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The Smart Aleck's Guide to American…

The Smart Aleck's Guide to American History

by Adam Selzer

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Fun and irreverant look at American history. Covers the 20th century in terms of the Billy Joel song, "We Didn't Start the Fire." Funny! Learned a few things, too. Found this book in Powell's Bookstore in Portland, Oregon. Glad I picked it up. ( )
  dd196406 | Jul 16, 2012 |
This is meant for a younger audience who want to learn American history with humor. Not for me. ( )
  sherton | Apr 7, 2011 |
This was very funny and had a lot of interesting facts in it, and I think kids will love it. I think adults will get something out of it too. I loved the "stupid hats in history" thing. However, I do think the authors' habit of flirting with swear words without actually saying them was really annoying. ( )
  meggyweg | Oct 16, 2010 |
Funny, clever, informative, readable, intriguing, irreverent, and fascinating.

Those are a few of the words that come to mind after reading Adam Selzer's Smart Aleck's Guide to American History. From the western discovery of America and more or less successful attempts at colonization to major wars, world history, and the present day, this accessible book is packed full of humor and smart stuff. Debunked myths, new views on historical figures, and more will intrigue even the non-history buff. The narrative is split into manageable section with plenty of photographs, art, lists, facts, and mini-biographies. Each chapter ends with a parody of history textbooks' quizzes and questions, mixing absurd multiple choice quizzes with definitely smart aleck essay questions. The introduction includes a list of all the contributors and there is a detailed index. No further reading or bibliographies are included (unless I had a blank moment and missed them) but there are frequent references to the website, http://www.smartalecksguide.com/, which is incorporated as a blog. It contains supplementary material and more hilarity, including "assignments" posted in response to the end of chapter quizzes.

Verdict: For every teenager who suspects there may be more to history than what she sees in her textbook. Or anyone who wonders if history is really supposed to be that boring? Reading this book certainly won't endear most high school students to their social studies teachers, but it will certainly get more kids interested in history!

ISBN: 978-0385736503; Published December 2009 by Delacorte; Borrowed from the library; Purchased for the library
1 vote JeanLittleLibrary | Aug 6, 2010 |
Richie's Picks: THE SMART ALECK'S GUIDE TO AMERICAN HISTORY by Adam Selzer, Delacorte, December 2009, 336p., ISBN: 978-0-385-73650-3; Libr. ISBN: 978-0-385-90613-5

"One night, two lanterns were hung, and Revere jumped out of bed and got on his horse. He did not, however, shout 'The British are coming.' In 1775, most colonists still considered themselves British. Shouting 'The British are coming' in the colonies would have been about the same thing as riding through Paris and shouting 'Here come ze French!' People would have thought he was crazy.
"What he shouted was 'The regulars are out,' which people knew meant they were about to be attacked by British soldiers--or possibly by guys who ate a lot of fiber. Either way, they knew to get ready for something messy."

If one were to propose that it takes a village to teach American history, then what we have here is the village wiseass -- who was undoubtedly entertaining his buddies by thinking up this kind of stuff back in his own history classes -- putting together a somewhat undisciplined and pretty darn entertaining overview of American history that includes many solid -- if sometimes seemingly random facts about our history, as well as some invaluable lessons in information literacy and myth-deflation.

"Nobody really thought of Paul Revere as a war hero--or thought of him at all, for that matter--until 1860, when Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote 'Paul Revere's Ride...'"

My own grasp of American history has been greatly enhanced and extended over the years through reading a number of alternative history series as well as numerous notable trade books that focus on specific people and topics. I have not read the latest edition of Joy Hakim's THE HISTORY OF US, but was thoroughly engaged as I read all the way through the 1999 eleven-volume edition. Howard Zinn's THE PEOPLE'S HISTORY was a dense and shocking volume, offering me an entirely new perspective on the motivations of decision makers throughout America's checkered past.

"Stories that Columbus had trouble getting funding because of a belief the Earth was flat were supposedly made up by Washington Irving..."

What I have always loved best has been to supplement my knowledge with in-depth explorations of events and issues in our history such as Ann Bausum's FREEDOM RIDERS: JOHN LEWIS AND JIM ZWERG ON THE FRONT LINES OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT; Karen Blumental's LET ME PLAY; Russell Freedman's IN DEFENSE OF LIBERTY: THE STORY OF AMERICA'S BILL OF RIGHTS; Pete Nelson's LEFT FOR DEAD: A YOUNG MAN'S SEARCH FOR JUSTICE FOR THE USS INDIANAPOLIS; Chris Crowe's GETTING AWAY WITH MURDER: THE TRUE STORY OF THE EMMETT TILL CASE; and Philip Caputo's 10,000 DAYS OF THUNDER: A HISTORY OF THE VIETNAM WAR.

Now, awards committees are not likely to take seriously a history book like THE SMART ALECK'S GUIDE, whose coverage of the past sixty years is primarily organized by the order in which people and events are listed in Billy Joel's song "We Didn't Start the Fire." But for this younger generation's smart alecks, who find the conventional classroom presentation of American history to be lame and predictable, and who might salivate at the thought of being able to contradict their teacher's signing onto one of those long-held myths that I was fed as a kid (and is discredited here), or who will enjoy pointing out when their teacher makes use of one of those famous historical paintings that it was actually painted a century or more after the subjects in the painting had all become compost, this is an American history book for them.

Furthermore, the generally brief, unflinching evaluations of the various US presidents will leave lasting impressions:

"But after he won the 1904 election, [Teddy Roosevelt] moved to the left politically and began aggressively taking on the trusts and robber barons, issuing lawsuit after lawsuit against major corporations,
"He was a popular character, known for being a rough-and-tumble sort of guy--kind of like Andrew Jackson, only smarter, less corrupt and not as intent on screwing Native Americans over. He had so much energy that some of the people around him joked that he was like a six-year-old. He knew he was popular, and loved attention. His daughter Alice famously said that he wanted to be 'the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral.'"

THE SMART ALECK'S GUDE includes some great fun features (such as the reoccurring "Stupid Hats From History" and the smart aleck end-of-chapter multiple choice review questions), along with brief discussions of some relevant long-lived conspiracy theories, and some excellent popular culture segments. One of my favorites of the latter is the section on the Flappers of the 1920's which includes a fascinating page full of flapper slang.

All in all, THE SMART ALECK'S GUIDE TO AMERICAN HISTORY will enlighten, entertain, and encourage healthy skepticism amongst students, and might well motivate students to go on to check out some of those in-depth trade books.

Richie Partington, MLIS
Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.com
Moderator, http://groups.yahoo.com/group/middle_school_lit/
http://www.myspace.com/richiespicks ( )
1 vote richiespicks | Sep 21, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385736509, Paperback)

Do you know America? No, I mean, do you REALLY know America? Would you recognize John Adams in a lineup? Can you identify any presidents between Lincoln and Roosevelt?

Hmmm. I thought so.

Well, you really need this book.

Not only will it improve your sorry historical knowledge, it will crack you up, and give you material to throw your teachers off-balance for entire class periods. Identify their lies! Point out their half-truths! And possibly, just possibly, gain some extra credit for yourself.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:02 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Improve your historical knowledge with this witty and efficient presentation of pivotal themes and events such as the American Revolution, Civil War, and civil rights movement. This clever and informative work follows a chronological arrangement from early exploration to the inauguration of President Barack Obama in January 2009.… (more)

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