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I Wish I'd Been There: Twenty Historians Bring to Life Dramatic Events That Changed America
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I Wish I'd Been There: Twenty Historians Bring to Life Dramatic Events That Changed America

3.25  ·  Rating details ·  218 Ratings  ·  37 Reviews
"I Wish I'd Been There is a marvelous concept wonderfully and imaginatively executed. the result is an American pageant of character and event that will attract and delight readers of history."
Hardcover, 338 pages
Published October 3rd 2006 by Doubleday
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As a collection of essays, this book contains some hits and misses, though in general the stronger essays outweigh the weaker ones. In fact, I assigned one of the essays (on Lewis & Clark) to my class and recommend the essays that cover America pre-Civil War. Given the chronological distance, it may be that those subjects are better suited to this sort of history writing than events of the recent past (for example the essay on the Civil Rights movement). Although written for a general audien ...more
Feb 22, 2009 rated it really liked it
I thought "A Day in Cahokia—AD 1030" was the most vivid essay, "Jenny Lind's American Debut, 1850" was the most interesting, "With John Brown at Harpers Ferry" and "LaFollette Speaks against the War—1917" were most educational, and "Lost-Found Nation: The Last Meeting between Elijah Muhammad and W. D. Fard" was the weirdest. "The Salem Witchcraft Trials" essay was actually rather boring, but I thought it was the only clunker in the batch (and if I'd had no prior knowledge of the trials, I'm sure ...more
Sep 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Overall, really good. But chapter to chapter quality depended on how much you were invested in that time period. I only skimmed one chapter, and mostly it explored a more nuanced look at both the historical figures themselves and paradigm shifting moments within history - especially in periods that I had never really been super interested in.
Rob Lever
Oct 20, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013, history
As with any anthology or collection I Wish I'd Been There reveals the best and worst of historical discourse. Conceptually, the book initially appealed to me on a a form of historical speed-dating, short sweet, topical excursions to whet the appetite or provide just enough information. In some ways, the text reminded me of Cowley's What If series (slightly overdone by volume II, but a treasure nonetheless)

Stand out "must read" essays:
1. Robert Remini's "The Corrupt Bargain"
2. Paul Nagel's "The A
Feb 14, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
This book is a compilation of essays written by historians about the events they wished they could have witnessed in American history. They range anywhere from before the discovery of the New World to the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.

I really liked the concept of the book: wishing you could be a fly on the wall during a major event in history. Some historians described the events as best they could. Others decided to give a hypothesis of what they think occurred. The way each essay went ab
Jun 23, 2013 rated it liked it
The concept of this book is a great one, the execution was hit and miss. I loved the chapter on John Brown's Raid on Harper's Ferry. Brown is one of the most controversial people in US History and it would have great to have really seen what he was all about. Thomas Fleming thinks he was a nut who happened to believe in a good cause. The chapter on GW rejecting becoming a US king was good. One of my favorites was on a meeting that LBJ had with George Wallace at the White House during the desegre ...more
Aug 25, 2013 rated it liked it
I picked this up from my library one summer while earning my history degree and was feeling my history major. I liked the concept - that these historians would write themselves into a historic period or event and essentially through their narrative bring the scene to life. It didn't fully manage its goal. Perhaps if each historian had written a fiction story within the historically accurate depiction, I might have been a bit more interested. But each one was an essay, rich in detail and descript ...more
Jul 22, 2008 rated it it was ok
Gosh, the email back-and-forth I had with family and friends over the places that we'd have like to have been was more fun.

Don't get me wrong, some of the chapters were especially good. But every chapter was written by somebody different, so a few were real nose-pickers. You can pick a 24 hour period to be some place and you're picking a 1,000 years ago to watch the natives dance to the gods? And some of the chapters were simply must-haves for the P.C. crowd. We allow you to go back in time and
Jun 30, 2014 rated it did not like it
Shelves: history
I found it pretty underwhelming and each chapter seemed slightly rushed. Some were better than others, like the section on the Newbergh Conspiracy and George Washington's efforts to negotiate a treaty with the Creeks. Robert Remini was his dry, too-pro Andrew Jackson self, and one of the writers tried to make too much out of the Amistad case of 1841. With Prigg v. Pennsylvania decided the following year, I take issue with anyone who argues that the Amistad case was the most important slavery cas ...more
Apr 20, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: series, own
It was a smart decision on the editor's part to put the most interesting, engaging story as the first. "A Day in Cahokia - AD 1030" was set in first person, so it read almost like fiction. This really got me excited for the rest of the book. But. . .it's not all like that. The rest is like a essay, and most of them I've already forgotten. I don't want to sound stupid, but jeez, there are some big words and bigger descriptions on here. It was very hard to follow sometimes. But, some of these even ...more
May 29, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Twenty historians recount pivotal moments in US history. I think the key to liking this collection is to skip over essays that don't pique your attention. For me, there were a half dozen of those, and it was obvious within a few paragraphs when a topic wasn't interesting. Favorites of the remaining essays include:

- George Washington and the Newburgh Conspiracy
- The Day Lincoln was Shot
- Lyndon Johnson confronts George Wallace
Jess Colopy
Jul 09, 2013 rated it it was ok
Such a hit and miss, as so many other reviews have said. A few of the essays sparked by interest, but most put me to sleep. The format of the first essay made it interesting and gave me false hope about the rest of the novel.

The Salem Witchcraft Trials essay was the biggest let down, in my opinion. It consisted of the historian asking questions that she never answered and promoting her own book.

You're better off reading the Wikipedia pages about the events.
Aug 01, 2009 rated it liked it
The premise of this book is fascinating -- ask 20 historians what moment in history they would like to have witnessed first hand -- but the result was uneven. Not all of their choices were events I found interesting (inevitable, I guess) and the writing was uneven (also inevitable, I guess). Still, I'd like to read the European history sequel.
Sep 11, 2007 rated it really liked it
20 moments in history from the Revolutionary war to the JFK administration that historians have "gone back to" in their minds and tried to envision how the action actually went. Not all of them are "big" moments stressed in history books. Some of them are good, some of them are less interesting. And if you don't care about history, you probably won't like any of them.
Sep 08, 2009 rated it liked it
This was an interesting book, and I will admit I skipped some of the stories because I just don't enjoy reading about political things so much. Most of the historians writing about the events they would've liked to witness didn't go into a great deal of detail about their particular event, but I guess that makes it a "teaser" in a way to learn more about certain historical events.
Aug 11, 2011 rated it liked it
I was really intrigued by the idea behind this collection of essays, but they're pretty hit-and-miss. Some of them are extraordinary, but others - while certainly covering important and vital dates & events in American history - are rather blandly written. Overall a good and interesting read, but I suppose i had higher expectations than what was delivered.
Jan 06, 2009 rated it really liked it
I highly recommend this nonfiction collection of essays. Each essay is about a single event in history the author would have liked to witness. I found this fascinating and learned a lot about history. Rated G.
May 22, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting read. Reading historical essays by people clearly excited about their topic makes the events come alive. I particularly liked the essay on the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the attack on Harper's Ferry.
Some of the essays contained in the book could do with being expanded into novels. That the historians involved either don't think the story they write is not worthy of the effort of a full-length novel or they think it is beneath them to write the novel may tell you something.
Feb 19, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
Just as good as the second book about European history ... the chapter on Jenny Lind's debut was very interesting, as were the imagined conversations between Jack and Bobby Kennedy.
Aug 10, 2013 rated it liked it
I know it isn't American history, but my "I wish I'd been there" event would easily be the Russian Revolution, minus the language barrier.
Mark Dickson
Aug 03, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone who enjoys historic essays that can be read in one sitting.
This is a great bedside reader. I enjoyed every essay in this book. So much, in fact, I ordered the second volume that focuses on European history. Highly recommended!
Sep 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
An interesting look into historical events. Thought provoking - where in history would I like to be just to observe?
Andy Pullen
Feb 03, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: history buffs
Several historians take an event in American History that they would have loved to have witnessed in person and what they expect that they would have seen.
Jun 08, 2014 rated it liked it
More than anything, this book is a great conversation starter. The idea is great and promotes a fun question to ask your friends. For me, the first essay was the best and most interesting.
Kiki Hughes
Dec 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Finished this a while ago. Will be using it for summer reading. A great introduction to history.
Angie Andrus
Feb 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
I learned so much from this book that I can't say I hated any of the essays. I love history and found these snippets of information so much fun to read. I really enjoyed it.
Katie George
Jul 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
Favorite chapter: "Jenny Lind's American Debut, 1850."

All chapters were amazing to me except Jonathan Rabb's "Trying John Scopes." I just didn't connect with that story.

Amazing book!
Jan 09, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed these stories. I really liked the one about Jenny Lind since this was a brand new topic for me.
Charles M.
Interesting book of essays from hsitorians, recalling their favorite periods of history (in which they wished they had participated, etc.)
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