A HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE by Paul Johnson

A HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE

KIRKUS REVIEW

From veteran British popular historian Johnson, an overly exhaustive account of the vigorous and violent growth of several small British colonies into the modern American nation. Although Johnson (The Birth of the Modern, 1991, etc.) purports to present the history of the "American people," his account has an undeniably British orientation; No details can be found here of the cultures of pre-European inhabitants of North America or the history of areas not originally settled by British colonists, such as Louisiana or the Southwest. Johnson divides his account into eight periods, of which some dates seem dubious (one might question dating America's career as a superpower to 1929, the first year of the Great Depression). More troubling, though understandable in a book of this encyclopedic scope, are the author's omissions and occasionally provocative assertions. In his account of the Civil War period, for instance, Johnson fails to discuss the militarily significant Western War, and he asserts, contrary to most accounts and without much apparent authority, that Abraham Lincoln didn't love his wife and didn't like Secretary of State Seward. Johnson traces not only the military, but also the political, social, and cultural history of America. He treats such disparate topics as the poetry of Walt Whitman, the developing role of women in American society, the growth of vast business combinations in the early 20th century, immigration and urbanization, the Vietnam War, and the 1973-74 "putsch against the Executive" (which is what Johnson calls the Watergate scandal). He editorializes on virtually every subject, sometimes controversially. Noting the many problems faced by modern America, Johnson concludes nonetheless that "the story of America is essentially one of difficulties being overcome by intelligence and skill, by faith and strength of purpose, by courage and persistence." A vast tour-de-force of research and writing. Nonetheless, Johnson tries to do too much here, and the overall result is as much of a labor to read as it must have been to write.
Pub Date: March 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-06-016836-6
Page count: 944pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1997




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