American History Books
July 24, 2006 9:20 AM   Subscribe

AmericanHistoryFilter: Looking for a book (or books) to learn about american history from 1500 to 1850.

I'm looking for an overview of american history (up to the middle/end of the 1800s) that is witty and engaging. Most of the books I've found are fairly dry and, while filled with facts, aren't very interesting. Can you recommend a book or two to help me out?
[note: I am familiar with canadian history, just not as much with the rest of North America.]
posted by blue_beetle to Law & Government (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Look no further than Larry Gonick's Cartoon History of the United States.

Brilliantly written, well illustrated, and easy to digest.
posted by cosmicbandito at 9:27 AM on July 24, 2006

Best answer: howard zinn's people's history of the united states -- this will offer a fresh perspective on US history that almost every other history book neatly skims over.
posted by yonation at 9:27 AM on July 24, 2006

I posted a similar question last week. Not all of it applies to the time period you are looking for, but still some good stuff in there.
posted by dead_ at 9:36 AM on July 24, 2006

Do you mean US-American history? North American history? Or the history of the Americas?

If US-American history, do you want the history of those regions that are now part of the US from before they were part of the US (California and Texas when they were Mexico, Louisiana when it was France)? Or are you just interested in English-speaking history?
posted by croutonsupafreak at 9:44 AM on July 24, 2006

The American pageant (any edition) by Thomas Bailey, et. al, while long, is an excellent book. It's more readable than most history books due to its flowery language.

It covers all of U.S. history, and you can pick up an old edition for dirt cheap on eBay. I read the book for my U.S. AP history class 4 years back, and liked it. That said, I did end up reading 1000+ pages.
posted by creeront at 9:47 AM on July 24, 2006

Zinn's book is also a cartoon, in its own way.

You question covers a long time period, it there something that particularly interests you--military history, Indians, religious history, the Revolution, trade?
posted by LarryC at 10:26 AM on July 24, 2006

Response by poster: Clarification: I'm only interested in the history of the United States of America. Not Canada, Mexico, or the various islands of the carribean. I would accept histories of the United States as it exists in alternate dimensions, but would still prefer something primarily focused on the country in this reality.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:52 AM on July 24, 2006

Response by poster: Clarification #2: I'm looking for general interest topics, nothing specific. I have lived in the USA for about a year now and would like to have a deeper understanding of this country, and where she came from.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:53 AM on July 24, 2006

Best answer: U.S. History for Dummies
posted by caddis at 11:00 AM on July 24, 2006

You're more likely to find interesting books on narrow subject areas and uninteresting books on wider areas. Anything approaching textbookhood will be boring, but you can find lots of interesting books with narrower focuses covering topics you might find interesting. You might skim some general-history books and find more specific topics that interest you. You can also find short, readable books covering medium-sized hunks of American history, like, for example, James Sharp's American Politics in the Early Republic, about the years after the Revolution.
posted by goatdog at 11:02 AM on July 24, 2006

Best answer: Don't know Much About History is my personal favorite, as you specified "witty and engaging". Davis' other "Don't Know..." books are good as well.
posted by thanotopsis at 11:43 AM on July 24, 2006

As I said in the earlier thread:

And the single best book on the pre-Revolutionary history of North America (not just the Anglo bits) is Alan Taylor's American Colonies; I learned something new on just about every page, and Taylor isn't afraid of making sweeping statements—opening at random to p. 89, I find: "The Pueblo Revolt of 1680 was the greatest setback that natives ever inflicted on European expansion in North America." Superb bibliography as well, which will point you to more detailed works on periods that interest you.
posted by languagehat at 12:00 PM on July 24, 2006

Best answer: I studied American History last semester at uni and found two texts that were extremely helpful with a general overview of history for someone who had very limited knowledge on the topic.

The Great Republic: A History of the American People (from memory, this one comes in two volumes, one from 1500 to the end of the Civil War and the other from the Reconstruction period onwards. )

Who Built America? (also in a two volume format similar to the great republic.)
posted by cholly at 3:24 PM on July 24, 2006

I'd have to offer another strong endorsement of Taylor's American Colonies. (Full disclosure: I know the author, but I am nor recommending the book for that reason.) He's an outstanding writer--he won a Pulitzer Prize for his second book, and several prizes for AC as well. And while I understand your desire to look only at the US, remember that there was no United States before 1776. So any history that covers the fifteenth, sixteenth, or seventeenth centuries will necessarily look at colonial developments within a broader context.
posted by jsmolenski at 5:29 PM on April 4, 2007

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