How did a land and people of such immense diversity come together under a banner of freedom and equality to form one of the most remarkable nations in the world? Everyone from young adults to grandparents will be fascinated by the answers uncovered in James West Davidson’s vividly told A Little History of the United States. In 300 fast-moving pages, Davidson guides his readers through 500 years, from the first contact between the two halves of the world to the rise of America as a superpower in an era of atomic perils and diminishing resources.
In short, vivid chapters the book brings to life hundreds of individuals whose stories are part of the larger American story. Pilgrim William Bradford stumbles into an Indian deer trap on his first day in America; Harriet Tubman lets loose a pair of chickens to divert attention from escaping slaves; the toddler Andrew Carnegie, later an ambitious industrial magnate, gobbles his oatmeal with a spoon in each hand. Such stories are riveting in themselves, but they also spark larger questions to ponder about freedom, equality, and unity in the context of a nation that is, and always has been, remarkably divided and diverse.
Historian Davidson (coauthor of The American Nation) opens this smooth overview of 500 years of American history, beginning with Columbus's arrival, with an engaging premise, arguing that we all make our own history pieced together out of personal memories, which in turn become the warp and weft of the cloth of history. With those pieces Davidson stitches together the people and events that created a country united "under a banner of freedom and equality." Crafting a "little" narrative requires the skills of a seasoned historian, and Davidson accomplishes it through a combination of structure and approach. The book is divided into 40 brief, easily digestible chapters composed in a conversational style akin to a historical fireside chat. To organize hundreds of years of events, Davidson keeps his focus on politics, economics, and war, which allows him to demonstrate that Americans' dedication to freedom and equality was not uncontested. Because of the vastness of the continent and of the many people who lived there, freedom and equality meant different things at different times. This is particularly evident in the chapters on the Civil War, the Progressive movement, and the post-WWII movement for civil rights. Davidson subscribes to American exceptionalism, which, in light of his own material, may strike some readers as Pollyannaish. Illus.