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plaidfroggie
Posts: 116
Registered: ‎04-21-2009
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Woefully ignorant of American History need book suggestions

Just a little background about me that might help you when suggesting books to read.  I am 37 years old, and I am woefully ignorant of history including American History.  My father was from England and got a better grouding in American History than I did, and he didn't immigrate until he was an adult!  My problem is this, I am not good at remembering historical dates.  Yes I know dates are an important part of history, but so is the concepts and social context of history.  My inability to remember dates also includes the fact that although I will have been married 14 years in July I will most likely forget our anniversary yet again much to my husband's amusement.

 

My school district hired coaches to teach the history classes.  This meant that we did not really discuss anything about the history texts that we were assigned to read.  These coach/history teachers did not even have a decent grouding in the subject as they were unable to answer any questions posed to them and would only point you back to your history textbook.  All the classes were match the date to the historical event by fill in the dot for the most part.  For the most part these coach/history teachers were planning football moves instead of teaching.  It was bad enough that we did in class reading for the most part!

 

Our "geography/history" class freshman year was commonly referred to as Coach Kelly's coloring class.  You needed colored pencils and did in class reading.  Our "homework" consisted of coloring maps with all geographical and national boundaries already printed out, we just had to use the right color when we followed the rivers, mountains and color each already defined for us country a different color!  There were exactly two non-coach history teachers.  I had one of them for Democracy my senior year.  She taught the non-AP American History class, and I actually believe if I had taken her class instead of the AP segment I would have gotten a 5 on the AP American History test instead of the awful score I did receive because AP American history was taught by a football coach who didn't know squat about history and still followed the easy grade fill in the bubble format.

 

I must point out here that sports, especially football were considered vital more so than academics.  Whenever they wanted to pass a levy for more school funding in my school district it would fail until they presented it a second time by saying, pass this levy or we will cut the football team.  It always passed the second time around because how dare they threaten football!  I went to a very blue collar high school and sports was a big deal, but they didn't have the budget to have coaches on the staff as just coaches.  Instead they had the coaches "pretend" to teach.  My older brother was a football player and my parents didn't care that their daughter on the academic track in school was getting a bad quality history education from elementary through high school as long as it meant my older brother got to play football. 

 

My school district did well on the tests that used to be referred to the 3 R's, reading, writing and arthmitic.  Then again the coaches didn't pretend to teach science, math, english or any academic subject except history.  I do have a fairly good idea of the industrial revolution in England because my freshman English teacher taught us the history of England during that time when we read Charles Dickens.  When he was originally hired he was promised a slot when it opened in history, but they kept making new hires of coach history teachers and he ended up an English teacher his whole career.

 

I have a fairly good basis of Roman history because I took Latin as my language elective and we learned history and culture along with the language.  I also have a fairly decent understanding of the Puritan aspect of American History because we read things in English class that led to teaching us a considerable amount of that history so we would have the perspective needed to understand the novels.  We also got a grouding in the McCarthy era since we read The Crucible and our teacher explained to us the "witch hunt" philosophy that prompted that classic.  My Latin teacher taught English though not the college prep track, so really most of the history that did stick with me was all the result of the English teachers picking up the coach/history teachers' slack.  We didn't focus very much on dates in English class, but to this day I still have a firm understanding of those events thanks to those teachers.  I believe I could actually engage in fairly intelligent discourse on the history that my English teachers covered, though I wouldn't be able to point out the dates of any specific historical event from those subjects.

 

The texts we had for our history classes were subpar as well.  They read like mind numbing timelines with any potential life sucked out of them.  They truthfully made history the dullest subject for me even though history is supposed to be one long interconnected story that really happened.  They were so bad that while I was interested in the written for children biographies of presidents and historical women, when it came to reading anything else for history by the time I was in the 6th grade when the history coach/teacher trend started I lost any interest I previously had in history and stopped reading outside books on the subject of history.

 

My husband transferred from a really good school in WI his junior year to my high school in OH.  They had actual history teachers teach the subject, none of the "read in class so I can work on my football team's strategy" crap that I experienced.  His favorite subject was history, and he has tried to spark an interest in it for me.  Unfortunately he has failed miserably.  I primarily read fiction, and when I do choose non-fiction I am more interested in new scientific discoveries than history.  I must admit I am here asking for good historical reads because of 2 movies....please don't throw me out of here for letting Hollywood spark my interest all you true history buffs!  The two movies are The Patriot and GI Jane.  I am not a fan of Mel Gibson or Demi Moore, but they did spark a bit of interest.

 

I have done some web research about the Equal Rights Amendment.  I have to admit my interest in that is purely a result of some pretty crappy misogynistic crap from my family regarding the potential of a female candidate in the last election.  My older brother pulled out the tired old line of "We wouldn't want a female commander in chief of the armed forces and a pms'ing woman shouldn't have the potential to start WWIII.  Not that it matters, but my family is also racist so they are not happy with President Obama since he is not a WASP.  My older brother is in the Air Force and basically told me he now has a problem with his oath to the military because it involves enemies both foreign and domestic and we have a black(though he used the "n" word) president. 

 

They do not discuss the political issues at all, for them it is strictly gender and race.  My mother won't even go willingly to a female doctor as she believes they are automatically inferior doctors based solely on gender.  I know she ended up complaining to me about the only female specialist that she was referred to because there was no male doctor choice even though her trusted male doctor told her the female doctor was the most competent choice in the field within a 30 mile radius. 

 

The problem I encountered while reading online about the ERA is that I do not have enough of a historical basis to understand everything that I am trying to figure out about the continuing misogynistic nature of America.  From what I can tell a woman was primarily responsible for skunking the ERA by bringing up issues of women being drafted for war and equal rights for homosexuals. (At least this is the gist I was getting from a variety of websites, so don't crucify me if I am wrong)  Since I had always been taught the ERA had to do with equal pay and treatment of women, I don't really understand why it is continually skunked by politicians.  I can understand it from the perspective of my family which blames everything wrong in society on working mothers and believe heavily in the return to family values line spouted by many politicians. AKA in my family as keep 'em barefoot and pregnant.

 

Now if I remember correctly from history I barely learned in high school, it was actually war that led to the entry of large numbers of women entering the workforce since there was a shortage of men to man factories and perform other jobs.  I also believe that from what I remember many of these women automatically lost their jobs when the men returned home from the war because they were "better" candidates for the jobs based on gender and the need to support families.

 

Okay in the interest of helping me understand America please piont me in the direction of some non-timeline interesting history books.  I do not expect them to read like a historical fiction novel, but I do want to be "sucked" into the struggles that people (famous and common) experienced during some pivotal times of American History.  I am interested in anything that will eventually point me in a direction that will help me wrap my head around the fact that women are still treated as inferiors and they are only recently starting to teach about historical female and African American figures. 

 

I realize that as a female I probably should have looked into this a long time ago, however I have always buried my head in science and math more than history and social issues.  The "softer" sciences never had much appeal to me compared to physics, chemistry and biology classes.  I even managed to major in chemical engineering when it was a 4 year degree that did not require you to take a language and not very many classes outside of math and science at all.  Essentially I am lost and need direction.  Yes I want a good read to keep my attention.  I am probably not the type who really belongs on this forum, but I do need the direction so I popped in.

 

Thanks in advance

Frequent Contributor
fordmg
Posts: 546
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
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Re: Woefully ignorant of American History need book suggestions

Wow, there is so much out there, where to start.   For a good foundation of the Independence of America - try Founding Brothers, or anything else by Joseph Ellis.  Founding Mothers by Cookie Roberts gives a different perspective.  This is also a readable volume.  The June featured book on Benjamin Franklin by Walter Isaacson is also good.

 

For the Civil War try Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson.  It is probably the only one you would want for this era, unless you want a biography of Lincoln. 

 

For later history there is just too much to choose from.  Try a biography by David McCallough Truman or Edmund Morris Theodore Rex.  David Halberstam The Fifties is good as is Mark Kurlansky  1968 the Year That Rocked the World.

 

That should get you started.  I tried to pick readable texts.

 

MG

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sps2003
Posts: 1
Registered: ‎06-25-2009
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Re: Woefully ignorant of American History need book suggestions

[ Edited ]

Hey plaidfroggie,

 

While I cannot recommend any books on the women's rights movement, when it comes to civil rights, I would _highly_ recommend the trilogy by Taylor Branch: Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63, Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years, 1963-65 and At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-1968.  While the books focus on the life of King in many respects, they also do a great job of opening the reader up to a host of other individuals and events that helped shaped the civil rights movement of the late 50's and throughout the decade of the 60's.  Good luck and enjoy!

Message Edited by sps2003 on 06-25-2009 03:35 PM
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plaidfroggie
Posts: 116
Registered: ‎04-21-2009
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Re: Woefully ignorant of American History need book suggestions

Thank you so much for your numerous suggestions and that you were thoughtful enough keep readability in mind.  I will look into reading some of those books when I get a chance.  I really appreciate it.  I was actually intimidated coming in here because I am so ignorant on all matters related to American History.

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plaidfroggie
Posts: 116
Registered: ‎04-21-2009
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Re: Woefully ignorant of American History need book suggestions

sps,

 

I think after checking out the founding of the nation suggestions I will basically skip ahead a bit to check out the Civil Rights movement.  I was vaguely (well more than vaguely but too busy at the time) wanting to look into King's life in High School where he got exactly one page in our brand new American History texts for the AP American History section.  At that there was't a full page of text because there was  a big picture.

Distinguished Correspondent
Adelle
Posts: 70
Registered: ‎11-09-2008
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Re: Woefully ignorant of American History need book suggestions

Hi PlaidFroggie,      Odds are you're already past the 1776...but if you're not do let me recommend Angel in the Whirlwind by Benson Bobrick.   As the reviewer wrote:

 

Angel in the Whirlwind: The Triumph of the American Revolution by Anonymous

 

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September 21, 2000: Angel in the Whirlwind is the perfect book for anyone who has more than a simple interest in the Revolutionary War, but can barely remember what you learned in your history class. Bobrick's book is outstanding in two respects: his style is extremely easy to read and the book provides an abundant amount of insightful political analysis and colorful humanistic information.

 

I enjoyed it immensely.