Kenneth Davis - Don't Know Much About History

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Don't Know Much About History:And After This book I Still Don't

Jan 25, 2002 (Updated Jan 26, 2002)
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Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Covers many original facts and speculative ideas about U.S. History

Cons:Gaps in the historical timeline leave big holes in the understanding.

The Bottom Line: This eventually should be read by everyone who is interested in U.S. History, but it does have a prejudiced perspective.


Well, okay, here I go against the grain of the majority of epinionators again.

At the outset I need to tell you a couple of things, no. make that four things, about this book.

First, I do recommend that you read it if you like American history. It really is very entertaining and occasionally edifying.

Second, every historian has their prejudices and biases and they come through pretty glaringly in this little volume.

Third, if you don't have a good historical background on American history before you read this book, you will still probably go away from it not knowing all that much about American history because the author zeroes in on isolated issues and events without a truly very coherent or very deep or descriptive sense of the overall context of U.S. history; just the "hot spots".

Fourth, I find it a little audacious and self-centered to name a book "Don't Know Much About History" which is limited only to the history of one nation in the world (the U.S.A.). Gosh- you mean there's more to the world than us?

All that said, I'll give it a charitable 4 stars mainly because I think it was gutsy of the author to do a sort of "Dummy's Guide to..." and to try to break American history down into digestible pieces.

The book attempts to trace American history back to the "discovery" of America by Europeans in the 1000 A.D- 1500 A.D. period. The book does acknowledge that the FIRST discoverers were probably Asian nomads in the 30,000-40,000 B.C. period who came across the Bering Straits and populated the "Americas" and became what Europeans would later label the "Indians" (actually, they were the Native Americans), but hey, why let a little universal viewpoint stand in the way; let's call the first European explorers the "first discoverers". After all, we're the Dominant Culture aren't we? (Hee-hee----not for long---).

Anyway, the book jumps into one era and out the other in American history essentially gently bashing entrepreneurs, presidents, and other authority figures left and right and glorifying the Common People, like the script of a Frank Capra movie. If you're a Democrat, you'll like this book. On the other hand, if you're a Republican stockbroker, you may find it stepping on the toes of your polished wingtips.

The best part of the book, aside from the fact that it so disarmingly gives you an overview of many of the highlights of U.S. history, is that in roughly 10% of the material you really will learn some things they never taught you in U.S. History 101. Like, for example, I always had been taught that the Stock Market Crash of '29 triggered the Great Depression. Not so, the author says convincingly- we would have probably had a Great Depression even if there had not been a Stock Market Crash because of the risky way the economy was going at that time in history. The author also posits some other interesting theories such as that some American intelligence experts knew ahead of time that Pearl Harbor was going to be attacked but because they were racists they didn't think the "inferior" Japanese were smart enough to mount a serious attack. You ought to read the book just to get those new ideas and sometimes pretty wild theories in the 10% area I've described.

This book would be a great discussion starter for people who want to talk about U.S. history on such subjects as "Who was the best and the worst president?", "Why wasn't slavery abolished sooner?" and that sort of thing. The narrative style is actually very stimulating while very educational. It's like listening to Chevy Chase tell about the game of golf in CADDYSHACK, if you get my drift. It holds your attention even if a few of the author's opinions don't seem to hold water.

Is this a good gift for a high school and college student taking U.S. History? In some cases, yes, but I don't think it serves that much of a beneficial purpose for most students. Better to let them take the basic course rather than send them off onto tangents, some of which are pretty speculative, with this book. But after they have a pretty good sense of history in this area- ah, then let them check out all the things the author of this book says.

Well, there you have it. This is a book written bravely which does some interesting things to your knowledge of U.S. history but is decidedly slanted by the author's political perspective. But it's a fun book anyway, and if you ever have the chance to read it you'll probably enjoy it.


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