Mainstream history at its best--and with the inevitable shortcomings. Tindall (North Carolina) plows through the story from Columbus to Reagan with a no-nonsense, just-the-facts-please authority that will gladden anyone who thinks modern historians haven't got the gumption to try serious narrative--or the skill to pull it off if they do. It's mostly the standard politics-and-government approach, to be sure--the 30-odd chapters and carefully-sliced chapter sections stick pretty close to the basic ""presidential"" outline for a two-semester undergraduate American history survey--but this is too challenging and reflective to be a mere textbook. Besides, Tindall doesn't entirely ignore social and cultural matters. At regular intervals he slows down for up-to-date ruminations about such matters as the ""biological exchange"" between Old World and New, the Irish precedents for English colonization of North America, New England town life, revolutionary republicanism, demography, women and the family, slave society, modernist culture, and the like. The trouble is that most of these subjects, or at least the best recent work on them, cannot be so easily disposed of. Their attraction for historians nowadays is precisely that they argue for other, perhaps more critical and chastening versions of the story about the ordinary men and women whose lives are just becoming visible. Tindall knows this. His two volumes suffer from none of the silly, Whiggish optimism that usually infects projects conceived along the same lines--no ""rising democracy,"" ""growing republic,"" or that sort of thing--and he doesn't scruple to talk about paradox, irony, and tragedy. In the end, though, that is as far as he goes. For a wide spectrum of readers, nonetheless, Tindall's brisk, intelligent chronicle, with period illustrations and maps throughout, will be a welcome mean, as of now.