I'm kind of conflicted about this book. On one hand, I had some serious difficulty managing to slog through it. Even in his more recent books, Pinker has a hard time making his information tell a story that holds the reader's interest (to his credit, he's gotten a little better in his last couple of books). This being an earlier work, you get to see him take nerd to a level you might not even realize existed without much in the way of charm or readability. His ability to get way too involved in over analyzing the mist insignificant details is both what makes him so fascinating and at the same boring beyond measure.
With all that said, sometimes people are in the mood for actually understanding something. Nonfiction books are supposed to be educational, but too often they are dumbed down and simplified, which can be quite unsatisfying. Sometimes slogging through difficult material can give greater rewards than books that spoon feed and smooth out the edges. Sometimes the tangents that analyze minute details satisfy curiosities that might otherwise linger. Pinker certainly "leaves no stone unturned", as the cliché goes. The result is that I really feel like I learned something instead of reading fluff or unbalanced ideology. Pinker does spend a little too much time getting into the nerd version of pissing matches with his contemporaries, but this isn't the worst example of this I've seen from him.
I've gone back and forth on whether to give this book 3 or 4 stars. I guess it's one book that can fit all over the rating scale for different reasons. But I am very glad I read it, and other people who like to get to the bottom of things will too.
A nice crash course that starts at the beginning. If the idea of a "sceptic's" approach to studying history is new to you, and you studied history only in high school, some of the facts presented will make you look at many events in a completely new way. I've spent the last year reading history, and still, at least 60% of his material was new to me. I felt like his economic analysis of the Roosevelt years was sound, but overlooked a several facts that led Paul Krugman to what I think is a more convincing conclusion in Krugman's "Conscience Of A Liberal". I found the material on the early republic and the 19th century to be fascinating. Especially important is the fact that the United States was never intended to be have the system that is does today. The way that I was tought history was that the founders wanted a completely democratic nation with equal opportunity for all, religious tolerance, and poplar government. If you still believe this myth, I recommend checking out these lectures.
This book covers roughly the same time period as "What Hath God Wrought" by Daniel Walker Howe, which is much longer. But "A Nation Rising" doesn't attempt to be comprehensive or broad. Instead, author Kenneth C Davis picks a handful of lesser known and particularly interesting stories, and writes a relatively short overview of each. Each story seems to be selected because it gives a perspective and challenges standard assumptions about American history.
A few examples:
*Aaron Burr might be getting a bad shake from historians.
*Revolts by Slaves and Indians were a huge part of our history.
*Andrew Jackson was a psychotic, vicious, maniac, but did some good stuff too (not exactly news, I know, but Davis writes well on the subject)
*Jessie and John Fremont were America's biggest celebrities in their day, and their story is still a real page turner.
This book reminds me a bit of "1861" by Adam Goodheart in the sense that both books are written in the "compilation of short stories" format. But this one is shorter, more accessible to a broader audience, and doesn't seem to be use original sources. Most of the sources cited were history writers that I've either read, or heard of. Davis' strength is in his writing ability. He possesses the story telling skills of a good fiction writer, which is what makes the book so accessible. It also helps that he chose interesting, little known stories, and cut them short enough that there weren't any boring parts. For me, this book was a good choice because I didn't have the time this month to listen for 20+ Hours. "A Nation Rising" was short, but every hour was a quality one.
"You are not so smart" was outstanding, and this book is just as good. Sure, it's relatively short, and not especially dense. But it's interesting and informative while also being funny and entertaining. The Narrator probably makes the program. He's such a pro. Every joke has perfect timing and inflection. Every fact is clear as a bell. If I wrote a book it would be an honor to hire this guy. This book is a perfect light listen. Not too dumbed down, but not too technical, either. Simply great nonfiction entertainment.
Serious scholarship. Great narrative. Great narrator. Fascinating subject. I don't know what's not to like here. Live John Brown or hate him, you can't say that his story is boring. Or irrelevant. I could go oping by point, but I'll put it more succinctly: if you are a lover of American history like me, you owe it to yourself to read this book. It's nearly as important a subject as exists. And his author is one of the very best.
I wasn't an avid reader of Krugman's columns or books, so I didn't realize the treat I was in for. The knowledge and conveyance of history and economics are unparalleled, and the politcal analysis is astute. One of those books where I listen every chance I get until I reach the end. I might even listen to the whole thing again. It's just that good. Solid narrator, too.
Not exactly the height of scholarship, but hilarious. And informative. It's like taking a trip to a fantasy world where things like this are actually possible. A nice follow up to the more serious book called "American Nations" whose author's name slips my mind at the moment. The reader is perfect, and almost turns the book into a stand up comedy ruitine. It's a joyride that is more than worth the price of admission.
How can you go wrong with this one? Juicy and chalk full of crime, laziness and utter licentiousness, this book is a dream come true to history buffs who are also unprincipled slackers. That's not to say that it's not serious work, though. The research is solid and the facts are well presented. This is actual scholarship, not hacky journalism. Narrator Paul Boehmer's accent, intonation and rhythm are quite odd to me, and bug me sometimes, but he is chosen to read a lot of the best books, so I guess I'm stuck with him. You should really buy this book. It kicks ass.
This book is exactly what you would expect it to be. Easy listening. A nice little chunk on each president, and the occasional factoid about the office of the presidency. Nothing edgy or controversial, no strong opinions, just basically the general common wisdom on each one. Washington, Lincoln and FDR get top honors, as everyone would expect. James Buchanan and GWB get roasted. Reagan gets the predictable over rating, with Lyndon Johnson and Bill Clinton taking a backseat. Andrew Jackson is an excellent story line, but like Reagan he gets an A despite having plenty of downside. Still, these are pretty mainstream views and the author goes decidedly mainstream in his assessments. If you expect that going in, there will be no disappointments. Arthur Morey isn't a showy narrator, but the man has talent. He is a master of enunciation, emphasis, cadence, and clarity. Steady all the way, and never distracts. I've heard him narrate a ton of books and he's one of my very favorites. Overall, this material is excellent in the sense that it is accessible and well packaged. A sharp, professional production that is easy to listen to no matter what your politics are. Informative, but also fun.
These guys have no balls, and this book is pretty limp as a result. Yeah, a lot of the data that they have gathered is interesting, and the way they have broken up the nation into categories is novel, but this is a long way from groundbreaking stuff. A lot of my annoyance comes from the fact that the authors are trying to be more nuanced than simply red and blue state categories, but come up with categories that feel forced. "Moneyed Burbs" is a particularly odd grouping. They say these counties have wealthy, educated residents, that can vote either way depending on the performance of thier stock portfolios. In this category they include San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, and Santa Fe. Last time I checked, hell was more likely to open a ski resort than these counties would be to vote Republican. The authors seem so scared to piss anyone off that they choose to report just the right facts to make themselves seem as centrist as a 50 yard line. Weak sauce if you ask me. Still, I did learn a few things about some parts of the country that I likely won't be moving to any time soon. The narrator is a champ. I'd love to hear more books read by him, because he's one of the best I've heard. If you're a big time political nerd like me, this book is worth a listen. But you'll not find it to be something that drastically impacts the way you look at elections. That's my view, at least.
This was only my second civil war specific book, but I'm pretty fascinated by 19th century American history, and this book is one of the best I've read in that category. It's written like a compilation of behind the scenes stories that give background on the complexities of American culture and politics during this pivotal time. Adam Goodheart's writing does an incredible job of capturing the humanity of the characters in his stories, and is a master of the art of nuance. I'll begrudgingly give a thumbs up to Jonathan Davis' narration job here. I generally find his cadence a bit annoying, and his tone too official, but I must admit that he did a good job on this one, even if he's not my cup if tea stylistically. But overall, this is an excellent choice, not just for civil war buffs, but for all American history lovers.
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