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Book Review Assignment
Due Date: Thursday, December 11
Format: Hardcopy (in-class) or Electronic (upload to Blackboard)
Length: minimum 3-4 pages, double-spaced, typed
First, it is important that we draw a distinction between a “book review” and a
“book report”. Many of you have experience writing book reports in which your
principal task is to summarize a book in a concise manner. In a book review,
summarizing a book is just the beginning of your job and is really preparatory to the
main task: critically appraising the quality and value of the book for our historical
Critical appraisal operates on a number of levels. Most importantly, a strong book
review will discuss how the reviewed work relates to other historical works or
established historical knowledge more generally. The aim of this discussion is to
identify the ways in which the book challenges or supports existing interpretations
of a particular event, actor, or development in history, and therefore its significance
for historical understanding. Less often, but equally important, some books
introduce events that have received little to no attention by prior historians. Here
you will want to appraise whether the author does a good job of connecting their
study to related events and whether their study illuminates larger events or themes
in United States history.
Critical appraisal also includes an evaluation of the strength or plausibility of the
claims made in the book by looking at the evidenced used to support them. This is
not a question of whether we like or dislike a particular argument, but whether the
historian mobilizes enough evidence to convincingly support their claims. A history
book can challenge a common historical interpretation – for example, that
slaveholding was the source of huge profits for southern planters – and stand to
radically shift our historical understanding, but may ultimately fail because it does
not mobilize sufficient evidence to make its claims convincing.
Finally, critical appraisal should speak to the overall quality of the book as a whole.
Does the book engage the reader, making them excited to reach its conclusion or is it
dry and ponderous, requiring effort rather than pleasure to get through. The
aesthetic quality of a book is important to its overall value – even if a book
represents a major accomplishment of historical research, its significance will be
greatly reduced if no one can bear to read it. Fortunately for you, all the books on
our list are enjoyable! As with the other avenues of critical appraisal, when
evaluating the quality of the work it is important to support your own arguments
with evidence and examples from the text rather than simply stating your verdict.
Was a book engaging because it quoted liberally from primary sources, allowing you 2
to gain perspective on historical actors and the flavor of the past? Was it pure
drudgery because the author used a lot of words that are only found in dictionaries
and referred to obscure theories that our only recognizable by specialists? You
should describe which devices worked and why.
Writings a strong book review begins not when you sit down to write but when you
begin to read the book. To write a strong review you need to be an active reader
that poses critical questions and records your reactions to key passages. These
questions and reactions will form the material with which you build a strong review.
There is no single correct model for a book review, although all good book reviews
contain the type of critical appraisals discussed above. Similarly, the structure of a
book review can take many forms, especially as one becomes a more experienced
writer. Below is a suggested structure that is easy to work with and will help you to
organize your thoughts and their presentation. Please feel free to adopt it or
attempt your own structure.
Part I
Briefly summarize the book. Describe the main subject and its scope in terms of
time and place in history.
Part II
Identify and expand upon the book’s main argument or the overarching themes that
emerge to interpret the book’s subject.
Part III
Discuss the book in relation to other history books, including textbooks you may
have read, or to conventional understandings of United States history more broadly.
Specifically state how the book challenges or supports existing historical knowledge,
or introduces a subject that has received little or no attention. What does the book
contribute to our understanding of history?
Part IV
Focus in on the quality of the book in itself. Does the author adequately support
their claims with evidence? If so, what types of evidence or examples did you find
convincing? If not, what kind of evidence or examples would you need to have seen
to be more convinced? Briefly discuss the aesthetic quality of the book. Is the
author’s writing style enjoyable? Does the narrative build anticipation or merely
recount events. Be specific about what did and did not work and why.
Part V
Conclude by summarizing Part II-IV. Conclusions are important – they are the last
chance you get to make an impression before you receive a grade!!!
History 109: History of the United States I
Book Review:
The book review is a typed, double-spaced, 2-3 page, formal writing assignment
in which you will critically but also constructively review a history book of your own
choosing. On the second week of class I will provide you with a list of classic
historical works from which you will select one and will be responsible for obtaining
it. All books are readily available, either online, at the Mesa College library, or your
local library. I will also provide you with suggested guidelines for writing a strong
book review. The book review will be due in-class on May 7th.
• Red Books: very long, but very good
• Blue Books: difficult, written for historians
• **Starred Books: my personal favorites
Book List
Early Colonial Period
• Anderson, Fred, The Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War and the Fate of
Empire in British North America, 1754-1766
• Appleby, Joyce,
• Bailyn, Bernard, The Peopling of British North America: An Introduction
• **Bailyn, Bernard, The Barbarous Years
• Cronon, William, Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of
New England
• Merrell, James H, Into the American Woods: Negotiations on the Pennsylvania
• Horwitz, Tony, A Voyage Long and Strange: On the Trail of Vikings,
Conquistadores, Lost Colonists, and other Adventurers in Early America
• Mann, Charles C., 1491: New Revelations About the Americas Before Columbus
• Morgan, Edmund, American Slavery, American Freedom
• Philbrick, Nathaniel, Mayflower: A Story of Community, Courage, and War
• Richter, Daniel, Facing East from Indian Country: A Native History of Early
Revolution and National Formation
• Berkin, Carol, Revolutionary Mothers: Women in the Struggle for Independence
• Breen, T. H., The Marketplace of Revolution: How Consumer Politics Shaped
American Independence
• Breen, T. H., American Insurgents, American Patriots: The Revolution of the
• Calloway, Collin, The Scratch of a Pin: 1763 and the Transformation of North
• Chernow, Rob, Alexander Hamilton• **Chernow, Rob, Washington
• Ellis, Joseph, Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation
• Ellis, Joseph, The Character of Thomas Jefferson
• Ellis, Joseph, His Excellency: George Washington
• Ferling, John, A Leap in the Dark: The Struggle to Create the American Republic
• Fischer, David Hackett, Washington’s Crossing
• Holton, Woody, Forced Founders: Indians, Debtors, Slaves and the Making of
the American Revolution in Virginia
• Meacham, John, Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power
• Maier, Pauline, Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788
• McCullough, David, 1776
• McCullough, David, John Adams
• Morgan, Edmund, The Birth of the Republic, 1763-1789
• Philbrick, Nathaniel, Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a Revolution
• Robert, Cokie, Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation
• Waldstreicher, David, Slavery’s Constitution: From Revolution to Ratification
• Wood, Gordon, The Radicalism of the American Revolution
Early National and Jacksonian Period Politics
• Freeman, Joane, Affairs of Honor: National Politics in the New Republic
• Howe, David Walker, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of
America, 1815-1849
• **Meacham, John, American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House
• Millard, Candice, Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the
Murder of a President
• Taylor, Alan, The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish
Rebels, & Indian Allies
• Unger, Harlow, The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and the Nation’s Call
to Greatness
• Watson, Harry L., Liberty and Power: The Politics of Jacksonian America
• Wood, Gordon, Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815
Abolitionism and Slavery
• Berlin, Ira, Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North
• Demos, John, The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America
• Douglas, Fredrick, Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglas
• Genovese, Eugene: Roll Jordan Roll: The World the Slaves Made
• Horowitz, Tony, Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid the Sparked the
Civil War
• **Johnson, Walter, Soul by Soul: Life in a New Orleans Antebellum Slave
• Mayer, Henry, All on Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery
• Northrup, Solomon, Twelve Years a Slave• Rediker, Markus, The Slave Ship: A Human History
• Reed, Annette Gordon, The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family
• Reyonolds, David S., John Brown Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery,
Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights
• Stowe, Harriet Beecher, Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Westward Expansion, Exploration and Native Americans
• Ambrose, Stephen, Crazy Horse and Custer: Parallel Lives of Two American
• Ambrose, Stephen, Nothing Like it in the World: The Men Who Built the
Transcontinental Railroad, 1863-1869
• Ambrose, Stephen, Undaunted Courage: The Pioneering First Mission to
Explore America’s Wild Frontier
• **Brands, H. W., The Age of Gold: The California Gold Rush and The New
American Dream
• Brands, H. W., The Lone Star Republic: The Epic Story of the Battle for Texas
• Brown, Dee, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the
American West
• DeLay, Brian, War of a Thousand Deserts: Indian Raids and the US-Mexican
• DeVoto, Barard, Across the Wide Missouri
• Dolnick, Edward, Down the Great Unknown: John Wesley Powell’s 1869
Journey of Discovery and Tragedy Through the Grand Canyon
• **Gwyne, S. C., Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and
Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History
• Lewis, Merriweather, The Journals of Lewis and Clark: The Journey of the
Corps of Discovery
• Morgan, Dale L., Jedidiah Smith and the Opening of the West
• Merry, Robert W., A Country of Vast Designs: James K Polk, The Mexican War
and the Conquest of the American Continent
• Philbrick, Nathaniel, The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of
Little Bighorn
• Philbrick, Nathaniel, Sea of Glory: America’s Voyage of Discovery, The US
Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842
• **Sides, Hampton, Blood and Thunder: The Epic Story of Kit Carson and the
Conquest of the American West
• Stegner, Wallace, Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the
Second Opening of the American West
• Vestal, Stanley, Jim Bridger: Mountain Man
• Zesch, Scott, The Captured: A True Story of Abduction Indians on the Texas

Secession, Civil War, and Reconstruction• Ayers, Edwards, In the Presence of Mine Enemies: The Civil War in the Heart of
America, 1859-1864
• Blight, David, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory
• Brands, H. W., The Man Who Save the Union: Ulysses S. Grant
• **Foner, Eric, A Short History of Reconstruction
• Foner, Eric, The Fiery Trial
• Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative
• Faust, Drew Gilpin, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil
• Gallagher, Gary, The Union War
• Goodwin, Doria, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln
• Horwitz, Tony, Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil
• **McPherson, James, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era
• McPherson, James, For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil
• **Potterd, David M., The Impending Crisis: America Before the Civil War, 1848-
• Royster, Charles, The Destructive War: William Tecumseh Sherman, Stonewall
Jackson, and the Americans
• Shaara, Michael, The Killer Angels: The Classic Novel of the Civil War
• Standiford, Wes, Meet You in Hell

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