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A History of the American People by Paul…
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A History of the American People (original 1997; edition 1999)

by Paul Johnson

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1,529147,362 (3.83)19
Member:SuzieHouston
Title:A History of the American People
Authors:Paul Johnson
Info:Harper Perennial (1999), Edition: 1, Paperback, 1104 pages
Collections:History
Rating:
Tags:American cultural history

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A History of the American People by Paul Johnson (1997)

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Showing 1-5 of 14 (next | show all)
OMG!!!! This is a really long book (977 pages before you get to the footnotes) and it's broken up into only 8 chapters. I don't know about you, but I can't devote 4 or 5 hours in one sitting to reading ONE chapter. But I started reading it a little bit at a time probably 3 months ago. And, honestly, I was enjoying it overall because although I'm well educated, there are still a lot of holes in my knowledge of American history and I was hoping to get a good overview. I "learned" a lot (more about this in a moment) in the early going, but I was tired of working away on it so I resolved to finish off the last 250 pages or so in one day. Just do nothing but read until I was done. Well, things started getting a little strange right around Warren G. Harding who, according to the author, was a fabulous president who really wasn't responsible for the Teapot Dome or any of his other scandals. (Harding was a Republican.) Fast forward to Herbert Hoover (a Republican) who, according to the author, handled the Great Depression really, really well and had all his ideas stolen by the Democrat FDR (who apparently never did anything good in his entire presidency). Hmmmm. I seem to be sensing a theme here. Fast forward to Democrat LBJ and the horrible things he did to the country by trying to help little old ladies and the poor. Hmmmm. I kind of like Medicare. But then it REALLY gets interesting. Apparently, the Republican Nixon was the greatest president in the history of the world who handled the Vietnam War beautifully. Apparently, it was "the blacks," those lazy, meddling white students and the liberal media that turned the public against Vietnam and it was a totally winnable war (the author really needs to check out Ken Burns documentary and listen to the tapes where Nixon says that he knows the Americans can't win the war, but he won't leave because he wants to get re-elected). And I also "learned" that Nixon knew nothing about Watergate, obstruction of justice isn't a real thing and FAKE NEWS persecuted him!!! From this point on I skimmed the last 80 pages because I was about to have a stroke. But I did "learn" that Reagan was brilliant, but just a little "forgetful," that Iran Contra was FAKE NEWS, and that Reagan's higher deficit was somehow superior to Carter's lower deficit, that women were doing SUPER GOOD in the 90's and were really getting more high-paid jobs than those silly statistics would show us, that the only good thing Clinton did was to rein in those Welfare Queens, that Brown v. Board of Education was judicial activism, that affirmative action was evil, that the Congressional Black Caucus was/is racist, that the term Hispanic is somehow offensive and that political correctness was/is literally as bad as the Salem Witch Trials and Communist blacklisting. Wow, just wow. So the worst thing about this book is that I am now questioning every single word I read before I got to that awesome Harding fellow. So I wasted probably 30 hours of my life to read propaganda when I could just turn on Fox News and get my fill a lot more quickly. Man, this guy would have LOVED Donald Trump. ( )
  AliceAnna | Jan 28, 2019 |
I actually read this book by mistake. A good friend recommended Howard Zinn's A PEOPLES HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES, but I misremembered the title. By the time I realized the mistake, I was up to the Wilson Administration and totally committed to finishing this immense volume (just short of 1,000 pages before the copious endnotes and bibliography begin). ( )
  dickmanikowski | Jul 24, 2017 |
How does one determine a rating for a book like this? Do we appreciate its best parts, its fine writing, and its page-turning momentum, so rare in an almost thousand page book of history? Or do we judge it by its worst parts, where the author, near the end of the work, appears to be finishing it from a lunatic asylum, perhaps under the constant gaze of a couple of orderlies, assigned to keep him from doing something rash (other than with his pen).

That is the dilemma of Paul Johnson’s History of the American People. I began my read well aware of some of the author’s biases. He is a religious man and admires America because in his opinion it is a nation firmly founded on religious (i.e., Christian) principles. Never mind that other than John Adams, the first few Presidents were rarely found in church, and that when they spoke of god, it was an acknowledgement, or perhaps simply the desire for, some overriding supernatural power greater than man—not the jealous, personal god of the Bible. But in the case of religion, Johnson’s bias is straightforward, and his opinions are clearly separated from the historical facts he presents. He is convincing when speaking about John Winthrop and the importance of religion in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, for instance. This is a book driven by the portraits of the individuals who were the protagonists in the history of their time. Johnson’s judgments can be severe—he in no way overlooks the contradictions and weaknesses of Thomas Jefferson for instance. Jefferson was no saint, and Johnson’s portrait of him is multi-sided and believable. This is true of his portraits of other great figures of the first half of American history, from the Founding Fathers to Abraham Lincoln. His portrayal of Andrew Jackson (a man Johnson tells us had killed numerous people before becoming President) is especially memorable.

On the other hand, Johnson has little sympathy for the Native Americans who were relentlessly pushed back into the barren wastelands of America by the westward expansion. He says they weren’t very good farmers. He denigrates their intelligence, and pretty much makes what happened to them seem both inevitable and their own fault. Perhaps it was. There is always a little truth even in Johnson’s most drastic pronouncements.

The book continues along in its fascinating way through the Civil War, Reconstruction, and into the age of the Robber Barons. Except, they weren’t Robber Barons, Johnson says. There is again some truth in this. They were certainly more industrious, talented men than the current crop of bank CEOs who have enriched themselves at the expense of their customers and our financial system in general. Johnson takes great pleasure in expounding on the incredible civic deeds of Andrew Carnegie or Andrew Mellon, while acknowledging that their may have been one or two rogues among that bunch. Amazingly, in the midst of the most outrageous parts of his book, while discussing late-20th Century America, Johnson does spend a few paragraphs highlighting the growth of income inequality and does so with some passion—but he still loves the Robber Barons. At least they created something out of nothing.

To Johnson, it was probably the term of Woodrow Wilson when things really started to go wrong, with the unchecked growth of Presidential power, and along with it, the Government itself. This reached its peak—philosophically at least, as the government would continue to grow and grow—during the Roosevelt administration’s New Deal. Johnson, correctly I would say, points out that it really took World War II to end the Depression. Roosevelt was overrated and copied a lot of his ideas from Hoover anyway. (I have left out the administration of Warren G. Harding, whose reputation Johnson tries to rescue, much in the same way that Edgar Allan Poe’s reputation had to be rescued from the arch-enemy who took control of it in the wake of Poe’s death. About Harding, Johnson is somewhat convincing, and always interesting. At this point, no one has even called the loony bin.)

Johnson loves Harry Truman (a Democrat) and Dwight Eisenhower (a Republican). Both men had a firm grasp on what they were doing and don’t appear to have fallen victim to excesses or grand visions. Johnson explains and defends Truman’s decision to drop the atomic bombs on Japan. Personally, I have always believed that if he hadn’t done it then, someone would have done it later. It was a weapon that had to be used to be believed. And by precluding the need for a bloodbath-inducing invasion of the Japanese homeland, lives were undoubtedly saved.

The administration of Eisenhower also brought us Vice President Richard Nixon, of course, a self-made man, a solid anti-communist who beat Khrushchev in a kitchen debate, and who was immediately targeted for destruction by the liberal press. In Johnson’s telling, Nixon was robbed of the 1960 election (which is probably true) but spared the country the trauma of contesting it. He was by far superior to John F. Kennedy, whose wartime record was vastly inflated (and ghost-written), who was a secret drug addict, who had a prostitute in the White House the night of his inauguration, and so on and so forth. Again, some of this, perhaps most of it may be true. But by this point in the book, Johnson has lost all control of his storytelling. There is no more separation of facts from opinion. It is ALL opinion.

The deeply flawed Lyndon Johnson gets some kudos for pushing through civil rights legislation, though this is offset by deepening the Vietnam quagmire. Thankfully, Richard Nixon consented to return to politics and put things back on the right course, aided by his “able and devoted” senior White House team of Bob Haldeman and John Ehrlichman. If it weren’t for the witch-hunt of Watergate, instigated by those who had been trying to get Nixon for the past 20 years, his administration would have gone down as one of the greatest in history! Still, despite leaving office early, Nixon did manage to save Israel from destruction in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, according to Johnson’s account.

After Nixon’s departure, things would just get worse until finally Ronald Reagan appeared. Johnson’s portrayal of Reagan is quite fascinating, however. He shows him as a man who did indeed treat the office of President much like a movie role. While not involving himself, or perhaps even understanding the fine details of what was going on, he nevertheless made most of the right decisions and brought back a sense of hope to a country which had lost faith in the Presidency after the downfall of Nixon, the well-meaning ineffectuality of Gerald Ford, and the feel good failure of Jimmy Carter. Again, there is an undercurrent of truth in Johnson’s version.

After the Reagan Administration, Johnson seems to lose interest. He doesn’t dwell much on Bush I, preferring to go on a rant about Ebonics instead. Despite the doom and gloom of most of the last chapter, he closes on an optimistic note, talking about Americans as a problem-solving people, who can presumably get past that Ebonics thing. I’m assuming these closing paragraphs were written some time well before the frenzied out of control pages that come before them, which were undoubtedly written by the insane Johnson.

Of course, in the end, I must admit that Johnson, so far as I know, didn’t actually go insane. He has written other books since, and I quite enjoyed his take on Mozart. If you are well-versed in history, you will find much to enjoy here. And if you are of the right (wrong) political persuasion, you’ll probably like the last part of the book as well. Johnson is a talented writer, and I don’t regret reading this book. It is in no way a waste of time. It has inspired me to write, off the top of my head, the longest review I have ever posted. So read it, and you be the judge. I can at least tell you that it goes down a lot easier than most 1,000 page tomes.

Oh yes, I need to come up with a rating. It can’t be really good, given how outrageous some of this is, but I have to give Johnson credit as well. So I’ll compromise on 2 ½ stars. (Or 2 stars on Amazon, since it can’t deal with halves as well as LibraryThing, which is the world’s greatest website. How can anyone enjoy using GoodReads?) ( )
2 vote datrappert | May 18, 2014 |
Very readable. ( )
1 vote KirkLowery | Mar 4, 2014 |
Great read, as is everything Paul Johnson writes. ( )
1 vote RobertP | Feb 19, 2012 |
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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.
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(Preface): This work is a labor of love.
The creation of the United States of America is the greatest of all human adventures.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0060930349, Paperback)

Paul Johnson, whose previous works include the distinguished Modern Times and A History of the Jews, has produced an epic that spans the history of the American people over the past 400 years. The prolific narrative covers every aspect of U.S. history, from science, customs, religion, and politics to the individual men and women who have helped shape the nation. His detailed, provocative examinations of political and social icons, from Lyndon Johnson to Norman Rockwell, are especially strong. Johnson's text is intelligent and rich with detail, and yet extremely accessible for anyone interested in a reinterpretive analysis of America's past.

What makes this book unique is Johnson's approach to this self-professed Herculean task. The prevalent tone throughout is optimism. Whether he's discussing race relations, industrialization, the history of women, immigrants, Vietnam, or political correctness, Johnson--a staunch conservative who was born, bred, and educated in England--is openly enamored with America's past, particularly the hardships and tribulations that the nation has had to overcome. He sees this story as a series of important lessons, not just for Americans but for the whole of mankind as well. At a time when other contemporary scholars find it easier to bemoan the past, Johnson offers the reader "a compelling antidote to those who regard the future with pessimism."

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:08 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

An overview of the people who have had the most influence on the evolution of the United States of America.

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