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The Penguin History of the United States of America
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45 of 46 people found the following review helpful
on 24 January 2002
Prof. Brogan can little have suspected when he wrote the first edition in 1983, or updated it in 1995, that the USA would be thrust centre-stage quite so dramatically as it was on the morning of September 11th 2001. Yet, anyone seeking explanations of the American response since, or Americans seeking reasons for the apparent mixed feelings which the rest of the world harbours about their country will find many answers in this wide-ranging and comprehensive study
The book covers the period from the voyage of Columbus to nearly the present day. It is densely packed with fact which illustrates political, economic, and social progress of the USA. The period up to and including the Civil war is dealt with dutifully but unenthusiastically, and the period from '83 to '95 is slightly glib, but the strength of the book is the period from the civil war to the Vietnam war.
Prof Brogan's enthusiasm for the country and admiration of the indomitable spirit of the people shines through in this middle section. I found myself surprised at the extent to which what through British eyes seems eccentric or idiosyncratic behaviour (eg. some of the states' rights, kitchen cabinets of rich industrialists, even Presidential mistresses) is often rooted in history and tradition.
Despit the length of this book it remains readable throughout. The author moves easily from detail to broad themes and back, and his dry humour lightens many passages. Readers of all nationalities will find this account of American history through British eyes adds to their understanding of modern America and its place in the world.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 7 September 2009
I did not read History at University and had embarassingly little knowledge of American history. I found this work useful and engaging, and a good background to have when reading American literature and appreciating other forms of American culture.

The writing is clear. Events are well summarised, characters presented with subtlety and the significance of social change is discussed in detail. The author raises pertinant questions but does not let the commentary reach an exhausting level of detail. I feel not only that I have learnt many facts but also gained some actual insight into American History.

The work is slightly on the `academic' side but I was very frustrated that the publishers did not think it useful to include any maps nor even a glossary of terms or a good annotated bibliography. Shame on them.

Another reservation is the handling of the war periods: I would have liked a clearer depiction of the timelines and the decisive moments of the various conflicts.

To summarise: this was a good read and a useful basis on which to build. There are not that many histories of the USA .... this book only goes as far as R. Regan and I now need to find a history of 'contemporary' USA to complete the picture.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 23 November 2012
Penguin have published a number of very detailed heavy history books covering various parts of the globe and this is an excellent example on that genre. Written by Hugh Brogan, a university teacher, this is not a book to be undertaken lightly. If you are wanting an easy introduction to everything American, forget it (Bill Bryson may be a better point of reference). However, as a detailed chronology of the Why as opposed to the What then I would definitely recommend it. It provides an insight into a lot of the though process of America as a whole, and perhaps highlights how their politics is so different to British politics, in a way I've not read elsewhere. Reading a lot of this so soon after the last US Presidential election it provided some useful context to the main political parties and how their differences have changed over time.

The book itself comprises 5 books separating the history of the US into settlement, revolution, equality, gold and superpower. I read the first 3 books and then took a break (several months in fact) before finishing the rest of it. Generally I felt the earlier chapters were more detailed in chronology and later on there is more comment on why things happened and the choices available. Much of the second half follows the decisions of each President and associated election. I did feel the last chapter (post-Cold War) was a little rushed and it was quite apparent it was written as a revised edition as opposed to being in the original. That said, I found the book very educational and enjoyable to read, albeit not always that easy (the tiny font didn't help either!)

To provide some criticisms: some better references in the back might have helped - a chronological list of Presidents would have helped me avoid some confusion and the maps included in some chapters would have benefited from being in one place. I only really have one major criticism and this is why it drops a star - despite being about the Why more than the What I felt the balance of subject matter could have been better... much detail was given to the various organisations set up during the New Deal and beyond, yet there is minimal mention of the Gold Rush (despite there being a book about er... gold!), and the establishment of a lot of the latter joining States was brief at best. Surprisingly little was said about the Kennedy dynasty (notably Joseph Kennedy) and there was not too much written about the nuclear bombs at the end of World War 2. On reflection I thought the book's highlights were how it handled the latter half of the 19th century.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on 27 July 2000
If, like me, you've never read any US histoy and your entire knowledge of it comes from film and television then this is the perfect book for you. Starting with the earliest settlers it goes through all the famous events such as the American Revolution, the Civil War, Reconstruction, Prohibition, the New Deal, the Civil Rights Movement and Watergate but also deals with less familiar ones and shows how the nation has grown and developed over the centuries. The narrative flow is brilliant and doesn't get bogged down by numerous references to individuals with similar names - for instance it's always clear which member of the Adams family (the political dynasty, not the television series!) is being referred to. This is essential reading for all students of American history but can be enjoyed just as much by casual readers.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 28 January 2011
Brogan identifies two major themes for this history: the role of slavery in determining the moral direction of the US and the drive West to secure its economic progress. In reality, this is a political history of the USA, and much of Brogan's time is spent analysing the psychology of its presidents, and rating them in modish fashion against their response to the circumstances they were in. Thus, Jefferson's idealism looks self-interested, Wilson's looks anachronistic and Carter's naive. The flaws of the personalities (and neither Lincoln nor FDR come off unscathed) are offered as subtle for evidence for the kind of democracy that Brogan likes and thinks he has found in America. Beyond papal infallibility or royal birthright, the issues for a republic come down to the fundamental inadequacy to the task of governing of even the most capable. Thus, Washington's Farewell address becomes a bulwark against political despotism for all time.

This is just as well, given Brogan's account of how corruption, neglect and prejudice have determined the direction of the nation far more effectively than the idealism or morality that most American would prefer to believe have guided its destiny. Some episodes stand out: the excellent account of how the bust of the economic system in 1929 came about (and the policy responses for its consequences) provide useful lessons for the challenges of our own time. The rationale for establishing the Republic in the first place as a tax revolt rather than a political revolution continues to resonate powerfully in American social and economic life, as a disdain for contributions to the nation's finances whilst still expecting elected representatives to deal with problems this often creates. In all, this is a well organised narrative and unflinching account of the last superpower, especially interesting given the precipice on which it now seems poised.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 14 May 2014
This book promises so much but is let down by the author's assumption that readers all share his detailed knowledge of the subject. He seems to have missed the point that most readers will have picked up his book because they don't know the subject in great detail, hence random references, throwing in multiple characters without explanation and simply missing out important background all serve to frustrate the reader. Huge tracts of US history are skirted over in a few sentences, the development of the modern 2 political parties is not explained clearly and the whole book is a mass of enormous and elaborate sentences. These overly long sentences translate into massive paragraphs which destroys any flow and continuity and makes enjoyment very difficult. After the first chapter this book is best described as a chore and makes for painful reading. There seems to have been no proper editing as many of the chapters do not logically link with the others, the timeframes for the chapters are ignored and key issues are not made clear before jumping somewhere else. There must be a better "definitive" history of the USA.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 10 February 2011
Accomplished, articulate, book, which cuts through mere narrative on one hand, polemics on other, to make insightful points. Each chapter gives us its clear and memorable interpretations.
Author has mastery of events and prose unfailingly lucid and lively. Given some basic factual background and a genuine interest, it is a lively read.
Thoroughly recommended. The price is fair. Like all books of its type one cannot quibble because it leaves out some of lesser topics and odder theories: to be encyclopedic diminishes readbility.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on 2 May 2001
This is definitively one of the best history books I have ever read. The author presents in a clear way the mechanisms behind history, with surprising insights and analyses into the causes. His approach of history is more a thematical one than a chronological one. Thanks to this, references to dates are limited to a minimum, and themes are explored thoroughly. From one chapter to the next, there can be some movement back and forth in time but it is done in a very intelligible way. I read this book with tremendous pleasure !
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 23 February 2013
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All nations have supporting myths for their existence and it is the job of the historian to debunk them. The European half millennium has spawned many new nations as emigrants, mainly from north-west Europe until 1850, populated distant lands taking with them their European culture and languages. Hugh Brogan follows the early settlers in north America with their land hunger, their willingness to ethnically clear the indigenous peoples, their radical views transported initially from Britain and their religious beliefs giving them the mantle of righteousness and exceptionalism.
He sometimes digresses with inappropriate "what ifs" but he lays out the facts in a dispassionate manner. He rightly praises Washington and Lincoln. America was blessed to have had such leaders for in all countries democracy throws up dross all too often but then democracy is better than any alternative and Brogan takes us through its failures and its successes.Do read the footnotes, some are real gems. A passionate and lucid book. I recommend it to all interested in American history
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 28 August 2012
Bought this book as I was looking for a proper run through of US history. I read the whole book. Having had some time to digest it as well as having started reading David Reynold's book "America - Empire of Liberty", I feel I can give some hopefully useful feedback.

I would not recommend Brogan's book as the first book one you should read if you want to refresh your knowledge about U.S. history. Instead I would recommend it as perhaps one to read if you want some more detail on certain events as well as more analysis of events, although somewhat spotty in coverage.

The reasons for avoiding using this book as a primer are:
1, Language: Brogan uses many difficult words and many, many sentences are long and complicated. I don't think I've ever read a book with such advanced phrases and sentence constructions. It appears to me that Brogan has spent a considerable amount of time, not to make the book readable, but to craft "beautiful" sentences - almost like lyric.

2, Neglect of important events - dawdling on less important passages: Many of the most important events, such as the Revolution are dealt with swiftly whilst periods of what I believe to be boring passages are given lots of space.

3, Lack of coverage: The book also does not provide sufficient information on for example: relations with Canada, how other European countries were ousted and tried to recover parts of America.

I would clearly recommend David Reynold's book mentioned above before this book for starters. And then, if you are interested in a more personal view and additional analysis, especially on "relations", read this book. Although I'm rather confident there are other books that are better worth your time if you're interested in specific events.
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