7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Very detailed with some surprising omissions,
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This review is from: The Penguin History of the United States of America (Paperback)
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.