Don't Know Much about History: Everything You Need to Know about American History But Never Learned
Kenneth C. Davis. HarperCollins Publishers, $26.99 (704pp) ISBN 978-0-06-008381-6
Davis, author of the trademarked series of Don't Know Much About primers, seeks to dispel public boredom and ignorance about history and correct mistakes about various historical events in this update of his bestselling survey of American history. He arranges the book around a series of short essays on questions ranging from the basic (e.g.,""Why did the southern states secede from the United States?"") to the esoteric (""What was Teddy Roosevelt's grandson doing in Iran?""), intended to crystallize larger themes in our country's past. Davis's engaging treatment is spicy but judicious. He notes sex scandals from Alexander Hamilton's to Bill Clinton's, tamps out JFK conspiracy theories and speculation about J. Edgar Hoover's cross-dressing, and debunks myths like the legend of Betsy Ross and the movie Mississippi Burning. He provides sharply drawn, even-handed accounts of controversies, and his verdicts are generally well considered. Unfortunately, because discussions are usually tied to colorful personalities, heroic movements and dramatic crises, processes that are quiet but profound, such as the post-war rise of suburbia and the decline of unions, tend to get slighted. There's lots of history to browse through here, but little historiography to tie it together; while the book is far superior to standard high-school treatments, and a valuable reference for students young and old, it still leaves the impression that history is just one damn thing after another.
Reviewed on: 04/01/2003
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