American History : A Very Short Introduction / Paul S. Boyer

In 1995, Oxford University Press began to publish a series called Very Short Introductions. Covering an array of topics in history, philosophy, religion, science, and the humanities, the VSI library now contains more than 300 volumes. In this series, Paul Boyer took on the difficult task of condensing a historical account of America from pre-history to Obama’s presidency into a pocket sized book that contains just 150 pages.

Boyer, the Merle Curti Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, does a remarkable job of winnowing this country’s historical milestones into a coherent overview. His account captures the complexity of our history in a highly readable format. While highlighting America’s positives, he does not shy away from also presenting the negatives, especially in regards to the issues of inequality and racism.

This was Boyer’s last book before he succumbed to cancer in 2012. Over his career, he wrote extensively on the religious and moral history of the American people. In this history, he masterfully weaves strands of this expertise into the narrative. While he is mostly evenhanded in his presentation, once he reaches the 1960s and beyond, he does become a bit more expansive and subjective. Nonetheless, for anyone who would like to read a quick refresher course (or an easy to read introduction) to America’s history, this book is sure to satisfy.

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