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I Wish I'd Been There: Twenty Historians Bring to Life the Dramatic Events That Changed America (Vintage) Paperback

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Product Details

  • Series: Vintage
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (September 4, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400096545
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400096541
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.3 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #390,809 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

If she could be a fly on the wall at a pivotal moment in American history, Mary Beth Norton would have witnessed the Salem witch trials. These were driven not by greed or, as Arthur Miller would have it, by adultery, she writes, but by Massachusetts colonists' overwhelming fears about the frontier war with the Wabanaki Indians. Gathered by Hollinshead, former president of Oxford University Press and publisher of the military history journal MHQ, the best pieces in this uniformly perceptive and provocative volume dispel popular myths and serve up familiar events and heroes from fresh vantage points. According to Joseph Ellis, George Washington spent most of his first term trying to find a just solution to the Native American sovereignty problem and bribed a Creek chief to achieve his goals. Geoffrey Ward wonders if FDR's physicians gave him the lowdown on his failing health before he decided to run for a fourth term, and William Leuchtenburg reimagines the tongue-lashing LBJ gave fellow "good ole boy" George Wallace before the 1965 civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery. Personal essays on the Scopes "monkey" trial, the day Lincoln was shot and the flourishing Indian metropolis of Cahokia (in present-day Illinois) circa 1030 round out this tantalizing collection. B&w illus. (Oct. 3)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Countless historians and lay thinkers have expressed their fantasy of being a "fly on the wall," able to view and listen in as a particular moment in history unfolded. Hollinshead has assembled an anthology of these participatory fantasies, written by 20 prominent historians. Through the imagined experiences of these historians, we can spend a day in -eleventh-century Cahokia, the Native American metropolis on the Great Plains; we can join Meriwether Lewis as he straddles the Continential Divide and puts to rest the dream of the Northwest Passage; we can sit in the sweltering courtroom as Bryan and Darrow joust over evolution. Although the various descriptions are well grounded in historical fact, they are inevitably filtered through the biases of the individual historians, and some will dispute their interpretations of reality. So this may not be strictly data-driven history, but it is provocative and should be a fun read for both historians and general readers. Jay Freeman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Lynn Harnett VINE VOICE on October 9, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Given a chance to let their imaginations round out their expertise, these historians and writers flesh out the incidents in American history that most fascinate them. This is an inviting and intriguing premise for those of us who like our history served up in short dramatic narratives. And it's mostly successful, although, as with any anthology, some writers are better than others, and some pivotal events are more riveting or moving or impressive than others.

Arranged chronologically, the anthology begins with the elaborate funeral of a chieftain in 1030 Cahokia, a metropolis on the Mississippi, as witnessed by Biloine Young. It concludes with William Leuchtenburg's discussion of Lyndon Johnson's heated confrontation with George Wallace before the 1965 civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.

In between we see the Lewis and Clark expedition crossing the Continental Divide with the help of the Shoshone Indians, George Washington in a post-revolutionary moment of diplomatic eloquence, the shooting of Abraham Lincoln, the Salem witch trials, the Amistad trial, singer Jenny Lind's American debut, John Brown's strange and reckless stand at Harper's Ferry, the surrender of the Nez Perce Indians in 1877, the Scopes trial, FDR's turn for the worse before his fourth-term election, JFK and the Vietnam war, the civil rights struggle, and more.

Though each writer focuses on a particular moment in time, they bring their considerable knowledge of the background and subsequent results to bear, fixing the moment in context.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Monty Rainey VINE VOICE on October 11, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Just imagine the kind of performances you might see if renowned actors and actresses such as Nicholson, Pacino, Hepburn, Streep, Duvall, DeNiro and a cast of others were given the chance to stand up on stage and portray their favorite characters and performances. That's precisely what we have presented here with a talented cast of historians lending their personal renditions to historical accounts they are most fascinated with. Noted historians such as Remini and Ellis are joined by a cast of writers from various backgrounds that give a wealth of variety to this presentation.

Their imaginations will take the reader through an incredible journey of historical events, presented chronologically from the ancient metropolis that is now the Cahokia mounds along the Mississippi River in the year 1030 to the turmoil of the Civil Rights marches of Alabama in 1965. There is certainly something here for every historical taste. The writing, for the most part, is superb, though a few stand out above the others. I wont disclose my personal favorites as that should be left to each reader to discern for themselves, but suffice it to say, if you love history, you will not be disappointed here.

You will likely find events you are quite familiar with, such as Lewis and Clark on the Great Divide, as well as others you may know little or nothing about. Such was the case for me with the opening narrative of Cahokia.

If you like your history reading varied and in rather small doses, this is a must read. I believe this would also be of great benefit for students wanting to explore a variety of essays to lead them towards further studies of specific events. I would have liked a more indepth bibliography, but we cant have everything.

Monty Rainey

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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Armchair Interviews on September 7, 2007
Format: Paperback
Twenty historians and writers of historical fiction were asked to pick a defining event in American history and write an account of it. Given the sheer number of significant events in American history and the various lenses one could use to view history, picking a single event (or compiling twenty events) becomes a daunting task. The selection is a reflection of the authors' personal choices. One willl remember endeavors like this one for their omissions-rather than their accomplishments.

Arranged chronologically, this work begins with the funeral of a chieftain in Cahokia and ends with Lyndon Johnson's conversation with George Wallace in regard to civil rights. It also includes Washington's treaty with the Creek Nation Indians, Lincoln's assassination, the Salem witchcraft trial, the Amistad trial, the Scopes trial, Lewis and Clark expedition, Jenny Lind's debut in New York, Chief Joseph's surrender at Bear Paw Mountains, John Brown's stand at Harper's Ferry, John and Robert Kennedy discussing the Vietnam war, and others.

The contributors were given liberties to hear testimonies that were not written down, witness reactions which are not recorded, listen to thoughts that are only imagined, and experience conditions that are conjured up for that time period. As with works like this one, readers would find certain chapters more appealing than others, certain events more interesting than others and certain writing styles more provocative than others.

We engage in role play everyday. Our moments of empathy bear witness to such role play. Hence the idea of compiling a book where the author is free to role play is a good one. The "short story" format of the book allows the reader to take in history in small doses.
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