Following the lead of publishers who've turned presidential biographies and accounts of almost every event during WWII into blockbuster books, Ann Godoff's Penguin Press imprint is launching an ambitious, 50-title line on American history. And these books will have a distinction the flood of other historical titles on the market do not—the endorsement of a group of 12 prominent historians led by Arthur Schlesinger Jr.

"This series will literally reflect the vision of the board; they have editorial autonomy," said Scott Moyers, who will edit the series. To be published as part of the Penguin History of American Life project, a manuscript must be endorsed by all 12 historians on the panel.

Already four proposals have made the cut, covering subjects including post—Civil War reconstruction in the North, the infamous "Camp Grant" massacre of Native Americans, a cultural history of the Great Depression and the history of connections between black Americans and Africa. Moyers said he expects to begin publishing the books in 2005 but that the entire project may take 10 years to complete.