Don't Know Much About History: Everything You Need to Know About American History but Never Learned
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Don't Know Much About History: Everything You Need to Know About American History but Never Learned (Don't Know Much About)

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3.82 of 5 stars 3.82  ·  rating details  ·  4,494 ratings  ·  343 reviews
Here, celebrating the twentieth anniversary of its debut as a New York Times bestseller, is the revised, updated, and expanded edition of the classic anti-textbook that changed the way we look at history.

First published two decades ago, when the "closing of the American mind" was in the headlines, Don't Know Much About® History proved Americans don't hate history—just the...more
ebook, Twentieth Anniversary Edition, Revised, Updated, Expanded, 752 pages
Published June 21st 2011 by HarperCollins e-books (first published 1990)
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Sabrina Moser
Aug 16, 2007 Sabrina Moser rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: no one
Shelves: justfinished
It is infinitely easier to critize a book like this one than it is to write one. Succint, interesting summaries of sweeping historical eras are almost always doomed to failure on some level, and I suppose, in the grand scheme of things, Davis does an Ok job. It's just that his writing is so bad. His prose is littered with pronouns lacking clear antecedents and most irklingly, he constantly repeats proper nouns making for some seriously bumpy, seriously irritating reading:

"Almost from the moment...more
Drake
There was a TV documentary called, America the Story of Us on the history channel that only gave the good things about American History. This book was nothing like that. It gave everything, the good and the bad, and this author must have read a freakish amount of books to know that much. I learned so much and it proves that America wasn't just made up of perfect people who did perfect things. The only reason it isn't 5 stars is that it doesn't describe the weakness of the Articles of Confederati...more
Jeremy
Good overview of American history. The more I read about history, especially American history, the more appalled and the more hopeful I become. Appalled, because humanity keeps making the same mistakes fueled by greed, apathy, and ignorance. Hopeful, because eventually a movement starts that achieves real change for the better and because we as a species have proven our resilience over and over.

Every single one of our founding fathers and all the men and women we consider great in the history of...more
Alison
Its always disconcerting when the first few lines of a book try to turn George Washington's prayer at Valley Forge into a farce made up by hyper religious people. Right then I knew I was reading a book written by a liberal. But I continued. He spent the first chapter cutting down Columbus and his greediness in order to explain that he wasn't the first person to discover American land (duh!) and then never answered who really did (Amerigo Vespucci). I thought his history way too basic at this poi...more
Burt
Currently rereading, actually. I taught advanced US History I from this book, nearly twenty years ago. Davis has this new addition and my old one got "loaned out", so I bought new to find out what had been added.

OK, book read. Just as entertaining, witty, and iconoclastic as the original edition. I am very glad this book is back on my shelves.
Christopher Carbone
The real problem with “Don’t Know Much About History” is that it prescribes to the Modern School of History, namely: anything white males did in the last 3,000 years is criminal, all of white men’s successes are on the backs of other people, and white men are very lucky.

This is not to say DKMAH is a bad book or even bad history; its not. The book is, though, pedestrian in the info contained and in the events covered. However, what it lacks in material, it makes up for in righteous indignation....more
Shy
I read this book as a refresher on American History with a view to sitting a specific exam. In that respect, I suppose the book was successful in achieving my objective. However, I would generally not recommend this book for anything other than as a springboard into further study and thankfully for this purpose Davis provides a very detailed list of further readings for each section.

It is a good succinct summary of American history. A distillation, if you will, of a large amount of research and...more
Donal Keady
History books, by their nature, are never "definitive" no matter what the title at the front or the blurb at the back may state. However, a good history book will give the reader some sort of springboard from which to launch into the lifetime's pursuit that is history. This book's accessible, often witty style will inform, but more importantly will stimulate the thirst for knowledge, which is as it should be. I don't think the author seeks to offend, but some formerly sacred and venerated histor...more
Andrew Breslin
Every American should be lashed to a chair and forced to read this book. That's the sort of thought that pops into my head every now and then when I get in touch with my inner-despotic dictator. A benevolent despot, I hasten to add, because it truly would do all my fellow citizens a world of good. Americans are frighteningly ignorant about many things, especially their own history.

Eventually my inner-freedom-fighters overthrow my inner-despot, and re-establish the right of all Americans to be i...more
Alicia
I've decided to rate conservatively and round down. On the whole, I found the claim "everything you need to know about American history but never learned" quite false. The book skims too much material instead of delving, and covers American history at a shallower level than my high school AP history class (and I would hope, most high school history classes). This book is neither a substitute (covers too little), nor a supplement (doesn't delve deeply enough) to any actual serious study of histor...more
Ryan
This was a fairly good book and has been the perfect book for quite some time for my visits to our home library (bathroom). Events throughout history are simplified into a couple of pages making it perfect for your home library (ya, you know). I've really enjoyed this book.

The part about "never learned" in the title is awesome as it makes you want to read it but it is a very basic recount of historical events, all of which you would have learned in school.

I've realized that most history books ar...more
Jamie
Oct 11, 2007 Jamie rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: EVERYONE!
Shelves: favorite
Seriously. Every American should be able to tell a foreigner what the original 13 colonies were. Or at least, what was the shot heard round the world. Or what the Quakers had to do with the Prohibition, or what the New Deal was or any number of pieces of our history. My American History knowledge is like swiss cheese. I have huge holes in my timeline of history. I don't know what I was doing when it was being taught to me, but i definitely wasn't listening. Our history is actually really intrigu...more
Dina
Kenneth C. Davis has a really terrific knack for making history interesting, exciting and most importantly personable. I had first picked up his Don't Know Much About the Civil War book and was amazed that for the first time, I was enjoying learning about battles, generals and strategic movements - it was more like story-telling than fact reciting. I feel that this is what history should be; important events told with all the care that a well crafted work of fiction holds, so that places and ide...more
melydia
A friendly question-and-answer format with entertaining answers about American history from Columbus to Clinton. The post-Watergate coverage is pretty slim, but at that point it could probably be assumed that most readers remembered those years clearly. (There is an updated version, but my copy was printed in 1995.) I learned quite a bit about those bits we skipped in school, like the Vietnam and Korean Wars. Though it could not replace a traditional history course, since there is an assumption...more
Lisa
I've always enjoyed history, and I like to think that I have a good working knowledge of it. I was relieved to find that I still remembered much of the material covered in this book (then again, I did survive AP history with Mr. Player!). But this was a good review presented in an engaging, easy-to-follow format. I learned a lot and found that the time passed quickly as I listened. There were, of course, sections where I thought Davis spent too much time and others where he didn't spend enough....more
Graham
If you enjoy history, then obviously this is a book you'll want to read. But don't expect surprisingly new discoveries that blow-your-mind. It's a good read and I always like learning about the past, in this case, learning a different account in many instances. At the close of the book, Davis provides a few quotes pertaining to the definition of history. One of my favorites has always been from Winston Churchill; "History is written by the victors". I also believe that to understand history, you...more
Susan
Come to find out, I don't know much about history. Maybe I did know things about history in high school, but I sure have forgotten a lot since then. Chances are, I'll probably forget much of what I read in this book too, but here's hoping my adult brain will retain more than my teenage brain did.

This is a big book, and it took me about a month to read because I read it slowly. It's harder to read non-fiction, especially books on history and wars and stuff, because I want to at least try to remem...more
Darlene
very readable. Of course it can't begin to cover everything but many of the paragraphs regarding each decade were fascinating and little known. I learned a great deal and can now see parallels and repeating cycles and the errors and crimes of the greedy and cruel and misguided.
Nate Capone
The amount of information covered is extremely impressive and is what makes this an invaluable resource to start with; but that's all it should be: a starting point.

Every history book has its flaws-lionizing events and people, taking the known out of context, presenting information in too narrow a view, sanitizing reality-and this text is no different.

What does makes this 700+ page reference book different though, is that it's written to be readable in a cover-to-cover fashion if one chooses t...more
Leew49
Professor Davis is right. We don't know much about history, even the history of our own country. And discovering through this book how much I don't know was entertaining and humbling at the same time. I did have a problem with the Q&A format: I prefer a continuous narrative, not a catechism. And the author's use of lists to take us through key periods was a bit too much like getting the Cliff Notes version. Davis's unadorned portrayal of historical figures and policy decisions will not sit w...more
Jamie
A good read as a refresher or if you prefer to look up a topic for historical accuracy.
Jessica
Apr 02, 2008 Jessica rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone who needs basic info about US history
Good/useful book if you need a crash course in American history. It starts with the European discovery of the Americas, and goes through to the 2000 presidential… hum… elections… (He even touches on the September 11 attacks, but just barely.) The different eras are divided by chapter, so if you are looking to just get a refresher about the Civil War for example, you can easily jump to that section. The author uses a Q&A technique, which I didn’t necessarily enjoy; I felt he jumped from one t...more
Heather
Where to start with this review – there are so many things that I want to tell you about this book that they are all fighting to be first on the page. So I apologize if the structure is a bit off.

I always thought that I knew a lot about American history – certainly more than my peers in school, that much was obvious. But, reading this book certainly showed me the areas where I was weak, but also reinforced that I did indeed know a decent amount about history. The edition that I read was a revis...more
Erwin
Overall, it was OK.

Interesting story about not only the civil war, but a history of the world leading up to the civil war.

The politics of slavery were the cause of the civil war, and the seeds that started this war were planted as soon as America declared independence. The confederacy was controlled by a small number of souther politicians, and those politicians owned a lot of slaves - so when the north wanted to abolish slavery, the slave owners rebelled.

The north had a bigger economy, better...more
Judy
Where in the world did I get this book? I was cleaning out some stacks of books this weekend and there it was. Written in a question and answer format, this book tries to explain basic principles of American History. Example, "What is Manifest Destiny?" "What was the Era of Good Feelings?" "How the Hell did George W. Bush ever get elected?" Actually, I just made that one up, but there was a question about the disputed Election of 2000. Since I teach U.S. History at the college level, there wasn'...more
Jeff Bird
Apr 25, 2009 Jeff Bird rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: History buffs, history teachers
This edition of "Don't Know Much About History" takes the reader to the early years of President Clinton (©1995). Subsequent versions, I believe, bring readers to more current affairs (no pun intended).

I found "Don't Know Much About History" a difficult read. While the author, Kenneth C. Davis, undoubtedly knows his subject extremely well, the book read like a semi-narrative text book. Repetitive anecdotes would surround time-lined historical events throughout the book. While it was intended to...more
Don
I thought this was a good overview of American history and a good read for anyone who wants a crash course in American history.

At times I did seem to detect a slight slant toward traditional "liberal" philosophy when interpreting historical events. I say this because I took careful note of what facts were chosen to be included and which ones were left out.

For example, the role of religion throughout America's history is presented generally in a negative light. Reports of where religion has "gone...more
Don S.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Adrian Buck

More reflections on style in history writing: Davis uses what one reviewer calls the FAQ approach. The effect is to break down the subject to a series of chunks, or essays roughly equivalent in scale to what I was expected to write in my history 'o' level. Given the Amazon reader reviews, one could be cynical and think that this an exam friendly format. I prefer to think that Davis is following current good pedagogical practice and presenting each topic as a problem the student is invited to sol...more
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Kenneth C. Davis is the New York Times bestselling author of the Don't Know Much About® series of books and audios for adults and children. The first title in the series, Don't Know Much About® History became a New York Times bestseller in 1991 and remained on the paperback list for 35 consecutive weeks. It has since been revised several times and now has more than 1.6 million copies in print.

Dav...more
More about Kenneth C. Davis...
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“The following twenty years would be the nadir of American Indian history, as the total Indian population between 1890 and 1910 fell to fewer than 250,000. (It was not until 1917 that Indian births exceeded deaths for the first time in fifty years.)” 4 likes
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