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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 members say

Average Customer Ratings

Overall

  • 4.3 out of 5.0
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    228
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Performance

  • 4.4 out of 5.0
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Story

  • 4.4 out of 5.0
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  • Overall

I am indebted to Paul Johnson

I cannot think of when I would ever say that I’m “indebted” to an author. Certainly I appreciate the many of the authors of books I’ve read and have been impressed by their talents and the works they have created. However, the emotional reaction that I have after reading Paul Johnson’s A History of the American People is one of gratitude and indebtedness. With the continued assault on our history with pop culture and political correctness it is refreshing to hear a well researched history that has not been tainted or biased as so much of what is promoted as history today. Johnson does not tell a one sided story, rather he tells a balanced version with a great deal of background perspective that both strengthens the credibility of the material as well as gives the reader a great deal of insight that most history books miss. I have already recommended this book to many of my friends and recommend it to anyone who wants to hear a fascinating story of the American people. I am indebted to Paul Johnson.

2 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Best and Worst of Conservative History

This is the best and worst of conservative history. Conservative histories tend to focus on elites, the "great men" as movers of history. In this case, it means we get lengthy biographies of American Presidents and other outstanding historical characters. These biographies are often fascinating, and they make for an interesting listen. And there is much to be learned about the nature of daily life and the whole of society through the select biographies of great individuals. Further, we can learn much about foreign and domestic policy by reading about the character development of the people shaping those policies.

The problem is that these biographies, as with the biographies in all conservative histories, are by definition select. We only hear about the common man and woman through the early life experiences of a common man or woman who became great. I say man or woman, but these biographies are almost always those of men, white men, and usually white men with money and power. We hear almost nothing of Native American, Civil Rights, or immigrant union leaders; little of the people of the American frontier; little of the life of slaves and black people; little of Mexican-Americans or the culture they built before we took their land; little of the environment; little of the urban poor. This means that Johnson provides a highly distorted view of American history. It fails to attune us to the feelings and motives of the real people that matter most. We do not see American history from all points of view, and thus this history, while seeking to be comprehensive, is deceptively biased. And even as Johnson brings to bare great powers of analysis, his history is in the end shallow.

The tendency in reading or listening to this sort of history is that we ignore not only the common people but the deeper socio-economic forces that move history. We miss the meaning of say the Great Migration or the upturn in crime in the mid-1960s. We miss the deeper motives behind the social movements of the left and right alike, the populists in the late nineteenth century, the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, the mass unionization of the twentieth century. What's worse, insofar as reading history deepens our empathy for the people about which we learn, history like this trains us to empathize with elites. Others tend to look like irrational bit players. Worse still is the danger that, having read such histories repeatedly, we will come to care more for elites.

Johnson's emphasis on the biographies of great men cannot be teased apart from his political conservatism. And this conservatism is on full display when we arrive at the twentieth century. To the extent that reviewers of this work, on Audible and Amazon alike, know their history well, they will be disturbed by Johnson's biases at earlier and earlier dates. This is political history in the worst sense of a political hit job. He goes after Woodrow Wilson, Hoover, FDR, Kennedy, Carter, and Clinton. He lauds Harding, Coolidge, Truman, Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan, and Bush Sr. If you know your history well, you will note that Hoover was actually quite liberal in many ways and Truman quite conservative. Liberal and progressive Presidents get bad reviews; conservatives get good reviews. If you don't think your own views will be biased through those of Johnson, I believe you overestimate the powers of your conscious mind. The problem is not that Johnson points out the many ways in which FDR lied and deceived in order to get his way; the problem is that this is Johnson's main focus on FDR. If you are biased against lying and deceiving Presidents and biased in favor of those who are smart, who care for the common people, and exhibit the qualities of institutional genius, you will most likely come away nevertheless frustrated by FDR. This is biased history at its worst.

This political bias makes Johnson's coverage of the twentieth century annoying. Of course, a conservative seeking ammunition may find all of this useful. But we should go to history not for ammunition that might support our current views but rather to learn new information and perspectives and thereby transform those views. In this regard, Johnson fails. But he is such a good writer and insightful in the domains he does cover that I give him three stars.

For a vastly more insightful and authoritative account of foreign policy making elites (Presidents, Secretaries of State, Congressional Leaders, etc), check out George C. Herring's "From Colony to Superpower." If you want bias in the opposite direction, with an emphasis on feeling for the marginalized, check out Howard Zinn's "People's History of the United States." Many on Amazon think the two make a complimentary pair.

Personally (or perhaps I should say impersonally), I tend to give more credit to the impersonal forces of geography, resources, economics, institutional development, and political policy in moving history. If you do as well, read this work with caution.

4 of 9 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Not much different than a HS text book

The author made a lot of assumptions from assumptions, especially in dealing with Native Americans. The natives of North America were not primitve and few. The numbers before the European diseases wiped them out down to the few (before any major settlements from Europe arrived) were in fact quite large. There were even abandoned settlements where European settlers just moved in. See the book "1491".

It was, however, very interesting to hear US History from a woman with a British Accent. I wich it had had less scope and more detail.

4 of 9 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • EUGENE
  • WALTHAM, MA, United States
  • 09-28-10

Very informative BUT

Richard Nixon regarded as the greatest politician and leader after Jefferson was surprising. Even the Nixon family would not have written this. File under historical fiction.

3 of 7 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Jonathan
  • Mancos, United States Minor Outlying Islands
  • 04-09-11

Interesting but strongly biased; not to be trusted

I was very pleased with this book and recording through the periods for which I had no personal experience. But when it got to "modern" times (ca. 1900 onwards), which I have studied as well as lived, I realized that the author is strongly biased and indeed does not provide an accurate historical account, but rather a philosophical and political one. This, of course, means I do not trust the history before 1900, as I'm sure the same bias exists. I couldn't stand to even listen to the book after he starts in on the 1960s, as he is both wrong and strongly prejudiced. I do not recommend.

3 of 8 people found this review helpful

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Bias

Very bias, especially after the civil war. I also don't remember him mentioning Japanese Internment at all, which is crazy. However the reader was VERY good.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Ugh..... Awful

Would you try another book from Paul Johnson and/or Nadia May?

If the performer were different.

Would you ever listen to anything by Paul Johnson again?

Yes, if she is not reading.

Would you be willing to try another one of Nadia May’s performances?

NO, NEVER, AWFUL. She was hard to follow, very little emotion, no voice inflections. It was awful. Waste of money.

What character would you cut from A History of the American People?

Have no idea. Couldn't listen to it. It was awful.

Any additional comments?

I am really interested in the subject of this book. It is assigned for my History class. This woman was horrible. I love audio books and she was torture. I would listen again if it were performed by someone else. Good grief. Trying to listen is an exercise in frustration. Never again.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Too many mistakes.

What disappointed you about A History of the American People?

Not written by a historian but by a journalist

What was most disappointing about Paul Johnson’s story?

Inaccuracies

Have you listened to any of Nadia May’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

I enjoyed her

What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

I have previous read many biographies on the people he discussed and he makes too many errors in facts.

Any additional comments?

I suggest listening to some of the teaching company histories or individual biographies on some of the people mentions. This is really a history of great men not about the American people per se.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

A Reactionary's Rewriting of History

The supposed "history" of the twentieth century is so one-sided that it is insulting to any reader with a minimum knowledge of current events. As far as I know, the earlier history is equally unfair and biased. The danger of this book is that the author's misuse of statistics and careful use of code works might trick a reader into believing that this book is a history, rather than a rant against anything that does not fit into his hyper-conservative framework. I love history and this book is the greatest disappointment that I have ever heard. Watch for it soon on the Texas State School Board's Required Reading List.

3 of 10 people found this review helpful

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A Teabagger's history of the US

This is a book of the supposed history of the United States as seen and reinterpreted by the Teabagger wing of the Republican party. It goes so far as to portray President Nixon as an upstanding American hounded out of office by the one-sided liberal media press. The book ends in about 1996. I can't wait for it's portrayal of the GWB presidency.

2 of 8 people found this review helpful