• A History of the American People

  • By: Paul Johnson
  • Narrated by: Nadia May
  • Length: 48 hrs and 15 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History, Americas
  • 4.4 out of 5 stars (613 ratings)
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Publisher's Summary

Johnson's monumental history of the United States, from the first settlers to the Clinton administration, covers every aspect of American culture: politics, business, art, literature, science, society and customs, complex traditions, and religious beliefs. The story is told in terms of the men and women who shaped and led the nation and the ordinary people who collectively created its unique character.  

Anne Hutchinson, Cotton Mather, Ben Franklin, Tom Paine, George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson, among others, are all presented in a fresh perspective. Wherever possible, letters, diaries, and recorded conversations are used to ensure a sense of actuality.

This is an in-depth portrait of a great people, from their fragile origins and struggles for independence, to their heroic efforts and sacrifices to deal with the "organic sin" of slavery and the preservation of the Union, to their explosive economic growth and emergence as the world's greatest superpower.

©1997 Paul Johnson (P)1998 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

Critic Reviews

"Johnson is a lively writer (more so than nearly all other historians), and May's reading is sensitive to Johnson's wit and sharp comments....Her reading is lively, crisp, and sharp throughout." (AudioFile)

"A magnificent achievement...brilliantly combines broad sweep with extraordinary detail." (Wall Street Journal

What listeners say about A History of the American People

Average Customer Ratings
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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

A British conservative's view of American history.

Absolutely wonderful. Covers history of the US from the first English settlers through the middle of the 1990s when the book was written. Very well read by Nadia May whose clear voice and pronunciation I found suited the book very well. One of the things I found most interesting is that Mr Johnson covers not only the facts but also the background philosophical views at the time as they pertain to the issues being covered. Thus Emerson and others come up not only as poet or writer, but also how their views supported or ran contrary to the then current American thinking.

While I found the entire book fascinating and full of nuggets of information I did not already know I found the treatment of the 20th century most interesting. Johnson's view of the years from Coolidge through Nixon is at odds with the views prevalent 30 years ago, but he makes his case very well indeed with facts, quotes and statistics. I heartily recommend this to anyone with an interest in US history.

Highly recommended.

54 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Took an Englishman to tell us our story...

Any additional comments?

I have to say, I was delighted to read in his preface that his (Johnson's) academic peers in England remarked "what is there to write about the history of America, there is no history whatsoever there...". Well, this Englishman, and the English Narrator Nadia May, create a story of American History that for me, was fascinating. How hard it must be to find a bearable narrator for a 47 hour book? Nadia May pulls it off with her delicious English accent (that I can understand easily) and slightly gossipy tone -- it's like hearing someone recite The National Enquirer of histories. It's that interesting. I listened to it during my 90 min commute time daily. It made the time fly by -- in fact, I often felt disappointed about turning if off when I arrived at work. There is so much information presented that breaking it up that way afforded me the chance to absorb some of the exhaustive details and circumstances. But it does not read like a text book. Some reviewers grouse about his modern history (such as Nixon) devolving into opinion rather than fact -- I have to agree, and I am humored that his accolades for Newt Gingrich will hound his academic career like a drunken night out captured in the tabloids. It's a Lindsay Lohan moment in the hallowed halls of Oxford! I am not a conservative and I didn't see that bias until the end of the book. (Isn't it a relief to realize that the meticulous, nearly inhuman effort to compile this enormous body of information into something readable confirms that even Johnson is human.) I forgive him his trespasses. About me -- I hated the subject of history and through some karma of the universe my high school history teacher taught current events instead - whew - missed the bullet with that one. No history in college so basically I was completely ignorant in this area -- and I wasn't a stellar academic student anyway. So if a person of very ordinary intelligence can enjoy this, who can't? I just want to say "thank you" to Paul Johnson for letting me find such deep enjoyment and appreciation for the story of our country.

12 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Superb history.

I am a longtime fan of American History and Paul Johnson's "A History of the American People" is the most insightful and as well researched as any I have encountered. I can recommend this book as an excellent source for the novice and advanced connoisseur. In addition the book is very entertaining and engaging.

16 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Takes Forever, but Worth It!

It takes a long time, but it's worth it. The downloading was difficult (the CD's didn't burn in perfect sequence -- next time I get something this huge I'll download one volume at a time instead of trying to do it all in one sitting).
It kept me going for months but it was so interesting I couldn't abandon it. Johnson's approach is not strictly time-sequential: he goes from one theme to another within the framework of time sequence. It makes a very interesting, analytical journey through American history, generously laced with anecdotes and character analyses that I never heard before. As a Brit, he has insights we don't have, and takes a longrange view that is refreshing to hear.

4 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • 9S
  • 01-28-10

Magnificent history

Johnson gives us a pro-American history of our great country. Finally, a book that does not condemn the U.S. due to her many, past wrongs. The overarching tone is optimism. Whether Johnson is discussing race relations, women's rights, industrialization or immigration, he obviously admires our nation(Johnson was born and educated in England)! Nadia May gives a crisp and lively reading which just adds to the listeners experience.

23 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

a good book for long travels

This book is well written. History is told in a perspective not told in any school I ever attended and was refreshing. I listened to every hour of it and might even listen to it again in a year or so. The narrator has an english accent which made for easy listening.

8 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Really interesting

Loved the speed and how the time periods and people were covered. I am not a big history buff but I really enjoyed this listen.

12 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Brilliant light in a sea of darkness!

Simply breathtaking. Johnson eviscerates the cancerous pablum spawned by the anti American Howard Zinn to tell a story of a people making their way in the world, often making mistakes and failing, but far more often succeeding brilliantly. Johnson, unlike Zinn, clearly recognizes the fundamental goodness of the American people writ large, and the extraordinary positive impact the United States has had on the world. It’s not that Johnson doesn’t recognize or address America’s failures and imperfections, he does, but he recognizes them for what they are, the human frailties of a people - individually and collectively- actively working to create prosperity and make their lives better. They don’t always succeed, but they certainly do more often than not, and the planet as a whole is far better off for it. At the end of the day, as a result of the American constitution, the individual liberty it protected and free markets and capitalism, the United States has driven more prosperity and freedom for more people around the world than any nation or people in history...Johnson tells you their story.

2 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Wonderful -- but too short.

What did you love best about A History of the American People?

The author's fair and evenhanded treatment of our history. Johnson is an Englishman, and this makes his views more interesting of course -- irrational perhaps, but true. This is probably why Alexis de Tocqueville's study of America so fascinates.

What other book might you compare A History of the American People to and why?

Paul Johnson's "Modern Times" was a book I read some years ago, and the compulsive readability of that history reminds me of this book.

What about Nadia May’s performance did you like?

She is at all times clear and concise. She uses accents sparingly and to good effect. And her own British accent is both pleasing (silly isn't it, how we Americans LOVE British accents!) and appropriate, given that it reflects the author himself.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Yes, but not really practical, given how long this book is!

Any additional comments?

Some reviewers accuse the author of "bias". This is spurious, given that ANY history that is not just an utterly dry recitation of dates and events requires the author to make judgements and -- after offering evidence -- express opinions.

That said, I guess there is no denying that those who regard FDR and JFK to have been flawless demigods; angels in human form descended from heaven to bless our poor republic with their holy powers my have some slight difficulty with the judgements expressed in this book.

In addition, those who consider Richard Nixon to have been a demon in human shape, an enemy of all that is right and good and pure, may in a similar fashion take exception to Paul Johnson's view of things.

On the whole I found the book a wonderful breath of fresh, politically incorrect air. Johnson shows America "warts and all". The damned evil of slavery for instance -- that original sin that so twisted and tortured the first hundred years of our republic (and whose death agonies haunt us still, right up to this day) -- is dealt with unflinchingly, with no excuses entertained, but without hyperbole.

The history of the American Indians (and yes, Johnson calls them INDIANS throughout the book, with no apologies) is likewise treated. The author does not at any time excuse injustices done against this people (or rather plural: PEOPLES, a very important fact to understand) but neither does he engage in the condescending business of elevating them to the status of utterly wise and flawless citizens of the Earth, in tune with nature and without any human weakness. That attitude is nothing more than a modern version of "the noble savage".

In short, this book is thought-provoking and endlessly engaging. You do not have to agree with everything the author thinks to enjoy this book, and profit from it.

2 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Fights conventional wisdom a little too hard

This lengthy overview is astoundingly informative, but cannot be anything more than an overview. I recommend it highly to get a broad picture of American history. Johnson has two biases about which he is relatively frank: he is slightly snobby and traditionalist, and he is relentlessly revisionist. I don't agree that America is lessened by its departure from older norms of elitist education and religious morality. His attempts to disprove modern historians, while usually enlightening - it is nice to hear the other side of the story about heroes and villains alike - can be outright deceptive. I make no claim of expertise on American history, but I can cite one outright lie in this work: he claims that Nixon's Whitehouse engaged in no more spying and wiretapping than his predecessors'. Isaac Walters' biography of Kissinger clearly states the changes made in the FBI which expanded domestic spying operations, and specifically names the few people Kennedy and Johnson spied on, and the much greater number of people Nixon spied on. I am for exposing the intellectual weaknesses in typical scholarship, but wonder how many things were twisted in areas I knew nothing about. That said, these inconsistencies are a tiny flaw in what is otherwise a magnum opus on our great nation.

38 people found this helpful