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The Oxford Companion to United States History (Oxford Companions) Hardcover – 28 Jun 2001

3.8 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 984 pages
  • Publisher: OUP USA; 1st Edition edition (28 Jun. 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195082095
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195082098
  • Product Dimensions: 26 x 6.4 x 19 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 499,310 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

About the Author

Paul S. Boyer is Merle Curti Professor of History and Director of the Institute for Research in the Humanities at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has made it a professional priority to bring knowledge of the field of history to an audience of interested nonspecialists. Recently, he appeared as one of the commentators on the PBS Frontline special "Apocalypse!".

Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This book simply has pretty much everything that ever happened in the USA. I'm an american studies degree student and its an invaluable tool. The entries are brief but detailed and give a clear, sharp explanation and analysis of all significant events and people in the history of the USA. This hefty 1,000 page book is just excellent for writers, students etc and though a reference book, i often find myself reading through it as though it were a regular book of prose. its a complete A to Z of the USA. Its all here; The native americans, civil war, industrialisation, the mafia, unions, presidents, prohibition, constitution, war of independence, the west, hollywood, etc etc each item is explained fully yet briefly and from an objective and factual point of view. One major omission was Lee Harvey Oswald and the JFK assassination, which i thought strange. Apart from that I can't fault this book.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
British readers will be unsettled by the boastful swagger of the introduction. For blurb writers to describe a book as 'authoritative' is acceptable, but not if asserted by the authors themselves! This is very minor, however. One way that most reviewers assess a reference work is to turn up those pages having to do with the subject most familiar to the reader, who may well be a specialist. I therefore decided to see what our authors had to say about the fight to legalise male homosexuality, which in fact revolves around two Supreme Court cases (Bowers, 1986, asserting the legitimacy of homophobic legislation; Lawrence, 2003, overturning it.) Like Plessy, Brown, and Roe v Wade, these cases were of enormous significance in twentieth century US jurisprudence. I found no entry for Bowers. My first thought was that this recently-purchased tome might have a page missing ... but no. I looked for Lawrence ... in vain. I then realised that the two cases must be discussed in the gay rights section, to which I turned. Not only were they absent, but the latter section, referring to a number of political struggles, did not mention the civil rights' struggle for equal legal rights AT ALL - nor is it mentioned as a subject in analogous areas (sexual liberation, gender etc). I am ... speechful.
And the final straw? The essay on baseball is longer [sic] than that on the entire gay and lesbian rights' movement. You ask, am I prepared to damn the book on this one egregious example? Damn right I am.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Looks like good quality product so far, at reasonable price. Test-driven by 7 month baby who slept well on two occasions.
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Format: Hardcover
As a writer, I am often interested in selecting a military example for a point I am making about business. Invariably, I have a hard time locating the facts to see if the examples I have in mind work for my purposes. Weeks of fruitless research have often followed from wanting a fairly minor example. Then, in editing, much rewriting occurs because the details were slightly off in the draft. With the Oxford Companion to Military History, those problems are now all behind me.
I began my investigation of the book by checking out every military history question I could ever remember having had for my writing. Sure enough, this volume contained enough information to have answered each and every one of my questions more than adquately. That was very impressive to me, and it made me decide to add this volume to my reference library. One of the many nice features of this book is that each listing also refers to the best full-length works on that subject, for those who want to get a lot of detail.
The book has more than 1300 entries, written by more than 150 specialists in these military subjects. The subjects are elaborated on by more than 70 detailed maps and 15 pages of diagrams. Each entry is in alphabetical order, with cross-references to more general and more specific topics.
The book focuses on land warfare, so air and naval warfare are in the book primarily to round out the picture on land. So you will find Billy Mitchell, but not the air raids on Ploesti during World War II.
As the editor points out, "There are dictionaries of battles, of military leaders, and even of military history. This is none of those things, although, in its way, it subsumes them all.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x9ab0e7e0) out of 5 stars 16 reviews
91 of 107 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9b44c5dc) out of 5 stars Fails as a Guide to American History 8 July 2003
By Biblio-Nut - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Students and history buffs need a good, comprehensive volume on the significant people, events, movements and changes in the United States over the course of its history. This volume, from the leading publisher of reference books in the English language, fails and disappoints with regard to these goals. This Oxford Companion tries to be the United States History of Everything, as a result it misses key aspects of political history and what it does cover is often inadequate and incomplete.
The Companion tries to cover too many aspects of cultural history and its icons. As a result it sacrifices information on many important political and public figures. We get biographies of Michael Jordan and Marilyn Monroe but no separate bios of George Mason, William Borah, Hiram Johnson, Henry Cabot Lodge, Tom Watson, Joseph Cannon, Thomas Dewey, Nelson Rockefeller, Clarence Darrow, Sam Rayburn, Jesse Jackson -- and the list goes on and on. When they are covered it is often in snipets in subject area articles, which does not give a complete overview of their public careers.
What it does cover in cultural and intellectual history is often incomplete. The Companion has separate artices on the history of the blues, jazz and a weak article on rural country and folk music, but absolutely nothing on bluegrass or commercial country music and its pioneers. The index doesn't even mention the Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, Bill Monroe or Hank Williams. Yet country music far exceeds both the blues and jazz in popularity in terms of its fan base and are certainly deserving popular art forms for inclusion.
The selection of significant figures for separate biographies is often strange and arbitrary. The Companion offers a bio of physicist Eugene Wigner but not of Hans Bethe or Richard Feynman, like Wigner both Nobel Prize winners. Feynman is considered by many to be the most important theoretical physicist of the second half of the 20th century. This arbitrariness in selecting subjects for biographies can be repeated in many different subject areas.
The Companion contains 26 black and white maps, often of poor resolution, and follows the same arbitrary editing in terms of subject matter. You get a map of the properties of U.S. Steel, but no map on how the United States looked at the end of the Revolution or after the Louisiana Purchase, though there is a barely readable map of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. No reference tables and charts are included to tell the reader Presidential election results, who were the Chief Justices of the Supreme Court, or who occupied important positions in Congress or the military over the course of American history.
On the positive side there are many good articles here on political and social history. However the reader must use this book carefully and supplement it with other Oxford Companions and reference books. At $... I would examine this book in a library before considering a purchase.
26 of 31 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9ac76108) out of 5 stars a vital and reliable companion to u.s. history today 7 Aug. 2001
By Dr. John J. Obrien - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This volume contains entries that deal with concepts, events, persons, and movements in u.s. history. The length of the entries is appropriate to the topic considered. In addition, the entires both inform the reader with up-to-date information and indicate how revisionist historians have resahped opionions or refocused the discipline. The entries are clearly written and eminently readable. They are persuasive in thier opionions, yet respectful of other stances. The cross references are helpful and ample. The same obtains for the bibliographies. The Oxford Companion to U.S. History far surpasses some other contemporary dictionaries in U.S. history. Its articles are treated in more depth and greater nuances. The entries in the other dictionaries are too short and far too superficial. I would highly recommend this for people involved in serious historical study and research. The price, especially the discounted one offered by, is well worth the investment for scholars,libraries, and families.
26 of 31 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9b6a9cfc) out of 5 stars excellent reference material 17 Jun. 2001
By Tim Bajer - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This book is a must have for anyone with an interest in American History. It gives a clear, concise explanation on most important aspects of the United States history and the history of the lands that would eventually become the United States. The most unique aspect of this book is that, unlike a school textbook, it explains a topics role throughout the history of the United States in on section. In other words, if you looked up Civil Rights, you would find a history of Civil Rights in America from the colonial period to present. All the background information you would need would be in one place, not scattered throughout the book. This is beneficial for teachers who need to quickly find some basic information to answer a student's question, or for a student who needs to quickly brush up on a topic. This is a work that I will definetly use for years to come.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9bb7dec4) out of 5 stars Like listening to a knowledgable but boring uncle who can't answer a straight question 21 Nov. 2014
By Marco Buendia - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This "companion" has turned out to be less usable than I had hoped. Perhaps I can blame only myself; I wanted a "dictionary", or even an "encyclopedia", not a companion, though there is a similar and similarly-titled volume for British History from Oxford; that book is generally satisfactory. To be sure, there's quite a lot of information in this fat single-volume work on the USA as well, but it can be difficult to find it, and some of it just isn't there.

The articles tend to be long involved essays. I'm in no position to argue their validity, as scholarship, but I want short, to the point articles. I tend to use a book like this for reference when reading popular writing by established scholars, and I'll leave the ruminations to my current author; it's not the place of a single-volume handbook. Rather like the New York Times exceeding its bounds with its long "in-depth" articles when I just want the facts of the matter, in so far as they can be ascertained and presented. This has nothing to do with ideology; a newspaper is something different from a specialist magazine, or even a news magazine. The same goes for a handbook of history.

Remedy might be sought in the Index. Alas, the Index enumerates mentions, but offers no guidance as to where the bulk of the info may be found, unless there's actually a headworded article for the matter. Sometimes there *isn't* anything substantial.

Garraty and Foner's Readers Guide to US History frequently offered convenient articles that told me what I wanted to know. This work has taken some hits for "bias", and there are some passages where the tone, selection of emphasis, or, occasionally, judgments might seem to justify this, but I think a lot of the shouting is just because of Foner's association with the book; he's currently a demon among right-wingers. I'm sensitive to this sort of thing, even when I completely agree with the opinions that seem to be expressed, but I really think that G & F is reasonably useful all aside from anyone's beliefs.

Here are a couple of concepts from a couple of days' reading on which Oxford fell through, but Garraty and Foner were helpful.

There is no article (or see-ref) on Tammany Hall. Garrarty & Foner have a good one.

There is no article on Thomas Hutchinson (Gov of Mass, perhaps the fellow American most detested by the "patriot" hotheads). G & F have a good one.

One would expect an article on the "Coercive Acts". One finds it in Foner, but not in Oxford. The latter buries this and much other salient stuff in "Revolution and Constitution, Era of", several pages of close print.

G & F leave a lot to be desired as well; e.g. no article in either book on Newport, Rhode Island, a place of great notoriety and importance in the colonial and "revolutionary" period. Both books are generally poor in Colonial, Revolutionary War and later (but not modern) biography.

And the usual complaint: print finer and smaller than I would prefer. If the book got to the point quickly, it wouldn't be so bad. Here as well Foner and Garraty are to be preferred; the print is quite a bit better.

***Postscript of a few minutes later: I see that several of those who have posted reviews of this book subject it to certain ideological litmus tests, even more asinine than the those used against Garraty & Foner. I didn't notice anything untoward in this vein in the Oxford Companion, aside from the selection of articles; e.g. I couldn't help speculating that current gender politics has something to do with Anne, but not her grandson Thomas Hutchinson, getting an article in the Oxford Companion. This sort of thing is found in both Oxford and G & F, but I'm afraid it's unavoidable; all polemics about "re-writing history" aside, there has to be some selection, and just about everybody will get it wrong in somebody's view. My own procedure, if I were doing this sort of thing, would be to avoid articles on anything in the last lifetime, and cultural stuff. I use this sort of book for politics and historical happenings, but my preference is less catered to than formally; I like John Coltrane, too, but I wouldn't have expected to see an article on him in a book like this. But people will go wild over a mis-nuance in antebellum politics as well, so what can even serious writers and editors do?***

***Another postscript***

I suggest, for books approximating the usefulness of the Oxford Companion to BRITISH History which I mentioned at the outset, trying:

1) the earlier edition of this title, under the charge of Johnson, from 1966, or

2) "A Dictionary of American History", by Thomas L. Purvis, from Blackwell.

Both offer succinct explanations of persons, places and things that readers of American history are likely to ask, and are fairly complete, without the wandering essays of Boyer or the rather trendily selected entries found in Foner.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9b20ea98) out of 5 stars From abortion to the Zenger trial 30 Jan. 2007
By Scott Walker - Published on
Format: Hardcover
From abortion to the Zenger trial. This massive book covers everything (or just about): the heroes, the tragedies, the darker moments, Presidents, inventors, wars, government, ideologies, movements, culture, entertainment, science, art, religion. There are 1,400 entries and some 900 historians.

While there are some questionable individuals and subjects inserted, others just as noteworthy are forgotten. It is of course a monumental undertaking; data will come up short periodically; should be complemented with other sources, such as "A Patriots Guide to US History". This treasure is in dictionary form: fairly written, convenient to use, and not dry. A reference that should be in all households.

Wish you well
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