With the road to the White House getting shorter by the day for the candidates, it’s a great time to brush up on your American History. These variously fascinating, surprising, informative and funny books can help fill in the blanks from whatever musty textbook was assigned the last time you took an American History class.
Kenneth C. Davis, author of the phenomenal New York Times bestseller Don’t Know Much About History, presents a collection of extraordinary stories, each detailing an overlooked episode that shaped the nation’s destiny and character. Davis’s dramatic narratives set the record straight, busting myths and bringing to light little-known but fascinating facts from a time when the nation’s fate hung in the balance.
Spanning a period from the Spanish arrival in America to George Washington’s inauguration in 1789, America’s Hidden History details these episodes, among others:
The story of the first real Pilgrims in America, who were wine-making French Huguenots, not dour English Separatists
The coming-of-age story of Queen Isabella, who suggested that Columbus pack the moving mess hall of pigs that may have spread disease to many Native Americans
The long, bloody relationship between the Pilgrims and Indians that runs counter to the idyllic scene of the Thanksgiving feast
The little-known story of George Washington as a headstrong young soldier who committed a war crime, signed a confession, and started a war!
Full of color, intrigue, and human interest, America’s Hidden History is an iconoclastic look at America’s past, connecting some of the dots between history and today’s headlines, proving why Davis is truly America’s Teacher.
Americans have debated the Constitution since the day it was signed, but rarely in its 223-year history have so many disagreed so fiercely about so much. Everywhere there seems to be a debate about the Constitution’s meaning and message. The Tea Party, with its almost fanatical focus on the founding documents, contends that its primary purpose is to restrain the federal government—but does it really say that?
Among scholars, some believe the Constitution should be interpreted exactly as the framers wrote it, while others analyze the text just as closely to find the elasticity they believe the framers had in mind. But how could the founding fathers know about the world today, with DNA, sexting, airplanes, TV, Medicare, computers and Lady Gaga? In this probing and accessible book, TIME’s editors bring the founding document to life, showing how it was written in a spirit of change and revolution and turbulence.
With an introduction by one of America’s top jurists, an essay by TIME managing editor Richard Stengel (former president of the National Constitution Center), and the full text of the 8,000-word Constitution annotated to show its most controversial passages and little-known quirks, TIME’s compact volume will be an indispensable guide for the well-informed citizen.
America’s Women tells the story of more than four centuries of history. It features a stunning array of personalities, from the women peering worriedly over the side of the Mayflower to feminists having a grand old time protesting beauty pageants and bridal fairs. Courageous, silly, funny, and heartbreaking, these women shaped the nation and our vision of what it means to be female in America.
By culling the most fascinating characters — the average as well as the celebrated — Gail Collins, the editorial page editor at the New York Times, charts a journey that shows how women lived, what they cared about, and how they felt about marriage, sex, and work. She begins with the lost colony of Roanoke and the early southern “tobacco brides” who came looking for a husband and sometimes — thanks to the stupendously high mortality rate — wound up marrying their way through three or four.
Spanning wars, the pioneering days, the fight for suffrage, the Depression, the era of Rosie the Riveter, the civil rights movement, and the feminist rebellion of the 1970s, America’s Women describes the way women’s lives were altered by dress fashions, medical advances, rules of hygiene, social theories about sex and courtship, and the ever-changing attitudes toward education, work, and politics. While keeping her eye on the big picture, Collins still notes that corsets and uncomfortable shoes mattered a lot, too.
“The history of American women is about the fight for freedom,” Collins writes in her introduction, “but it’s less a war against oppressive men than a struggle to straighten out the perpetually mixed message about women’s roles that was accepted by almost everybody of both genders.”
Told chronologically through the compelling stories of individual lives that, linked together, provide a complete picture of the American woman’s experience, America’s Women is both a great read and a landmark work of history.
Simon Winchester, the acclaimed New York Times bestselling author of Atlantic and The Professor and the Madman, delivers his first book about America: a fascinating popular history that illuminates the men who toiled fearlessly to discover, connect, and bond the citizenry and geography of the U.S.A. from its beginnings.
How did America become “one nation, indivisible”? What unified a growing number of disparate states into the modern country we recognize today? To answer these questions, Winchester follows in the footsteps of America’s most essential explorers, thinkers, and innovators, such as Lewis and Clark and the leaders of the Great Surveys; the builders of the first transcontinental telegraph and the powerful civil engineer behind the Interstate Highway System. He treks vast swaths of territory, from Pittsburgh to Portland, Rochester to San Francisco, Seattle to Anchorage, introducing the fascinating people who played a pivotal role in creating today’s United States.
Throughout, he ponders whether the historic work of uniting the States has succeeded, and to what degree. Featuring 32 illustrations throughout the text, The Men Who United the States is a fresh look at the way in which the most powerful nation on earth came together.
From Thomas Jefferson to William Jefferson Clinton, Scorpion Tongues is a popular history of gossip in American politics.
Complete with wickedly delightful anecdotes of major and minor politicians and entertainers over the last 200 years, Gail Collins examines the evolving relationship between politicians and the press and the blurring of the lines between politicians and celebrities.
Supported by extensive research and written with an entertaining flair, she speculates on how gossip reflects the current moral compass of the time, noting how a rumor, like an unpredictable summer tornado, can flatten one reputation while a similar story passes over another with hardly a rustle.
“Hilariously readable” (The Economist), Scorpion Tongues offers sinful scandals and mild hearsay for every taste.
Also, if you’re a fan of both comedy AND history, be sure to check out Drunk History in the Instant Video Store. This show features drunk people re-telling famous and lesser-known incidents from American history while actors act out the scenes while lip-syncing to the drunk person’s narration, burps, slurred words and all. Season one is currently part of the Amazon Prime catalog, so it’s free for Prime members to view, but it’s well worth the purchase price also! Here’s a sample — Note that while this clip doesn’t contain any strong language, the actual episodes often do—though they’ve been censored with bleeps and pixelation.