Albert Fried is, at the very least, an encyclopedist. For the Chronicles represent a vast overview of American history from the 17th century to the present time in fictional form. Purportedly, Julian Prescott, last of an illustrious New England family, has assembled these documents--diaries, letters, sketches, memorabilia accumulated by his family through eleven generations--which tend to give the undoctored version of our past. He begins with the Confessions of Samuel Prescott, a shareholder and divine in the Massachusetts Bay Colony whose account emphasizes the sanctimonious and ruthless aspects of that enterprise. And we conclude with Julian Prescott's assessment, before Fulbright's Congressional Committee, of how the US has strayed from the ideals and best impulses of its founders. The Prescotts are eastern aristocrats, intellectuals, businessmen whose fortunes were made early on; men of leisure with social consciences; a radical or two; advisers at the seat of power--a secretary to Lincoln, a Roughrider and muckraker, a Brains Truster for FDR. There are no ventures into the West, no explorers and no women writers in the Prescott clan. Your inclination is to slide through a lot of this but Fried is very good at encapsulating the high points of inherently dramatic situations.