cover thumbnail American History: A Survey 10/e
by Alan Brinkley
About the Book

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The past, of course, can never change. But our understanding of the past changes constantly. There may be no time in which that has been more evident than in the last several decades, when historical scholarship experienced something close to a revolution.

Once, historians viewed the past largely as the experiences of great men and the unfolding of great public events. Today, they attempt to tell a much more complicated story-one that includes private as well as public lives, ordinary people as well as celebrated ones, difference as well as unity. The new history seems fragmented at times, because it attempts to embrace so many more areas of human experience than the older narrative. It is often disturbing, because it reveals failures and injustices as well as triumphs. But it is also richer, fuller, and better suited to helping us understand our own diverse and contentious world.

This book began its life several decades ago; and like most general American histories of its time, it concentrated at first primarily on America's political and economic development, and on its expanding role in the world. This tenth edition continues to tell those important stories, but it tells many other stories as well. This newest version, the result of a continuing process of change stretching now over nearly twenty years, attempts to present both the traditional stories of great public events and the new stories that historians have more recently revealed. In particular, this tenth edition includes a greatly expanded treatment of the history of American culture, both through the integration of much new cultural history into the text and through the addition of a series of several dozen new essays, "Patterns of Popular Culture," that examine in depth ways in which men and women throughout American history have diverted, informed, and entertained themselves.

Despite many changes, I have tried to retain what I believe has long been the principal strength of this book: a balanced picture of the American past that connects the new histories of society and culture with the more traditional stories of politics, diplomacy, and great public events. The United States is a nation of extraordinary diversity, and we cannot hope to understand its history without understanding the experiences of the many different groups that have shaped it. But America is also a nation, whose people share a common political system, a connection to a national economy, and a familiarity with a shared and, in modern times, enormously powerful popular culture. To understand the American past, therefore, it is necessary to examine both the nation's considerable diversity, and the powerful forces that have drawn it together and allowed it to survive and flourish.

In addition to its expanded attention to cultural history, the tenth edition incorporates substantial new material in several areas. It has a thoroughly revised, expanded, and reorganized final chapter on the 1990s. It has several new "Where Historians Disagree" essays: two in Chapter 1 (one on the nature of historical disagreement, the other on the size of the pre-Columbian population), and additional new ones in Chapter 25 (causes of the Great Depression)), Chapter 28 (the causes of McCarthyism), and Chapter 32 (Watergate). "The American Environment" essays have been revised and repositioned to be more immediately accessible within the text, and there is a new essay in Chapter 30 on the landscape of the automobile.

The book has also been substantially redesigned, with a significantly enhanced and expanded illustration program and with newly drawn and revitalized maps and charts, now with explanatory captions. The book also includes new summary conclusions for each chapter. The bibliographies have been greatly enhanced as well. In addition to the comprehensive list of books by topic that has appeared in previous editions, this edition includes a short, annotated list of particularly recommended books at the beginning of each chapter as well as a list of films suitable for teachers and students and a list of useful websites.

As always, I am grateful to many people for their help in producing this new edition. I was particularly blessed to have the help of gifted research assistants - Thaddeus Russell, Adam Rothman, Charles Forcey, and Sharon Musher - who contributed enormously to the new material in this edition as well as the revision of the existing sections. I appreciate the very helpful reviews of this book submitted by a group of talented scholars and teachers; since most of them chose to remain anonymous, I will list none of them here by name. I am grateful as well to the many people at McGraw-Hill who worked so hard on this new edition: Lyn Uhl and Monica Freedman, who patiently supervised the project from Boston; Jayne Klein, who skillfully managed the production of the book; Kris Queck, the careful and talented copy edition; Carrie Burger, who adeptly managed the illustrations; and Gino Cieslik, who is responsible for the attractive new design of the book. I was fortunate, as well, to have the assistance of three gifted photo researchers: Elyse Rieder, Debra Bull, and Vicki Gold Levi. My wife, Evangeline Morphos, helped me, as always, in many ways; and my daughter Elly took a particular interest in my forays into popular culture and was directly responsible for the essay in Chapter 30.

Finally, I am grateful to the students, teachers, and other readers of this book who have sent me unsolicited, but always welcome, comments, criticisms, and corrections. I hope they will continue to offer their reactions by sending them to me in care of the Department of History, Columbia University, New York, NY 10027; or by e-mail to

Alan Brinkley

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