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American History ABCs
This is really three quite different books, each with its own tone, outlook, and period, and they don’t quite form a coherent whole (but are a bargain at one credit). I found each book better than the prior book, as the author seems more comfortable with the modern era.
The title is a bit deceptive. I expected “The American Experience” to be about, well, the Experience of the people of the United States. Instead this is a very basic, conventional, history of the United States from the constitutional convention (after the War for Independence) up to 1980. Like many other US Histories, this focuses primarily on the presidents, and only tangentially on the historical issues each president faced, and almost not at all on the broader themes and tides of history or the minutia of real people’s lives. The books do cover all the conventional keynotes of US history very well.
The one overarching theme the books does seem to explore the meaning of Liberty, and it seems to conclude this has never been quite clear. Other than that, there is very little analysis or thematic context. Until the last book, almost all analysis is added by quoting other historians (making some point this author chooses to emphasize). This leads to a somewhat namby-pamby, term paper sounding, narrative.
Sporadically some non-political aspects of experience are mentioned (arts, crafts, technology, business, living conditions, religion, science, education, sports, etc.), but these tellings are generally in alignment with the somewhat mythical conventional US history and don’t provide enough context to provide a true slice of life.
I am always annoyed when historical spending or wages are quoted in a currency with no context or baseline conversion rate. Of course, one can’t convert historical dollars to the current rate of exchange for every reader, but a single benchmark (like 1980 dollars) can be used to place all such values in a single, more understandable, context. Then each reader can look up one exchange rate (1980 to reader-present) and have a better idea what a $1/day wage would really mean.
There are several other lack-of-scaling issues, like discussing the growth of various things in growth-rate or absolute numbers without the context of the size or growth of other related things. Like discussing the growth in the communist party without comparing it to the size or growth of other political parties. There were a few other cases where numbers where presented, but I had to bookmark the passage and later search the web for the context required to fully understand the meaning of the number.
The orthodox retelling in these books leaves out a lot of interesting aspects of US history. This history seems a bit sterile, deemphasizing the nastier bits of US history, leaving out much of the mechanics of real US democracy. The books also don’t explore the various cycles of US history (religiosity, nationalism, conservatism, isolationism, etc.) nor does it closely examine the major slow, yet steady, flows of US history (literacy, voting rights, technology, agriculture, transportation, etc.)
The narration is very good without being especially remarkable. The narrator is very clear and pleasant to listen to and he does his best to add life to somewhat lifeless text.
This book is excellent at being what it is, and is well worth the listen for anyone unfamiliar with the basics of the conventional telling of US history (which every US resident should know). Yet, this book did not deliver what I had hoped, an exploration of “The American Experience”.
11 of 11 people found this review helpful
What made the experience of listening to The American Experiment the most enjoyable?
Well written and performed. Interesting and thought provoking extremely detailed history of the U.S. Keep asking myself why I was never taught much of this history either in public schools or university. I am preparing to write a family history to flesh out dry ancestry data and this book is a tremendous help.
Have you listened to any of Mark Ashby’s other performances before? How does this one compare?
Not sure I have listened to any other Ashby performances but will look for others. Pleasant voice that supports the narrative but doesn't "grandstand" as some do.
Any additional comments?
I have purchased dozens of books from Audible. This is definitely in my top 5.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful