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A History of the American People

4.06 of 5 stars 4.06  ·  rating details  ·  1,362 ratings  ·  148 reviews
"The creation of the United States of America is the greatest of all human adventures," begins Paul Johnson's remarkable new American history. "No other national story holds such tremendous lessons, for the American people themselves and for the rest of mankind." Johnson's history is a reinterpretation of American history from the first settlements to the Clinton administr ...more
Paperback, 1104 pages
Published February 17th 1999 by Harper Perennial (first published January 1st 1997)
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Community Reviews

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sckenda
Jul 24, 2014 sckenda rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People Who Dislike the USA-for balance
This is the conservative response to one of the best polemics of the left that I have ever read, A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present by Howard Zinn. British polemicist Paul Johnson seeks to mimic Zinn by seizing his method and his fighting spirit for the right.

Johnson's theme is that the creation of the United States was one of the greatest of all human adventures, and he recounts and arranges American history to support his theme. Johnson asks:
1) Can a nation rise above t
...more
Gordon Howard
I read this book as a recommended "antidote" to A People's History of the United States, by Howard Zinn. It is certainly a very different book, and is better in many ways, but, like Zinn's book, it ultimately it is an interesting failure.

First the good points - Johnson is an excellent writer, and this is a very well-written long-winded narrative history. Johnson makes many points that I agree with, and provided brief explanations of some events that hit the spot. A good example of the latter is
...more
Eric
British historian Paul Johnson makes clear in the preface to A History of the American People his motivation for writing this book: “This work is a labor of love.” Indeed, this love for America shines through the massive tome, and ought to put native-born Americans to shame.

Johnson presents a well-organized overview of American history, from 1580 to 1997. He covers most of the major events, although in such an undertaking some are bound to get overlooked (the most notable being the Japanese int
...more
Phil
Jan 22, 2008 Phil rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: High School History Students
This book is an excellent general history of the US, one which accents the cultural development of this nation. It is an antidote to the puerile trash "People's History"(Howard Zinn), a book unfortunately used as a textbook in some school districts. Now that it seems that America's journey toward freedom is being abandoned in favor of the Marxist EuroTrash Megastate favored by the PC- Howard Zinn crowd Paul Johnson's history, a history that sees the tradition of freedom and enterprise as benefit ...more
John
This book is so long I paused between chapters to read other books. This has been the longest and most informative book I have ever read. Johnson knows how to tell a good story and depict colorful characters. He has a special affinity for dramatic incident, and his discussion of Andrew Jackson reads like a treatment for the greatest historical film never made.

After starting the book I gave it five stars, but upon finishing I demoted it to four. It seemed the more I knew about the period Johnson
...more
Pete Sikora
Mar 02, 2008 Pete Sikora rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone interested in right-wing brainwashing
This book is proof that modern conservatives never have to actually justify their opinions to publish. A movement primer, the book shakes loose the bonds of fact and consistency to produce a narrative Kissinger describes on the book jacket as "majestic in its scope".

Most of Paul Johnson's opus is great-man theory of history. The adoring descriptions of historical giants are fun. There are 2 problems: 1. writing history like it's determined by handfuls of powerful actors ignores the rest of us mi
...more
Ethan Rose
This is more of a right wing conservative christian fairytale than a history book. The idea that we got out of the great depression because Roosevelt followed a plan that Hoover put into place before leaving office should come with some corroboration and support. Also, I don't think pro choice advocates are equivalent to antebellum slavers. All histories are biased, I accept that, but some verification and cogent arguments would be appreciated. This was obviously written to sway the ignorant mas ...more
Evan
This book is pretty solid when it comes to history before 1900. But the author goes on a huge conservative tirade when dealing with the 20th century. Fair and balanced? I think not...
J. Dunn
I really enjoyed his “Birth of the Modern” book, about world history 1815-1830, and how that time and the personalities who made it were pivotal in the the birth of the modern world as we know it, so I thought I would check out his take on US history. I knew from the previous book that he was conservative, and had his biases(pro free-market, pro religion, pro-individual) but that was fine with me… I liked that he was opinionated and I liked getting a good devil’s advocate argument for the other ...more
Skylar Burris
It is always interesting to see what the Brits think of us. Paul Johnson shows a tempered admiration of England's bastard child in this history, and he recognizes many of the qualities that makes America unique in the history of nations. He is much kinder to the fledgling land in this history than he was in the history of his own nation, though he does not hesitate to criticize, in that glib way of his, whenever the mood should strike him. The history ends with the first President Bush, and I wo ...more
Marilyn Elisabeth
History of the U.S. written by an eminent English historian might be intimidating at first because of its length, (about 1,000 pages) but exceedingly interesting and very well researched.

The dedication reads: "This book is dedicated to the people of America--- strong, outspoken, intense in their convictions, sometimes wrong-headed but always generous and brave, with a passion for justice no nation has ever matched." I recommend this book highly and will read it again.
Eve
I felt like I needed to brush up on my American history, so I read this book. Good aspects: comprehensive, well-written, occassional flashes of the writer's personality. Bad aspects: too much focus on the "Great Men" and an off-putting, curmudgeonly tone during the final sections on modern developments, feminism, etc. (By the 1990s, "the Glass Ceiling was a myth" - ?!?).
Andrew Alvarez
This is a great concise history of the US from colonial times through the Clinton administration. The book reads like a narrative and is not broken up very well into chapters. As a result, each section of the book is very long with a great deal of details. Johnson has received criticism for injecting his conservatism into the work. This is more detectable in the last third of the book dealing with the twentieth century. This will likely trouble some readers, but all historians have a bias and hi ...more
Steven P.R.
A History of the American People is a well written and detailed book that covers the history of the United States. Paul Johnson's writing is absorbing, and he explains history as if he were telling you a story. He also examines the major players in history, and does what should be necessary for any book on history: explain the causal events so that they make sense to the reader and do not seem like random events that happened spontaneously.

This is a very good book if you want to brush-up on you
...more
Chase Austin
Johnson is a magnificent writer whose worldview is apparent very early on in the work. He gives a refreshing un-American perspective to the history of the American people and he does so with sincere respect, study and careful analysis. Any student of American history will find plenty worthwhile in this book as Johnson is a wonderful storyteller and historian. If you read this book alongside the Zinn book of a similar title you will see Johnson's gift illuminated against the humanistic pessimism ...more
Jack Hrkach
In the last year I have read two histories of the US, and they couldn't have been more different. Howard Zinn's People's History is a very liberal, socialist take on the country. Today I just finished Paul Johnson's book on the same subject. I tend toward the liberal view, and I know Johnson is a conservative, but I read his Birth of the Modern and found him a strong writer and good researcher. You'll note that I found it in my heart to give this book only two stars.

I should have been warned, fo
...more
Monica Perez
For me the two critical elements of "pot-boiler" history like this is that it is enjoyable to read and aims to convey the truth. It is a joy to me to find such a book on a subject I wish to broach and this is such a book. The writing and narrative style are engaging if not compelling from start to finish and I get the strong sense that Paul Johnson is critically assessing and interpreting the facts and presenting them fairly. He does offer, I think helpfully, the occasional editorial comment, bu ...more
Don
Feb 13, 2012 Don added it
Johnson approaches American history with a love of Americans and America, and with a somewhat fresh look. He spends a very great deal of time on early American history, developing the themes which he carries throughout the later chapters. In the edition I had (1997) there were some occasional, though minor, errors...among others, he appears to conflate Confederate generals Joseph Johnston and Albert Sydney Johnston. His more distanced and dispassionate analysis of the presidencies of Truman, Eis ...more
Tracy
Sep 03, 2013 Tracy rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Tracy by: Alberto D
Shelves: history-politics
Originally a gift of my friend Albert Dominguez, I can't say Paul Johnson's A History of the American People originally would crossed my sights had he not given it to me for Christmas one year; I had not heard of Johnson, previously, and really my exposure in those terms was mostly limited to general history texts from high school and college.

However, my reading of this book was revelatory. It puts those other, 'official' texts to shame. From the earliest origins of what came to be the nascent A
...more
Matt
This is an amazing book and a must read! I'd recommend A History of the American People be included in our college curriculum (ignoring the problem that it is too long to read through in a semester). In my view, it's the American History text book of choice. Each page is a pleasure to read and deserves some contemplation. I'm going to have to read it again -even slower.

Four hundred years of history is a lot material to cover, but all in all the detail and perspective Paul Johnson provides is cle
...more
Kenneth
Good history of America from founding to present. Written by British popular historian Paul Johnson, the narrative offers some unique perspectives.

Every major event is provided sufficient detail with some idiosyncratic facts or interpretations that is apart Johnson’s signature style.

Johnson’s interpretation of American history is filtered through the British lens of course. He criticizes Jefferson while praising Hamilton, which feels biased by the very hierarchical British form of government t
...more
Aaron
Paul Johnson has created an incredible account the people in American history with a wonderfully rich, inherently readable, and not grotesquely detailed prose. Naturally, assuming a task of covering more than four centuries is an arduous task, but to focus on more than just the major players involves quite a bit of planning. Johnson follows a political timeline with interesting offshoots that relay a variety of color commentary regarding the twists and turns of this great country.

I highly recomm
...more
Mike
Well he says at the outset that he will not hesitate--as would some "academic" historians--to espouse his own opinions about matters.

And he sure keeps his word.

Definitely a "great man makes history" view of history. Very traditional.

At his best imho when discussing the positive contributions of the mighty industrialists of the late 19th century to improving American society.

In some respects almost comically predictable in his nearly willful attempt to hold the conservative party ideological
...more
Michele
This book does cover a lot of information efficiently (which is why it got any stars at all), but it's naturally very biased. Information I know is questionable is presented as factual, things that are bad for conservatives are turned into funny misunderstandings, and things that are bad for liberals are turned into unforgivable acts of evil. While it's interesting to see Johnson's point of view, he tends to get onto tangents that have more to do with today's political situation than the period ...more
Nick
Dec 07, 2011 Nick rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Howard Zinn fans that need some balance to their views of American history.
One of the great things about this book is that Paul Johnson, being British, is an outsider looking in. He did not learn American history growing up or even in his college studies, so many of the preconceptions most historians of American history have are absent. His outsider status also allows him to point out a lot of the ugly truths we have to face about our country (e.g. the social security and debt problems).

He focuses largely on presidents in the post Revolutionary War part of the book, a
...more
Smh
As a former history major, I have read many books on American history. This is the best. Instead of comparing America to a mythical ideal kingdom such as heaven, he compares the US to other nations on this earth and America comes out on top. This book really explains in detail the foundations of this country and how it became what it is today.
Tom Rowe
Long. Very long. This was a 47 hour audiobook. If you want a British conservative take on American history, this is it. Johnson not only tells you American history, he is also very clear on who he thinks is right and wrong. Examples: Hoover: wrong for starting the New Deal, FDR: a media personality who stole most of his New Deal ideas from Hoover, Truman: awesome, JFK: his father's whore-dog puppet, Nixon: a great leader who was assassinated by the media, Carter: a dowdy man with no ideas, Reaga ...more
Frank
Unlike other books, which I haven't read but heard about, Mr. Johnson took a moderate stance--certainly not a fanatical patriot's type position--to explain the history of our nation. I think he was balanced for the most part on controversial and provocative issues of yesteryear. I intend to read more of his work.
Emily
I read the entire thing except for the chapter on the Civil War (which wasn't required for my class). It was very informative, however, I often felt (especially toward the end of the book) that substantial amounts of information were missing in favor of Johnson's bias. He chose his favorite presidents and endlessly criticized all the others for their personal lives, sometimes even accusing them of being controlled by their wives. The more I read, the more I felt like a victim of Johnson's ridicu ...more
Laura
Paul Johnson writes lively, big picture history. He draws connections between causes and effects, and brings giant figures to life. I don't always agree with his opinions, but I do respect his understanding of history and his ability to write about it convincingly. This book was a nice refresher course to my American History survey classes from school, which for lack of enough weeks in the school year, never seemed to progress past WWII.

My one beef: He includes prurient details disproportionate
...more
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Paul Johnson works as a historian, journalist and author. He was educated at Stonyhurst School in Clitheroe, Lancashire and Magdalen College, Oxford, and first came to prominence in the 1950s as a journalist writing for, and later editing, the New Statesman magazine. He has also written for leading newspapers and magazines in Britain, the US and Europe.

Paul Johnson has published over 40 books incl
...more
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“This book is dedicated to the people of America--strong, outspoken, intense in their convictions, sometimes wrong-headed but always generous and brave, with a passion for justice no nation has ever matched.” 8 likes
“The whole stress of Washington’s presidency, underlined by his farewell, was on the absolute necessity to obey the Constitution. As he said on many occasions, he did not seek or want any more power than the Constitution gave him; but, when needful, he did not want any less either. It should be obeyed in letter and spirit. America was the first major country to adopt a written constitution. That Constitution has survived, where so many imitations all over the world have failed, not only because it was democratically constructed and freely adopted by the people, but precisely because it has been obeyed—by both government and people.” 0 likes
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