and history in prose and verse. The 200 poems, speeches, songs, essays, letters, and documents were chosen both for their readability and for their significance. These are the words that have inspired, enraged, delighted, chastened, and comforted Americans in days gone by. Gathered here are the writings that illuminate—with wit, eloquence, and sometimes sharp words—significant aspects of national conciousness. They reflect the part that all Americans—black and white, native born and immigrant, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American, poor and wealthy—have played in creating the nation's character.

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Editorial Reviews


"Far more than a marvelous collection of text and images, Ravitch's anthology is also a journey through the American democratic experience." -- -- Albert Shanker, former president, American Federation of Teachers

"Patriotic in the best and broadest, nonpartisan, and large-spirited sense." -- -- Booklist

"The American Reader is a splendid collection of the words and sentiments that have shaped our nation." -- -- E. D. Hirsch, author of Cultural Literacy

"This unique multicultural patchwork of political and literary American writ-ings-some famous, some virtually unknown-is a treasure." -- -- USA Today

About the Author

Diane Ravitch, a historian of education, is Research Professor at New York University, holds Brown Chair in Education Studies at the Brookings Institution, and is a Fellow at the Manhattan Institute. A former Guggenheim Fellow and recipient of many awards, she is also the author of the recent book Left Back: A Century of Failed School Reforms.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 656 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; 2 Rev Sub edition (September 5, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062737333
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062737335
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.3 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #19,661 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Diane Ravitch

I was born in Houston, Texas, in 1938. I am third of eight children. I attended the public schools in Houston from kindergarten through high school (San Jacinto High School, 1956, yay!). I then went to Wellesley College, where I graduated in 1960.

Within weeks after graduation from Wellesley, I married. The early years of my marriage were devoted to raising my children. I had three sons: Joseph, Steven, and Michael. Steven died of leukemia in 1966. I now have four grandsons, Nico, Aidan, Elijah, and Asher.

I began working on my first book in the late 1960s. I also began graduate studies at Columbia University. My mentor was Lawrence A. Cremin, a great historian of education. The resulting book was a history of the New York City public schools, called "The Great School Wars," published in 1974. I received my Ph.D. in the history of American education in 1975. In 1977, I wrote "The Revisionists Revised." In 1983 came "The Troubled Crusade." In 1985, "The Schools We Deserve." In 1987, with my friend Checker Finn, "What Do Our 17-Year-Olds Know?" In 1991, "The American Reader." In 1995, "National Standards in American Education." In 2000, "Left Back." In 2003, "The Language Police." In 2006, "The English Reader," with my son Michael Ravitch. Also in 2006, "Edspeak." I have also edited several books with Joseph Viteritti.

My last book, "The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education," was a national bestseller. It addressed the most important education issues of our time. It was read by teachers, parents, and students and was a source of great joy to me.

My newest book "Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools" is a call to arms. It documents the false narrative that has been used to attack American public education, and names names. It also contains specific and evidence-based recommendations about how we can improve our schools and our society.

To follow my ongoing work read my blog at, where there is a lively conversation among educators and parents about the future of education.

Diane Ravitch

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars LOVE THIS BOOK! February 6, 2001
By "edu20"
The American Reader is an anthology of wonderful poems and speeches from critical figures in American history. It is not only perfect for the classroom, but a great bedside companion. I like to read a different selection every night. It is a good tool for self-education, for those of us who had too much "social studies" and not enough real history. And it is fun to read. I love it.
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35 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What We've Lost Is Found Again February 8, 2001
By A Customer
With the politicization of the schools and the increasing emphasis on race, gender and enthnicity as guides to the "multicultural" curriculum, we have lost the emphasis on our common heritage that should bind us together as a nation and a society. The sad proof of this is how little American kids know about the past that is their cultural patrimony. National Assessment of Educational Progress tests have revealed that three quarters of high school juniors tested did not know when Abraham Lincoln was president; one third did not know what the Brown Decision was about, and 70% could not identify the Magna Carta. One third did not know that the phrase "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" is from the Declaration of Independence; many were unfamiliar with the Getysburg Address. The American Reader is the best corrective to this situation that there is. Between its covers it presents those words that define our country's past and have expressed its goals and its dreams, its efforts and its achievements. This is what American children should be reading in school. Since many of them are not doing so, this book should be in every home, ready at hand to every parent and teacher.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, outstanding read for home or school! January 2, 1999
By A Customer
This book is fun to read and an excellent source of classic Americana. Ravitch's selections reflect the pulse of the nation. It contains a rich selection of poetry, essays, speeches, folk songs that map the American experience. It offers insight into who we are as Americans and how we got there.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful book! February 5, 2001
By A Customer
I love this book. I enjoy reading the poems and speeches that represent our American heritage. I have shared it with my children and like to read them some of my own favorites. I warmly recommend it to parents and teachers!!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great anthology December 28, 2010
By Eric B
I loved reading this book. Most of the 18th century and early 19th century stuff I had read before. But still it's great to have important documents in one place. i particularly enjoyed the juxtaposition of politics with poetry. I must take issue with a reviewer who disliked this book and wrote, "This book should really be titled The Anti-American Reader. The book is dominated by lame poetry about and by Blacks and Women ..."
Emily Dickinson and Langston Hughes are among the greatest writers America has ever produced. If anyone thinks that Dickinson's "Success is counted Sweetest" is a "lame" poem then they should have stayed awake during high school English class.
I do have one suggestion for the next edition of this book: Instead of Whitman's "O Captain, My Captain," and "I Hear America Singing"--two rather overrated works--Ravitch should include Whitman's masterful elegy to Lincoln, "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed."
Finally to the reviewer who wrote "I will burn this book," I have a better idea: Donate this wonderful book to the high school nearest you so that the students there can read this book and get a better education than you received.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Golden Age never was the present Age (B. Franklin) November 8, 2012
By Ann A.
This is a new edition of essays compiled by Diane Ravitch, which I bought because someone "borrowed" my old copy and never brought it back. In the preface, she writes that she removed pieces written after 1970 from this edition, because "1) she hasn't found poems, essays, speeches written in the past 30 years that match the literary quality of the earlier selections and resonate in the national consciousness 2) cultural authenticity is harder to find than in the past and 3) we tend now to turn to social scientists rather than poets and songwriters to express and understand our concerns, and they tend not to write in literary style."

These are strong opinions, which I appreciate in a writer, although I partially disagree. Maybe she's right about the genres in this book, but contemporary fiction is arguably better. The second point needs clarification, and some social scientists are also "literary."

But Ravitch has chosen wonderful pieces! As I was re-reading the first selections - William Bradford on the landing at Plymouth, James Otis, John Adams, Patrick Henry, and Alexander Hamilton on freedom and liberty, a group of unnamed Massachusetts slaves petitioning the governor, and Chief Logan's heartbreaking lament, I could not help but compare the eloquence, intelligence, honor and fiery patriotism with the rhetoric we have been hearing in the current election cycle, which seems more about the horse race than anything. No matter what your political affiliation is, to read these words and compare them to what most pundits and politicians say today is to read and weep. Maybe I was particularly affected this way because we just had an election. But what is really amazing about these selections is how timely, important, and universal they are. I wish every American would read this book.

This book is useful for teachers, writers, or anyone interested in our nation's history.
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