"We are of opinion that instead of letting books grow moldy behind an iron grating, far from the vulgar gaze, it is better to let them wear out by being read." - Jules Verne
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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

History of the United States (Kindle book) by Charles A. Beard and Mary Ritter Beard

 As a classroom history teacher, I realize that I am out of my league in reviewing this book. Charles and Mary Beard are "name brand" historians. There are precious few historians that make it to that level, and for me, a classroom teacher, to deign to review the work of a historian that has an entire school corporation named for him (in his hometown of Knightstown, IN) takes some professional chutzpah on my part. It's the equivalent of a local bar band writing a criticism of the Beatles or a piano student evaluating Chopin.

Well, here's to chutzpah!

On a general level, this is an excellent textbook. Two general themes of the Beards are:

1) economics is a dominant driver of history.

2) America is a story of expanding rights - more groups of people are securing their rights as time goes on.

The book focuses on social issues such as how things were manufactured and societal heirarchy rather than battles, wars and strategies. For example, the Battles of Lexington and Concord (the "Shot heard 'round the world") get four sentences, none describing the battle itself. This makes it rather unique in history textbooks, although most don't dwell on the battles for long, they do mention tactics, changes the war brought to technology, etc.

The book is well-written. It has two authors and does not suffer from the stifling over-editing of most modern history texts that render them sterile, dry and boring.

Some commentary based on notes I took while reading:

-A strong section on the colonies

-An especially well-written, if brief, commentary on the Declaration of Independence.

Charles A. Beard

-From their commentary on a series of inventors in the late 18th and early 19th centuries: "...these men and a thousand more were destroying in a mighty revolution of industry the world of the stagecoach and the tallow candle which Washington and Franklin had inherited little changed from the age of Caesar." (location 4784)

-Charles A. Beard is a big proponent of the theory that underlying economic issues (industrial/small farms vs. large-scale cash crop agricultural) caused the Civil War, not slavery. I think that is an unreconcilable position in that slavery was the basis for the South's wealth - so slavery is the root. Beard lets his dichotomy stand unchallenged in his comment: "While slavery lasted, the economy of the South was inevitably agricultural." (location 5008)

-There are two large comments on immigration that show that the worries we have nowadays are no different than those in the past (locations 6492 & 9046).

-Native Americans (or Indians, if you prefer) are almost totally left out of the book.

-They skim over the backroom deal to end Reconstruction in the Tilden-Hayes Presidential election. They are more sympathetic to the plight of the defeated Southerners than newer textbooks are.

Mary Ritter Beard
-Very good section on Women's rights. First-rate and better than anything I've seen in a current textbook.
The Beards are proponents of history being driven by economics, but they allow that their theory is not exact nor perfect. They note that the 13 Colonies were quite prosperous and secure just before the Revolutionary War. Despite the fact that their fortunes would be at risk, the Founding Fathers took the road to Independence. They note: "...mere economic advantage is not necessarily the determining factor in the fate of peoples." (location 1463)

It suffers from age a bit, which is to be expected from anything produced in 1921. First of all, it is missing nearly 90 years of history which, of course, cannot be helped. There are a few spelling differences and some different uses of language, such as referring to nationalities as races (the Irish race, etc.). There are understandable non-PC words, such as the use of the word "Negro", which are used without any intended bias, but an inexplicable repeated use of the adjective "savage" to describe the Indians (or Native Americans, if you prefer).
I rate this book 5 stars out of 5.
Reviewed July 14, 2009. This book can be found on Amazon here: History of the United States


  1. Excellent review. Thanks for posting!

  2. Excellent review! The book in on my favorite list to buy. Thanks.
    Osvaldo (from Brazil)