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Best Books on United States History

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Brian LaSorsa Posted: Wed, Jun 23 2010 6:25 PM

It seems like they didn't teach us anything about real United States history in school. My teachers were always terribly boring and made us memorize the acronyms of the New Deal programs. I've had to teach myself everything I know about our history, but I always have to learn randomly - and by that I mean I think of a random subject and then research it on the internet. I'd really like a few good books that I can read and highlight.

Books similar to "33 Questions About American History You're Not Supposed to Ask" and "Lies My Teacher Told Me" are a definitely plus. I want to learn things that are commonly misrepresented in school.

"Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats." - H.L. Mencken.

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Rcder replied on Wed, Jun 23 2010 6:57 PM

The Oxford History of the United States is very good, I think, for what you're looking for.  It's a twelve volume series covering every era of the United States, from British colonization to Barack Obama.  The only downside is that it's currently incomplete; I'll post the Wikipedia article at the end of my post so you can see for yourself.  From what I've read (and I haven't read them all), each volume can be read independently from the other.  If you're interested in the Great Depression and World War 2, you can get the volume on the Great Depression and World War 2 without having to read any previous volumes beforehand.  I just finished reading "Glorious Revolution", which covers the American Revolution and the drafting of the Constitution, and it does a very good job of debunking the many myths and misrepresentations we were taught in public school classrooms.  For example, it details how their was a "coalition" in British parliament that was sympathetic towards the Americans and their plight, and actively faught against the Sugar Act and the Stamp Act; not all members of parliament were the bitter authoritarians that the average textbook paints them to be.

The older volumes like the "Glorious Revolution" can be purchased from Amazon or your local Borders for around $20, which is a pretty decent price for a 700-page book.  Or you can always go the library route.  But either way, I'd definitely check it out if you're interested in American history.

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxford_History_of_the_United_States

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That looks perfect! Exactly what I'm looking for! Thanks a lot!

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You should also consider Murray Rothbard's "Conceived in Liberty 4 Volume Set" if you are interested in early American history.

It starts from the beginning of the Union to about the Revolution if I remember correctly.  Also, it is told from the perspective of a libertarian economist, which is a very, very big plus.

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Lewis S. replied on Wed, Jun 23 2010 9:08 PM

James McPherson writing the volume on the Civil War.  Ick.

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Rcder replied on Wed, Jun 23 2010 9:13 PM

Is there something wrong with James McPherson?  I don't know much about the guy, but he seems well qualified; a historian with a PhD in American Civil War history, who teachers it at Princeton.  These volumes are collaborative, anyways; the writer acts as a kind of editor, with a team of people behind him who do most of the research.  Literally every page has citations at the bottom directing the reader to the source information, which also makes it very helpful from a research perspective.

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Paul Johnson's A History of the American People is supposed to be fairly good as well, apparently he relies on Rothbard heavily for his chapter on the Great Depression, though I have not read but excerpts from the book http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_History_of_the_American_People

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tfr000 replied on Thu, Jun 24 2010 1:21 PM

 Paul Johnson's A History of the American People is supposed to be fairly good

Yup, I'm reading it now, but I'm only through the Revolution. Much more interesting than high school history class. Johnson is English, so you get that perspective.

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fakename replied on Thu, Jun 24 2010 2:41 PM

You like it too? I used to read it as well -it's fairly good although towards the 1970s-present the author seems to become much too anti-leftist to be considered non-biased. I also find, after careful reading, that (like most history books) the events are acutally constructed in thematic ways and not in chronological ways, this is always a pet-peeve of mine since that writing-scheme turns history into theory or vice versa and it only distorts the actual movement from event a to event b.

If you liked this book I would however highly recommend the masterful book by Paul Johnson, Modern Times.

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Look through Rothbard's vast collection of books then Thomas DiLorenzo's collection. Also make sure to look at Judge Napalitano's new book, "Lies the Government Told You" and don't miss out on Thomas Woods' plethora of excellent history books as well. There's plenty of Austrian-influenced history books, but these are just a few that come to mind (and books that I have read as well).

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There's 2 books by Tom Woods; 33 Questions About American History You're Not Supposed to Ask and The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History, which can be found in http://mises.org/store/Search.aspx?m=49.

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ravochol replied on Thu, Jun 24 2010 7:43 PM

My Advice? Read some of the primary material, not just the history books.  Read what Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, Patrick Henry and company actually wrote if you want to get a handle on the Revolutionary Era for starters... a lot of it is really dramatic, really well writen, really compelling. Also a lot of it is available online for free, no books required.

If you want a really good account of why there was an American Revolution, for example, you can read the actual transcript of Benjamin Franklin being examined by the British Parliament, it's free on google books, starts page 137.

http://www.archive.org/stream/parliamentaryhi02parlgoog#page/n14/mode/1up

Th best way to read history, I think, is to use books "about" history to flag the really interesting documents and then look those up yourself - then you won't be bamboozeled by historians!

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That is a good idea. I still have my worksheets and everything from my old United States history classes, so I'll look through them and highlight certain events and look for the primary works. Good idea!

"Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats." - H.L. Mencken.

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tfr000 replied on Fri, Jun 25 2010 9:28 AM

You like it too?

So far so good. As an example, last night I read about the long-term consequences for the European countries involved in the American Revolution. France, and this is something I never considered before this, deficit-spent it's way through the war, bankrupted itself, and subsequently descended into all the tyranny, revolution, Napoleonic wars, etc. of the next few decades. They "won", but it was costly, and predictable by Austrian economics.

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fakename replied on Fri, Jun 25 2010 11:34 AM

I just don't like the way he emphasizes the  cheapness of land in america then provides stats. for price increases as well as evidence of a land boom which would've implied rising, not falling prices. 

but were you bogged down with his descriptions of manors and colonial houses? i know I was on my first read but looking back, they were invaluable glimpses into the daily lives of colonials.

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tfr000 replied on Fri, Jun 25 2010 1:09 PM

but were you bogged down with his descriptions of manors and colonial houses?

No, actually I find I'm hanging on every word, so far. I guess I more or less knew that wealthy Colonials built fancy manor houses, but I didn't know to what extent. It's amazing how interesting history can be when well presented.

I did hear the bit about how he goes off into right-wing neverland in the latter half of the twentieth century, but I figure I can just skip it if it's that bad. Already lived it.

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fakename replied on Fri, Jun 25 2010 1:26 PM

If you really like the book so far then you'll really like the rest since it is basically the same in style and detail.

It has perhaps become cliched but did you read A People's History of the United States? Good info in it but obviously my austrian leanings makes the left-polemics in the book almost unbearable (plus he refuses to say that Roosevelt lied the country into WWII, which in my opinion is all too obvious).

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

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@tfr000: That's incredibly interesting about France's spending leading to tyranny. I had not heard that before. It's fascinating.

 

@fakename: What are you talking about as far as Roosevelt lieing the country into WWII? I haven't heard that before either.

 

To both of you: where did you get your information on these things? I believe what you're saying, but it's things like this that I really want to learn, so I figure the sources are just as great to read.

"Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats." - H.L. Mencken.

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Check out Thomas Fleming's The New Dealer's War  on World War II, a pretty excellent book on the subject.

"Man thinks not only for the sake of thinking, but also in order to act."-Ludwig von Mises

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Sweet. Thanks for the recommendation. I have a bunch of books to catch up on, but I'll be sure to check it out.

"Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats." - H.L. Mencken.

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tfr000 replied on Sat, Jun 26 2010 3:02 PM

@Brian Anderson:

To both of you: where did you get your information on these things? I believe what you're saying, but it's things like this that I really want to learn, so I figure the sources are just as great to read.

See

http://www.amazon.com/History-American-People-Paul-Johnson/dp/0060930349/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1277582497&sr=8-1

This is the book I'm now reading. Fascinating so far.

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Lewis S. replied on Sat, Jun 26 2010 3:06 PM

Check out Thomas Fleming's The New Dealer's War  on World War II, a pretty excellent book on the subject.

Excellent book.  Have you read Victory of Illusion?  That's another masterpiece by Fleming.

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Not yet, though it is on the to read list.

"Man thinks not only for the sake of thinking, but also in order to act."-Ludwig von Mises

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What time period are you looking at or are there any specific themes?

'Men do not change, they unmask themselves' - Germaine de Stael

 

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Marko replied on Tue, May 3 2011 3:08 AM

I recently purchased A Renegade History of the United States (Thaddeus Russell). It is the only book on American history I own.

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Start here --

 

 

http://www.lewrockwell.com/rothbard/rothbard66.html

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amg24 replied on Tue, May 3 2011 12:43 PM

Pauline Maier does a fantastic job documenting the ratification of the Constitution.

 

http://www.amazon.com/Ratification-Americans-Debate-Constitution-1787-1788/dp/B004Q7E0UY/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1304444561&sr=8-1

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I know you mentioned 33 Questions, and some of these aren't completely history books, but I'll put them here anyway...

 

http://www.lewrockwell.com/woods/33-questions.jpg     

http://a3.mzstatic.com/us/r30/Publication/c0/5c/49/mzi.fkswtljs.225x225-75.jpg  

http://www.lewrockwell.com/gutzman/who-killed-const2.jpg  

 

Then of course there are various lectures:

Thomas E. Woods: The Truth About American History (10)

The New Deal: History, Economics, and Law

The Economics of the New Deal and World War II

 

I also agree that primary sources are great.  They are often a tough read, but if you combine them with secondary and tertiary sources and assessments that comment on them and the period in which they were written, they can be invaluable.

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