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Posted August 9, 2005
A good test preparation and a great read.
I have always loved history, but I never took a history course in college. The texts of the time seemed to squeeze the life and essence out of the mainstream of American life. Thus, I approached this book with a similar attitude to that of many high school students faced with the daunting U.S. history exam for the SAT. And, reading this test preparation book, I was pleasantly surprised. The authors have combined an odds-wary approach to casting out wrong answers with a lively presentation of American life beyond the list of names and accomplishments of long dead politicians. First, to the task at hand,. The Hatches, for years proprietors of a venerable test-preparation company, start by telling the student what to expect and what, exactly, what the test hopes to measure. From there, they begin the story of the United States, warts and all. And it starts where it should, with a chapter entitled, ¿ We Were Here First: Before The Europeans Set Sail¿. Then the Norse, the Spanish, and the ¿latecomers¿ English and French. This sets the scene for the tale of the British colonists, their accomplishments and grievances. The fight for independence starts with the end of the French and Indian war and goes on to the two most important documents: the Declaration and the Constitution, including the Bill of Rights. The divisions leading to the Civil war are covered in considerable detail. The more recent chapters deal with Reconstruction and its end, the Progressive ERA, the emergence of America as a world power after the twp World Wars, the postwar struggle against Communism, and, finally, the uneasy wars and peace of the 21st century. So far, so good. What makes this book different is that after each topic is sufficiently discussed, the authors guess what type of questions would be generated for this particular section. In doing so, the authors start by explaining that there are always one or two completely irrelevant answers. Already you have boosted your odds by 50 percent. In other words, half the test skill is knowing what to eliminate. But history is not only princes, presidents and potentates. A look at chapter 16 gives a good example. It ends with ¿The Lost Generation and American Literature¿. And ¿Jazz: A Sign of the Times¿, the latter mentioning that ¿It made unlikely stars out of African American musicians like Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong at a time when racism was still deeply rooted in American society¿. That leads to ¿Crash and Burn¿ where the authors take you from the Great Depression to the New Deal. Of course, it begins with ¿Dude, What a Bummer: The Great Depression¿. There is a long and detailed discussion of our entry into the world wars, and a relatively clear explanation of the much more complicated world scene after Nazism and Fascism were chased from the scene. Domestic policy and foreign policy are exhibited in parallel topics. For example, while dealing with the Cold War the authors also give a brief sketch of Communism in America. They show, for example, how the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) was a different entity from the activities of Joseph McCarthy (R-Wis. ) whose base of operations was the Senate. The authors also deal with technology, since the Declaration of Independence coincided with James Watt¿s invention of the steam engine in 1776.With the railroad¿s influence, the Hatches note, ¿In February 1854 a steam engine railroad traveled from the East Coast to Rock Island, Illinois¿ (the Mississippi had not yet been bridged). Actually, the steam locomotive traveled several different railroads, and it was not until the emergence of standard gauge and standard time that we had a coordinated system. The Hatches return to this subject with the importance of Lincoln¿s idea of the transcontinental railroad, which was completed in 1869. There is a wisecracking tone throughout the book that makes the dustiest historical facts palatable. Then, after establishing rapport with t
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