America: The Last Best Hope. Volume 1—From the Age of Exploration to a World at War, 1492–1914

William J. Bennett, Author . Nelson Current $29.99 (573p) ISBN 978-1-59555-055-2

Bennett, a secretary of education under President Reagan and author of The Book of Virtues , offers a new, improved history of America, one, he says, that will respark hope and a "conviction about American greatness and purpose" in readers. He believes current offerings do not "give Americans an opportunity to enjoy the story of their country, to take pleasure and pride in what we have done and become." To this end, Bennett methodically hits the expected patriotic high points (Lewis & Clark, the Gettysburg Address) and even, to its credit, a few low ones (Woodrow Wilson's racism, Teddy Roosevelt's unjust dismissal of black soldiers in the Brownsville judgment). America is best suited for a high school or home-schooled audience searching for a general, conservative-minded textbook. More discerning adult readers will find that the lack of originality and the overreliance on a restricted number of dated sources (Samuel Eliot Morison, Daniel Boorstin, Henry Steele Commager) make the book a retread of previous popular histories (such as Boorstin's The Americans ). This is history put to use as inspiration rather than serving to enlighten or explain, but Bennett does succeed in shaping the material into a coherent, readable narrative. (May 23)

Reviewed on: 03/27/2006
Release date: 05/01/2006
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