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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Book Review: Don’t Know Much About History by Kenneth C. Davis

Dont-Know-Much-About-History
Don’t Know Much About History, Anniversary Edition
by Kenneth C. Davis
Unabridged, 29hr. 26min.
Random House Audio
Arthur Morey, Zach McLarty, and Cassandra Campbell (Narrators)
June 21, 2011
★★★★½☆
Genre: Non-Fiction, History

Source: Personal collection
“Here, celebrating the twentieth anniversary of its debut as a New York Times bestseller, is the revised, updated, and expanded edition of the classic anti-textbook that changed the way we look at history. 
First published two decades ago, when the "closing of the American mind" was in the headlines, Don't Know Much About® History proved Americans don't hate history—just the dull version that was dished out in school. With wit and irreverence, in question-and-answer form, Don't Know Much About® History took readers on a rollicking ride through more than five hundred years of American history, from Columbus's voyages to recent events. The book became an instant classic and has sold more than 1.6 million copies. 
Now Davis has brought his groundbreaking work up to the present, including the history of an "Era of Broken Trust," from the end of the Clinton administration through the recent Great Recession. This additional material covers the horrific events of 9/11and the rise of conspiracy theorists, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Hurricane Katrina and the failure of the New Orleans levees, the global financial meltdown, the election of Barack Obama, and the national controversy of same-sex marriage. 
For history buffs and history-phobes alike, for longtime fans who need a refresher course, and for a new generation of Americans who are still in the dark about America's past, Davis shows once more why People magazine said, "Reading him is like returning to the classroom of the best teacher you ever had."”

Where to start with this review – there are so many things that I want to tell you about this book that they are all fighting to be first on the page. So I apologize if the structure is a bit off.

I always thought that I knew a lot about American history – certainly more than my peers in school, that much was obvious. But, reading this book certainly showed me the areas where I was weak, but also reinforced that I did indeed know a decent amount about history. The edition that I read was a revised edition which actually took events up through 2011 – so it was great to be able to read something that was very up to date and for once included some history that I have actually lived through (that was a first!). The topics that were chosen for selection were a mix of the commonly discussed (ie. Civil Rights Movement and American Revolution) and the not-so-often (ie. the Pumpkin Papers and the Mormons).

The structure of this book will be hit or miss for readers in my opinion. The author sets it up in a question and answer format – so each topic is opened with a question (as if someone was asking it in class) and then he provides a discussion. To give you an idea of the questions: Why did Aaron Burr shoot Alexander Hamilton? or Why was President Johnson impeached? I thought that the format worked really well because it made it easier as a reader to focus on a particular subject instead of it just reading as a continuous narrative. The book was broken down into chapters and then there would be approximately 20 questions or so in each chapter that related to the overall topic.

There are also two subsections peppered throughout most chapters – “American Voices” and “Must Read”. I appreciated both of these additions to the text. American Voices usually helped set the reader up for the next topic by providing an excerpt from a document, book, or speech that pertained to it. Must Read is just as it sounds, extended readings about the topic previously discussed. I can tell you that I added all of these to my reading list as his introductions have encouraged me to want to know more!

If all history texts were presented in this engaging of a manner, I don’t think we would have students trying to skip history period. I can’t wait for his newest book that comes out this fall which is right up my alley – Don’t Know Much About the American Presidents.

audiobookimpressions
★★★★☆

The narration was very well done – with non-fiction of this span of time it could have the potential to fall into bouts of boring, but that did not happen here. The questions were proposed by two different narrators alternating back and forth – sort of a simulation of a classroom. The explanations were provided by a third narrator – representing the teacher. The format worked well enough on audio, but I think it would have been better appreciated in print – it took me awhile to figure out if the American Voices was related to the previous topic or the upcoming. There is also a great appendix in the back of the book on the Amendments to the Constitution and the Presidents which would be great to have on hand.

Author Kenneth C. Davis also has written the following for adults: Don’t Know Much About the Bible, Don’t Know Much About the Civil War, Don’t Know Much About Geography, Don’t Know Much About Mythology, and the upcoming Don’t Know Much About the American Presidents. He also has a series of books for kids focused on specific topics such as the Pilgrims or Space. You can view the whole children’s list here. You can visit the author’s website for additional information about the book. If you would like to preview the story before reading it, why not try out this audio excerpt of the book?
 


Other bloggers who reviewed this book:


Here are some choices for purchasing the book: Amazon, B&N, RJ Julia (my fav indie bookstore).


 




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