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Don't Know Much About- History
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Finally, someone who tells history like it was, without the old textbook gloss that's put so many students into premature naptime and misinformed the few who stayed awake. Davis corrects the myths and misconceptions from Columbus up through the Clinton administration, and shows that truth is more entertaining than propaganda.

Ebook Extra: Don't Know Much About Kenneth C. Davis: An Interview with the Author

A new, completely revised, expanded and updated edition of the million-selling New York Times bestseller that launched the entire Don't Know Much About- series

When Don't Know Much About- History first appeared thirteen years ago, it created a sensation. With humor, wit, great stories, and a trademark conversational style, the book brought Americans a fresh new take on history. Shattering myths and vividly bringing the past to life, it spent thirty-five consecutive weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. Davis proved that Americans don't hate history -- they just hate the dull textbook version they were force-fed in school. The book became an instant classic, an "anti -textbook" that has sold more than 1.3 million copies.

In his irreverent and popular question-and- answer style, Davis now returns with a completely revised edition that brings history right up to the moment -- covering such topics as the end of the Cold War, Clinton's impeachment, the bizarre election of 2000, and the events that led to September 11.

Incorporating new research and discoveries, Davis also updates and expands on such long-standing American controversies as the Jefferson-Hemings affair, the Alger Hiss trial, and the Rosenberg spy case. And he includes an expanded "civics lesson" that examines some of America's hottest social and political issues, such as the death penalty, gun control, and school prayer.

For history buffs and history-phobes alike, longtime fans who need a refresher course, and for a new generation of Americans who are still in the dark about America's past, Davis proves once more why People magazine said, "Reading him is like returning to the classroom of the best teacher you ever had."

Customer Reviews:

  • History made interesting
    I would recommend this very well-written book to everyone. It is filled with so much interesting information and one doesn't need to be a history buff to enjoy it....more info
  • Entertaining for its Obvious Bias
    In terms of objectivity, this book has little to offer. Bias in the modern sections is easily spotted. Read the sections that describe Ronald Reagan as an incompetent dolt and Bill Clinton as a brilliant but flawed politician. If his bias is so readily apparent in these modern passages, then what kind of bias is probable in sections where a reader is less able to discern his 'slant' on history to suit hisown agenda. Historians should offer up facts and figures and weave from a variety of sources to come up with a solid profile of history. Davis has an ax to grind for the liberal camp. At the end of the book, he refers to Howard Zinn, a hard left historian, who offers a 'necessary corrective' in his books.

    If you're looking for history books, keep looking. ...more info
  • Don't know much history
    Interesting book...well written and easy to read. It's a good refresher for those who have not had a history class in a while. This book is a "must read!"...more info
  • Excellent remedy for school history
    Like many other reviewers, I didn't do well in history courses. Yeah, that may have been a fault of my academic laziness--I've always preferred reading what I want to rather than what someone else tells me to read. But mostly it was teachers not good at expressing the value of history (except in what grade I might get) and at the revised fairy tales of which most texts consisted.

    Since school, I've grown more fond of history, and use it a lot in my profession. And I find that most people are still fond of the fairy tales. (Those are what got us into Iraq!)

    This is a great summary of US history. For those who proclaim a "liberal bias," well, I've corresponded with some of you who claim Ann Coulter is objective. (!) Any history is open to interpretation. A true historian must keep what he or she writes into various perspectives. Like Davis proclaims, for example, that by today's standards Lincoln is a hopeless racist, but by the standards of his day, he was a liberator.

    I warn you, the book can be depressing. Like the allegations that Roosevelt was a red-flag-waving commie, while making some right wing loons feel comfortable in this era, it seems ludicrous to those of us not drowned in ideological fantasies. FDR, while revising a traditionally anti-labor system to PRESERVE the system rather than destroy it, was seen as a traitor to his class.

    I particularly liked Davis's comments on various Supreme Court justices whose biases led to decisions many of which have long since been overturned. So much for those who feel the Supreme Court is somehow above partisan politics...

    There are quotes galore, of Henry Ford's accusations, for example, of the workers' laziness as the cause for the depression; of Herbert Hoover's naivte, if not idiocy.

    For the one reviewer who decried the book for lack of footnotes--an oft-used ploy by the right to claim a book has no credibility--each section has a "Must Read" list of books which the author presumably used as his sources. I have many of them, and they are "must reads."

    Sad that a fine summary such as this is seen as iconoclastic, when it is those who spread the fairy tales that are the real rebels against reality.

    If you thrive on the fairy tales that had, say, one paragraph on Joe McCarthy in the text, and chapters on the evils of the commies overseas--put into no context--or of how if only blacks were to have pulled themselves up by their bootstraps they could have defeated slavery on their own, then this isn't a book for you. But if you'd like a great HONEST summary of American history, complete with reference books galore to follow up with, I heartily encourage you to read this book. ...more info
  • "...that bloody road map of American history"
    While Mr. Davis offers readers an engaging top-line recap of American history, his decidedly liberal bias reveals itself as the 20th century unfolds. One only needs to skim the Afterword from pages 589 to 593 to see his single paragraph recaps of our country's internal growing pains and struggles end again and again with "American Terror", including the WWII ending Hiroshima bombing.
    I do not recall a single positive word he has to say about American business, dismisses at least ? of our Presidents as incompetent in single sentences, and when considered as a whole really makes all of us out as greedy, racist ethnic cleansers.
    There is no doubt that our proud country has had many dark periods and bad turns but I like to think we, at the end of the day have done much to correct our ways. There is no hope to be perfect in everybody's eyes.
    I didn't know as much as I wanted to know about America's history when I started the book, and after seeing his left leaning spin from the 1940's forward, I wonder how much I now know about the truth of the preceding 348 years.
    ...more info
  • Little Bias Building to Bigger Bias.
    As mentioned in the previous review, the book shows the author's liberal intent. In addition, there are sufficient inaccuracies to make the book somewhat suspect. Describing the Battle of the Coral Sea as a Naval victory is right out of a high school text book when, in fact, the Navy's definition of victory then was we got out with most of our ships. Inferring that the Navy at Guadacanal was pretty much victorious means the author skipped his research on Savo Island. He even included the old wive's tale about the USS Arizona taking a bomb down the stack at Pearl Harbor. The section on FDR was, again, right out of a high school text with virtually all positive messages. The author had the right idea with this book about filling in gaps in our history, but using it as a platform for his bias detracts from the work. There is one item I must compliment the author on and that was his courage mentioning the slaughter of civilians at Hue, Vietnam during the Tet Offensive. For a liberal to include this piece of history must have been difficult. At My Lai, hundreds were killed but at Hue it was thousands. The press and historians choose to celebrate My Lai and ignore Hue. The book is a good read as long as you understand the agenda being presented and know something about history....more info
  • Entertaining But Slanted
    Thorough understandings of history come only after reading many many books on the subject, including a few in neighboring subjects. If you take your history from pop culture (books like this one), you will have a contorted understanding. Let's look at a passage from Davis's book. He's talking here about the Industrial Revolution and Robber Barons:

    "Another of the era's giants was John D Rockefeller (1839 - 1937), a bookkeeper by training who was once hired to investigate the investment promise of oil. Rockefeller told his employers it had 'no future' and then invested in it himself, buying his first refinery in 1862. With a group of partners, he formed the South Improvement Company, a company so corrupt that it was forced out of business. Rockefeller responded by forming Standard Oil of Cleveland in 1870. Standard bought-off whole legislatures, made secret deals with railroads to obtain favorable rates, and weakened rivals through bribery and sabotage until Rockefeller could buy them out with Standard Oil stock.
    "The trusts and enormous monopolies kept prices artificially high, prevented competition, and set wages scandously low. These monopolies had been built through graft and government subsidies, on the backs of poorly paid workers, whose attempts to organize were met with deadly force.."

    Each of the above sentences (there are seven in all) is demonstrably wrong, but since most college texts (ones I've seen) agree generally, nobody would likely second-guess any of them. But is the truth important? Please let me number and correct each sentence:

    1. Any man interested in going into business in those days took an apprenticeship as a bookkeeper. Wouldn't you say that accounting is important to a business man? A "bookkeeper by training" is not right. It leads the reader to think that he was a bookkeeper by trade before he went on to rip people off.

    2. Who hired him to investigate the investment promise of oil? No answer is given. Why? If J.D. saw no investment potential in oil in the 1850's, it was only because everyone else did too. Oil was difficult to pump from the ground and expensive to refine. But Mr Davis doesn't care about this; he wants his readers to think that J.D. turned right around and, behind the backs of his employers, began quietly to invest in it himself, secretly believing in oil's promise.
    In reality, there's a five year gap between Rockefeller's "investigation" and his "purchase" of a refinery in 1862. And it was in this 5 year period that Edwin Drake devised a method of pumping oil from the ground (1859). Then, suddenly, oil was all the rage. Now J.D. was interested in oil, and he began studying it with another enthusiast, Samuel Andrews. The two men did not "purchase" their first refinery, they BUILT it.

    3. J.D. did not "form the South Improvement Company" with a group of partners. He joined the already formed trust thinking that he could save on shipping and cut some waste. He later said that it was the biggest mistake of his life. That company was actually stillborn, having its charter revoked without ever having shipped a single barrel of oil. It never conducted ANY business at all.

    4 & 5. This business about buying off whole legislatures exists only in Mr Davis's imagination. I guess Mr. Davis has a kind of momentum by now, throwing around words like "graft" and "corruption," that he can't help himself. As for obtaining favorable rates from railroads, what's wrong with that? When you purchase in large volumes, you can get discounts. I can go to Amazon right now and buy envelopes. I can buy a dozen at one unit price but a gross at smaller unit price. Is this graft, Mr Davis?
    He never bribed or sabotaged rivals. He did offer to buy them out, often. Sometimes they would sell, sometimes they would not. J.D. went his way, often becoming good friends with the very men whom he had bought-out.

    6. I've already refuted the premise of this sentence. The trust was dissolved before doing ANY business, and his giant Standard Oil was not a coercive monopoly, it was just BIG. And it was BIG because of it's efficiency and ability to bring refined oil products to market at prices that were hard to compete with. It was not CORRUPTION, Mr Davis, it was EFFECIENCY.

    7 Standard Oil led the industry in pay and benefits. They took good care of their employees, saw to their medical care when they were sick, and pensioned them in old age.

    Could it be that Kenneth Davis, and the college professors who agree with his general assessment, wish to teach people that business is evil? How else could there be a popular view that Bill Gates was a "Pirate of Silicon Valley?"
    And just look at all the work that it took to clean up the mess made by only seven sentences... sentences that would be taken at face value by most any neutral mind. Then consider the severe messes that must exist elsewhere in his book, such as his treatment of C.Vanderbilt and his denial of the existence of cowboys, not to mention his defense of Algier Hiss!
    I don't know Davis's sources, but mine in defence of JDR are from 3 books: "Study in Power" by Allan Nevins (1953), JDR's own short autobiography "Reminiscences of Men and Events" and "The American Petroleum Industry; The Age of Illumination" by Williamson and Daum (1959).

    ...more info
  • Interesting read
    This book will open your eyes about America's past. Some of the answers are long-winded, but overall a great read and worth the investment. ...more info
  • Should be called "Don't know much about NEGATIVE History"
    This book is very informative but the author is almost un-American in the way he skims over America's great accomplishments while concentrating mainly on it's moral shortcomings.

    He is very liberal in his thinking and it shows in his book. He is also very cynical about human intentions, always pointing out negative reasons for an action. For example, he tells us the first world war was about "Empire Building," which was not the original cause of the war. He also indicates that the United States entered the war for profit. I am sure some people stood to profit but I highly doubt that was the main reason.

    This information in this book is worth reading but combine it with other research if you want the whole picture....more info
  • unfortunately, learned it...
    I really wanted to like this book. As a fan of history, I like texts that explore historical events from myriad perspectives, "winners" and "losers" alike. The title of Davis's book alludes that the reader will "get the skinny" on what really happened in the course of American history, not simply the tall-tales we are taught in most history classes in our formal educations. However, Davis does not really reveal much new information or add insight with regard to debates or conflicts in our understanding of historical events.

    For example, Davis begins his history of America where most historians do, with the "discovery" of the New World. Like he does throughout the text, Davis asks a question and offers an answer. (This format has been described as "irreverent" on the front flap, but I am not quite sure if "irreverent" is the right word here.) Thus, he asks: Did Columbus discover America? Of course, Davis refutes the traditional claim that Columbus discovered America and reports that the Norse were in Newfoundland a half-millennium prior to Columbus. Unfortunately, I would guess that many, if not most, people already knew this, which makes for a wobbly introduction into the history we supposedly never learned. Davis also lets us in on the "secret" that Columbus was despicable and cruel towards his native hosts. Shocker.

    Additionally, many of the questions Davis asks leave no room for discussion. They are questions that lead to, for lack of a better term, to "fact-based" answers. Again, from the first chapter, Davis asks, "When and how did Jamestown get started?" and "What were the thirteen original colonies?" Okay, so Jamestown was settled in the early 16th century and the main crop was tobacco. Not much else there. The thirteen original colonies? We learned these, too. "Who really killed JFK?" Without admitting to a conspiracy theory, the best we can do on this is speculate. Davis, however, seems to support the "lone gunman" theory.

    As for lists, Davis also devotes several pages simply to listing chronological events in the major wars of American history. While noteworthy, the chronologies do not add much to things we didn't know.

    I don't wish to disparage Davis or his text. The book is well-written and highly accessible. I imagine it could be used as a high-school freshman history text. Perhaps I am getting too hung up on the title, which led me to believe I was going to get a different spin on history. However, Davis could have provided a more compelling text if he had changed his format, parsed out the less controversial or debatable issues, and went from there. For the beginner, this book might be a good place to begin. However, I would refer the more inquisitive reader to Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States or Paul Johnson's A History of the American People.
    ...more info
  • Not interely accurate
    Mr. Davis' Don't Know Much About books are fun to read and enlightening, however there are not just a few deviations from fact, especially in this book and his Civil War book. I enjoyed reading them but they should not be taken for the "end all - be all". Some further research is advised....more info
  • Not "quite" everything you need to know
    Davis presents "his" views on American history and if you are too lazy to study or read up yourself then you might think this is a landmark work. It isn't! He presents his opinions as facts or implies they are factual without any supporting evidence. This is typical revisionist history without the benefit of facts to support his views. This does not fill any gaps from middle school. However, the book does provide a small amount of energy...if used correctly can start a few fires in the old fireplace. Other than that...not really useful as a reference.

    Andy Eskew...more info
  • Conservatives BACK OFF!!
    I know that to to the conservative set if something is not totally "super gung ho pro-american propaganda" then it must be total crap, and that the author HAS TO BE some clown who is just making things up to make the right wing look bad... because he's obviously a criminal who has nothing better to do right?

    Well this book is very good and sheds a lot of light on otherwise ignored facts. Funny isn't it how the so called "liberal" media helps to sugar coat everything, and when someone finally dares scratch beneath the surface, the conservatives come out for their witch hunts....more info
  • More than Skewed
    I found it amusing that the author starts out by informing us that our historical sense is frequently skewed by misconceptions perpetuated by textbooks, pop culture, and simplistic classroom dogma which leaves out certain `less savory' moments in history. Well, his `text' most certainly doesn't do any better; it doesn't take much reading to conclude that Mr. Davis only included information that was in line with his knowledge of historical fac...whoops, I line with his biased opinions.

    That said, the book is well written and fun to read (hence the two stars), BUT, not a very good book if you're looking for a complete and accurate guide to American history.
    ...more info
  • My review is not from the "biased" Christian viewpoint!
    Unlike the people who have reviewed this & hated it because the book does not promote the careful propaganda campaign that has been shoved down our throat as the "true history", especially since McCarthy in the latter part of the past century, this book sticks to the facts as shown by actual historical documents. I'm so sick of the rewritten garbage that has been passed down for the past few generations and found the book terribly refreshing. As a genealogist/historian who is constantly digging through original records and first-hand information of the past, I'm always astonished at how much I previously learned in school had been stinted from the truth. I'm very grateful to find something that's both accurate and entertaining!...more info
  • Biased, but lots of info
    The only reason why I do not give 1 point to this book is that there is a lot of value of information in it indeed. But when the author discusses most controvercial aspects of the American history, his leftist bias shines. I just wonder why people like him consider the most shining periods of American growth and strengthening as the most shameful ones, why he and others repeat obvious lies (like, robber barons inflated prices; America was saved by new deal, or there was no commies in the 1950s to hunt for). On the other hand, I found a lot of entertainment reading the discussion of whether FDR overslept Pearl Harbor intentionally to drag the US into war, and, for a leftist liberal like Davis, goodness, a favorable account of Ronald Reagan, pigs flew! Well, the reader can see I am biased too, somewhat, overall, read this book with some understanding that the author have strong and partisan opinions, and to balance them, I advice you to read this book together with the The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History
    by Thomas E. Woods Jr. Compare and think for yourself. OK, after all, I give Davis 3 stars! ...more info
  • A Whistle-Stop Tour of American History
    This audio book was probably the best overview I've heard in terms of telling the US story. Wonderfully narrated, the listener gets a crash course in the rich, sometimes depressing and sometimes hilarious history of the United States. I realized while listening that conventional schooling often teaches us to memorize names and mini-articles but we don't really know the whole story surrounding a particular historical happening. Davis does a wonderful job of keeping the narrative concise yet expounding on the more interesting points of celebrated events. I loved this audio book for what it is, a broad brush of a denser topic, seemingly designed for the academic type who wants to refresh a bit or the amatuer who just wants an entertaining and engaging listen of a great story. I finished this while commuting and found I couldn't help myself from running across these stories referenced in everyday life, and found it a worthwhile few hours spent checking it out....more info