Recommended: Don’t Know Much About History, Anniversary Edition

Everything You Need to Know About American History but Never Learned

The popularity of Kenneth Davis’s book proved that people don’t hate history, they probably just got bored with the way it was taught in school. I’ve often thought that much of what we were exposed to in school had value, was even interesting, but the manner in which it was delivered killed our enthusiasm for the topics.

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It could be that some of our teachers were as tired of the material as we were because they had been handcuffed by the system or the curriculum. I don’t know. What I do know is that some teachers made the material come alive, and this was my experience with our history class my junior year in high school.

Two of history classes were combined into one so that we had sixty kids in the class, and three teachers who seemed truly enthused. There were creative group games where we learned about diplomacy and other principles. But what I most remember is that they set about to teach history from a new perspective. Instead of the squeaky clean portrait we’d each been given in our younger years, we were going to learn about our history from the viewpoint of the peoples we conquered, the peoples we displaced, the peoples we wounded.

I’d always assumed this was how most people learned history, with multiple viewpoints. Evidently, many kids didn’t have creative, energized history teachers. Many kids just tuned out.

Don’t Know Much About History spent 35 weeks on the NYTimes bestseller list. There’s a reason. Davis helps us meet the people who made the history, not just the dates and places where events occurred. You don’t have to memorize facts for a test, so you can get caught up in the stories.

The chapters each have a theme, with stories about the various people and events related to the theme. It also lists key dates, for people who like to lock things into a timeline, and a significant quote or passage from people’s letters or writings.

I like the clever chapter titles. The first chapter, for example, is titles “Brave New World.” As the name suggests, it’s about the discovery of America. The second is, “Say You Want a Revolution.” Another is “Apocalypse Then: To Civil War and Reconstruction.”

The table of contents alone shows you that the author is intent on making his subject matter enjoyable. His enthusiasm comes across throughout, and maybe that’s what was missing in some of our classes at school. Were teachers bored with what they were teaching? My best teachers certainly weren’t. (Thank you, Mr. Griffith, Mr. Harris, Mr. Dennison, Mr. Sebes.)

The audiobook is 23 or 24 CDs. The library book I have here (pictured above)is 593 pages with the Afterward, plus another 60+ pages of appendices in which you will find an overview of the Bill of Rights and amendments to the Constitution, a section on the Electoral College (which is especially relevant today) and a recap of the presidents from George Washington to George W. Bush.

Bonus tracks: A lengthy list of suggested readings so you can enjoy a deeper dive into your favorite sections of U.S. history, and a detailed Index, which add value to the printed version of the book.

The reviews on Amazon were primarily very positive, though a few low marks were given as well, primarily because a few readers thought it too liberal (I disagree) and at least one thought it added nothing new to his understanding of history. (This person was, I believe, a Ph.D. in history. I am sure most of you are not.)

I give the book Five Stars. Look for it in your library, or add it to your own.

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon

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