Suggested Readings in Modern American History

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A continuation of the list on the previous page you may have visited.

Page Smith. A People's History of the United States. Smith has always been one of my favorite historians. His “People's History” has a separate title for each volume—8 in all. It is the only full length history of the U.S. written in the 20th century. It began with A New Age Now Begins: A People's History of the American Revolution. It took Smith three volumes to get through that (to about 1800) and his publisher persuaded him to “finish the job.” He did, and we can be grateful.

Volumes 6, 7 and 8 of Smith's People's History are:

  • The Rise of Industrial America: A People's History of the Post-Reconstruction Era
  • America Enters the World: A People's History of the Progressive Era and World War I
  • Redeeming the Time: A People's History of the 1920s and the New Deal

Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. by Ron Chernow. “Rich as Rockefeller” is an epithet that needs no explanation, but John D. was more then just an oil magnate. Though a ruthless competitor in business, he used much of his wealth to do good works in the fields of medicine and education.

Hershey: Milton S. Hershey's Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams by Michael D'Antonio tells the story of a man who was not afraid to fail. Although his chocolate empire made him rihc, he broke the mold of the typical “robber baron” of his era and turned his attention to helping those less fortunate than he.

H.W. Brands: TR: The Last Romantic. This is not a “psycho biography,” but Brands offers a fine analysis of what made Teddy run. See also the author's Reckless Decade about the 1890s—interesting how much that decade had in common with the 1990s.

John Keegan: The Second World War. Keegan is a well-known military historian and this book offers interesting insights into the colossal effort made by the Allies 1941-1945

Thomas Fleming. The New Dealers' War: FDR and the War Within World War II. This is revisionist history at its fiercest. Fleming paints as unflattering a picture of FDR during the war years as you will find anywhere, and although it may seem extreme in its criticism, the documentation is sound. Not the last word on FDR by any means, but this certainly is an alternative to many of the books which have lionized FDR

Doris Kearns Goodwin. No Ordinary Time. A wonderful writer tells what it was like in the White House during World War II. Great stories and good history—and some clear implications for the way in which we view the private lives of our presidents in more recent times. See also her fascinating Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream (under Kearns, before she became Goodwin.)

William Manchester. An American Caesar. A fine historian's very readable biography of General Douglas MacArthur, one of America's most fascinating characters.

American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin. An excellent biography of a loyal American who was badly treated by the nation he served. The man most responsible for the creation of the atomic bomb, he nevertheless fought against the proliferation of much more powerful hydrogen bombs, unfortunately with no success.

Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson covers the life and achievements of this extraordinary human being. Einstein's theories are still being discussed and evaluated as the scientific world moves into areas even Einstein could scarcely contemplate. Yet his general theory of relativity stands as a monument to progress.

FDR by Jean Edward Smith is a recent biography of the man who presided over the Depression and World War II years. It is far from the first biography of FDR, and will certainly not be the last of the man who served in the White House longer than any other president.

A. Scott Berg. Lindbergh. Berg is a superb biographer, and this new life of Charles Lindbergh is a great read. Berg used thousands of pages of the Lindbergh personal papers in writing this fine work as well as interviews with Anne Morrow Lindbergh and the Lindbergh children—it is a history of the major events of the 20th century of which Lindbergh was a part.

Robert Pirsig: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Not really about history, but nevertheless my favorite book. I have read it at least seven or eight times, once recently—still as good as when I first read it in 1979. I often teach it in literature classes. Recently a student recommended a novel that has much in common with "ZAMM", Sophie's World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy by Jostein Gaarder. (Thank you, Nellie.)

Ray Kurzweil.  The Age of Spiritual MachinesIf you want an intelligent, informed idea of what the future of the computer age is going to be like, this is the book. Kurzweil's predictions in the past have been uncannily correct—if “Kurzweil's future” accurately depicts where things are heading, it's going to be very exciting.

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