Witness to America: An Illustrated Documentary History of the United States from the Revolution to Today

Overview

Witness to America sweeps the vast territory that is our nation, illuminating the movements, ideas, inventions, and events that have shaped and defined us-from the Pony Express to the PC; from the frontier to the rise of suburbia; from farming to modernization and the information age. Within these pages discover the art of whaling, learn about survival on the gold rush trial, experience the glory and trauma of war, and glean new insight on the great leaders. Here are debates and speeches, diary entries, letters, ...

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Overview

Witness to America sweeps the vast territory that is our nation, illuminating the movements, ideas, inventions, and events that have shaped and defined us-from the Pony Express to the PC; from the frontier to the rise of suburbia; from farming to modernization and the information age. Within these pages discover the art of whaling, learn about survival on the gold rush trial, experience the glory and trauma of war, and glean new insight on the great leaders. Here are debates and speeches, diary entries, letters, memoirs court records, and more-including many first-person accounts that make history come alive as never before, such as a powerful description of the atomic explosion from a correspondent on the Enola Gay and a young student's evaluation of the changing roles of women at her high school. The selections explore the diverse facets of America's cultural and political heritage and the constant shift and flux of everyday life, indelibly demonstrating both the variety and vitality of the American character.

Illustrated with spectacular photographs, drawing, and paintings and featuring a 74-minute audio CD with actual clips and dramatizations of many of the entries, Witness to America is a fascinating, highly readable, and entertaining collection that shows us what American is -and where it may go-as it enters the next century.

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Editorial Reviews

Arthur Schlesinger
In Witness to America two celebrated historians illuminate American history by reviving the testimonies of the men and women who were actually there. Voices ring out of the past to explain the present and foretell the future. This is a feast of a book. —Jr.
Donald L. Miller
This is a beautifully conceived work. Stephen Ambrose and Douglas Brinkley have given fresh life to a classic account of the American epic. This is living history, wonderfully readable and handsomely illustrated.
Michael R. Beschloss
Two superb historians have brought us a great gift. If you came from a distant planet and could have only one book to tell you what America is all about, you could not do better than this.
Evan Thomas
Ambrose and Brinkley, like Commager and Nevins before them, know how to make history rich, raw, and vivid: let the men and women who were there tell their stories— and what great stories they are.
Joseph E. Persico
Lest we imagine that the United States dropped full blown from the sky, here are the eyewitness accounts of those who were present at the creation. It reads like discovering a nation's diary.
Doris Kearns Goodwin
Only in the hands of such fine historians as Stephen Ambrose and Douglas Brinkley could Witness to America have been created. The selection of first person narratives is superb, the connective passages are clear and convincing, and the overall effect is to transport the reader on an fascinating journey through American life.
Tom Brokaw
Witness to America is a rich and rewarding journey through the history of the United States with an all-star cast of guides. I'll pick it up again and again.
Steven Spielberg
Witness to America reads as it were today's news about unforgettable chapters of our history, told by those who lived it and those who observed it. Personal and perceptive, the book brings to life pivotal moments of drama, intrigue, challenge and triumph. Stephen Ambrose and Douglas Brinkley keep you glued to these eyewitness narratives that take you on a journey from the American Revolution to the new millennium.
Frank Keegan
This continues a strong vivid thread in what Dr. Martin Luther King called 'America's Garment of Destiny'. It should be required reading for every citizen.
Harold Evans
These first hand narratives and commentaries stretching from the Boston Tea Party to the Millennium are compelling— the gold dust of history. —The American Century
American Way
This illustrated collection of essays, articles, and speeches remains a valuable look at an evolving country— from the American Revolution to the "X" Generation.
Library Journal
Ambrose and Brinkley, both of the Eisenhower Center for American Studies of the University of New Orleans, present a collection of nearly 170 primary historical documents paired with roughly 120 black-and-white illustrations. As the editors note, this book is an expanded version of The Heritage of America, issued a half-century ago by Henry Steele Commager and Allan Nevins, two late renowned interpreters of the American past. This revision adds 45 new selections covering the eventful years since World War II to the material presented by Commager and Nevins, whose choices have been weeded to reflect changes in historical interest and interpretation over the years. The problem with this revision lies not so much with the editors' choices, which generally demonstrate judicious, balanced coverage of both great events and common people, but with the availability of any number of other historical readers offering similar selections of primary historical material. Certainly, the Ambrose and Brinkley edition is intended for the trade market, as opposed to a more specialized education readership, but beyond the reputations of the editors, the content does not prove significantly superior to that of other collections.--Charles K. Piehl, Mankato State Univ., MN Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Booklist
"For both scholars and lay readers who like American history, this work will be an invaluable resource."
Doris Kearns Goodwin
"The selection of first person narratives is superb, the connective passages are clear and convincing, and the overall effect is to transport the reader on an fascinating journey through American life."
Donald L. Miller
"This is living history, wonderfully readable."
Steven Spielberg
"Witness to America reads as if it were today’s news about unforgettable chapters of our history, told by those who lived it and those who observed it. Personal and perceptive, the book brings to life pivotal moments of drama, intrigue, challenge and triumph."
Joseph E. Persico
"Lest we imagine that the United States dropped full blown from the sky, here are the eyewitness accounts of those who were present at the creation. It reads like discovering a nation’s diary."
Harold Evans
"These firsthand narratives and commentaries stretching from the Boston Tea Party to the Millennium are compelling—the gold dust of history."
Frank Keegan
"This continues a strong vivid thread in what Dr. Martin Luther King called ‘America’s Garment of Destiny’. It should be required reading for every citizen."
Michael R. Beschloss
"If you came from a distant planet and could have only one book to tell you what America is all about, you could not do better than this."
Tom Brokaw
"Witness to America is a rich and rewarding journey through the history of the United States. . . . I’ll pick it up again and again."
From Barnes & Noble
60 years after its original publication, Ambrose and Brinkley have revised this compendium of eyewitness accounts to history. Hundreds of photos and illustrations highlight the events and an audio CD adds "earwitness" perspective to this new American classic.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780765565648
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/6/1999
  • Edition description: Book & CD
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 605

Meet the Author

Douglas Brinkley is a professor of history at Rice University and a contributing editor to Vanity Fair. The Chicago Tribune has dubbed him "America's new past master." His most recent books are The Quiet World, The Wilderness Warrior, and The Great Deluge. Six of his books have been selected as New York Times Notable Books of the Year. He lives in Texas with his wife and three children.

Biography

"I was ten years old when [World War II] ended," Stephen Ambrose once said. "I thought the returning veterans were giants who had saved the world from barbarism. I still think so." Years after he first watched combat footage in the newsreels, the popular historian brought fresh attention to America's aging WWII veterans through such bestselling books as Band of Brothers, about a company of U.S. paratroopers, and The Wild Blue, about the B-24 bomber pilots who flew over Germany. Though best known for his books on World War II, Ambrose also produced multi-volume biographies of Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon, a history of the building of the transcontinental railroad, and a fascinating account of the Lewis and Clark expedition across the American West.

As a young professor of history, Ambrose was one of many left-wing academics who spoke out against American involvement in the Vietnam War. Yet he revered the veterans of World War II, and he interviewed and wrote about them at a time when many of his colleagues considered military history old-fashioned. "The men I admire most are soldiers, sailors, professional military," Ambrose would later tell The Washington Post. "Way more than politicians."

He labored without much popular acclaim or academic renown until 1994, when his book D-Day June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II burst onto the bestseller lists. War heroism was suddenly a hot topic, and Ambrose's approach, which focused on the experiences of soldiers rather than the decisions of high command, was perfectly suited to a popular audience. More bestsellers followed, including Citizen Soldiers, The Victors and Undaunted Courage. Ambrose's vivid narrative accounts were devoured by readers and praised by critics. "The descriptions of individual ordeals on the bloody beach of Omaha make this book outstanding," wrote Raleigh Trevelyan in a New York Times review of D-Day.

Ambrose retired as a professor of history at the University of New Orleans in 1995, but he continued to write one or more books per year. He also founded the National D-Day Museum in New Orleans, worked with his family-owned business organizing historical tours, and served as the historical consultant for the 1998 Steven Spielberg film Saving Private Ryan. Spielberg later turned Ambrose's Band of Brothers into an HBO miniseries.

This rise to fame was accompanied by criticism from some of Ambrose's fellow historians, who charged that he could be careless in his research and editing. In early 2002, he faced accusations of plagiarism when reporters noted that a number of phrases and sentences in his books were lifted from other works. Ambrose responded that he had forgotten to place quotation marks around some quotes, but said he had footnoted all his sources. "I always thought plagiarism meant using another person's words and ideas, pretending they were your own and profiting from it. I do not do that, never have done that and never will," he wrote in a statement on his Web site.

When he was diagnosed with lung cancer a few months later, he began work on a memoir, To America. "I want to tell all the things that are right about America," he said in an interview with the Associated Press. Ambrose died in October 2002, at the age of 66.

Good To Know

Ambrose was a star football player at the University of Wisconsin and played in the Rose Bowl, according to his friend and co-author Douglas Brinkley.

As a college sophomore, Ambrose abandoned his pre-med major for history after he attended a class on "Representative Americans" taught by professor William Hesseltine.

For more than 20 years, Ambrose and his family spent their vacations traveling portions of the Lewis and Clark Trail. They canoed the Missouri and Columbia rivers, endured soaking rains and summer snowstorms, and read from the explorers' journals at night by the light of their campfires.

Ambrose named his house in Mississippi "Merry Weather," after Meriwether Lewis. His Labrador was called Pomp, after the nickname of Sacagawea's son.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Stephen Ambrose
    1. Date of Birth:
      January 10, 1936
    2. Place of Birth:
      Whitewater, Wisconsin
    1. Date of Death:
      October 13, 2002
    2. Place of Death:
      Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

Read an Excerpt

Introduction


The United States has to move very fast to even stand still.
--John F.Kennedy, July 21, 1963


Americans are instinctively looking forward.So it's not surprising that so few have traveled the rivers of history transcribed in America since November 1773, when Samuel Adams incited New England merchants and shopkeepers to spill tea in Boston Harbor.They are unaware of just how broad and variegated are history's forms, how filled with adventure, drama, and color.Still fewer realize how much of that history has been set down on paper by both contemporary participants and observers--countless vivid, enlightened, can-did narratives penned by settlers, soldiers, traders, boatmen, gold seekers, runaway slaves, fur trappers, railroad builders, merchants, educators, preachers, civil rights activists, computer wizards, and politicians.The writers range from pioneers to presidents, from nurses to nabobs, from admirals to aviators, from engineers to environmentalists."America is woven of many strands," Ralph Ellison wrote in his indispensable 1952 novel The Invisible Man."I would recognize them and let it so remain ... our fate is to become one, and yet many--This is not prophecy ... but description."

For too many, the word history implies an arid pedantry associated with dusty libraries and musty monographs.That association must be broken.History is not a matter of libraries but of life.At its best, history pulses with hope and despair, ardor and endurance, and the joy and sorrow of ordinary people everywhere.As editors of Witness to America, we tried to bring home this point.We hope the bookwill contribute to an understanding of the variety, the vitality, and the fascination of that immense part of our historical literature that flows from the pens of the men and women who helped to make history.

Dr. Samuel Johnson once remarked that "A man will turn over half a library to make one book." This bit of poetic license became a reality in the hands of our distinguished predecessors, historians Henry Steele Commager and Allan Nevins.It was these men who first compiled between 1939 and 1949 an anthology of first-person narratives titled Heritage to America.Our Witness to America is modeled on that pioneering effort.Dissatisfied with traditional textbooks and the interposition of a ghostly curtain of interpretation between writer and reader, Commager and Nevins wanted American history to ring with the voices of history's eye-witnesses.These trailblazers hoped to help readers rediscover a collective heritage that seemed to grow more remote with each passing sunset.All the articles from the Boston Tea Party to World War II were selected by Commager and Nevins; we provided the contributions from the Enola Gay to 1999.

On its face, there is nothing radical about Commager and Nevins' approach to history.After all, generations of dedicated scholars have relied on the same narratives excerpted in Witness to America as primary sources: diaries, letters, newspapers, court records, travel journals, memoirs, popular broadsides, sermons, speeches, and random jottings people leave behind, in one printed form or another, for posterity to ponder.But instead of synthesizing these historical nuggets into our own narrative, we've decided, like Commager and Nevins before us, to serve them up raw.This approach was recently popularized by Ken Burns' PBS Civil War and Baseball series, which used spo-ken diary entries to great dramatic effect.It allows people to feel what life was like when Patrick Henry burst into a classic bit of tidewater eloquence or when the horseless carriage was a dubious contraption in Henry Ford's Dearborn garage."We go forth all to seek America," Waldo Frank wrote in his largely forgotten 1919 classic Our America."And in the seeking we create her.In the quality of our search shall be the nature of the America we created."

Of course, no single volume can embrace the totality of America within its covers, and this was not our intent as we expanded and revised Witness to America.Our book is a smorgasbord of tasty dishes comprising the American feast, and we invite everyone to partake of it.We hope to whet the appetites of those with ready access to libraries to explore further on their own.For those without such access, we hope this book will suffice unto itself, a generous meal representative of the large body of writings, some of which are not widely available.We make no claim that this collection is the best" of anything, because best is too self-limiting a concept.We offer it simply as a fairly comprehensive harvest, representing what we ourselves have found the most illuminating and delightful, chosen to capture the interest and awaken the imagination of a broad swathe of readers.In making our selections we have applied various touchstones.The principal criterion, besides our insistence upon a reasonable accuracy and authenticity, has always been that of broad human interest.The volume is not for specialists, nor does not it fall into, or even approximate, the category of "collected documents" or "source books," of which large numbers already exist.Our hope is that it will afford instruction to students as well as pleasure to general readers.

No collection of personal writings, no matter how extensive, can provide a connected narrative of America's history.Many personal narratives are tangential rivulets.Reflecting more or less unique experiences, they lie somewhat apart from the general stream of affairs, or traverse it from an angle.So we have tried to supply some coherence, context, and integration.The book is divided into sections, each representing a different phase or era of American life.Within each section we have attempted to group narratives so that they have some relation to one another and so the section provides some overall conception of the era.Editorial additions (or italicized headnotes) provide background and offer a measure of continuity.We believe that the book can be studied from begin-ning to end without the reader feeling any glaring gaps.Surely that is sufficient, for had we added more, we would have found ourselves writing another general history of America, something we both had no interest in doing.

Our guiding principle in dealing with original texts has been to serve the general reader and the ordinary student, not to minister to the needs of scholars.

Witness to America. Copyright © by Stephen Ambrose. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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