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The American Century

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The American Century
A History of the United States Since the 1890's. 7th Edition. By Walter LaFeber, Richard Polenberg and Nancy Woloch. (Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe: 2013. Illustrations, Maps, and more. Pg. 552.) ISBN: 978-0-7656-3484-9.

A History in Review Book of the Week Selection

Reviewed by Boris Segel - September 9, 2013

The American Century: A History of the United States Since the 1890's is a college level general survey text that covers the pivotal events of the 20th century. It is written in a lively and edifying manner that will engross both history and non-history majors, and the text is enhanced with the addition of relevant illustrations, maps, and 'boxed' sections that provide biographical sketches of cultural icons and cultural events of the various periods under discussion. A few of the people detailed include Margaret Bourke-White (photojournalist), James Cagney (actor), Bessie Smith (singer), Frank Lloyd Wright (architect), and a few of the events detailed include boxing, the computer revolution, and the school wars.

This new, seventh edition of this essential text was written by Walter LaFeber, Richard Polenberg and Nancy Woloch, all leading scholars in the field of American history. The text begins in the 1890's and takes the reader through to 2012, so it covers a bit more than a century. The text primarily follows a chronological format, making it easy to assign specific chapters or sections for use as supplemental readings in classes dealing with more specific subjects, such as the Great Depression or the Cold War. The text can also be used as the primary textbook in both one and two semester courses dealing with 20th Century American history.

In addition to the material contained in the text, there is also an associated website that provides students with access to various primary source materials, study questions, and more, which serve to enhance the material provided in the text. There is also an instructor-only website connected with the text that provides additional resources for instructors ranging from quizzes to PowerPoint presentations. In addition, throughout the text, readers will discover a wealth of links to internet resources that will provide additional information on the subjects discussed in the text.

One of the features that makes this text so engaging for students is that the writers have balanced the historical, political, and economic facts with cultural, intellectual, and social insights that help to not only bring the subject matter to life, but also to make the material more relevant to modern students. In all, there are twenty chapters. Each chapter's title denotes the time period covered, and while most periods are covered in a single chapter, there are a few chapters that overlap other chapters. For example, chapter 8 "1929-1941: The Big Breakdown - The United States and the World" overlaps with chapters six and seven which cover more specific elements of this period, namely chapter six covers "1929-1936: The Depression and the New Deal" and chapter seven covers "1933-1941: Hard Times - Politics and Society."There are two separate chapters that deal with World War II and its aftermath. There are also a few chapters that deal with one specific event, namely chapter nineteen which deals with the events of 9/11 and its consequences. In addition to a detailed table of contents, this text is also well indexed and includes a "Guide to Further Readings."

From the first page onward, The American Century: A History of the United States Since the 1890's provides students with an engaging introduction of 20th Century American history, along with an overview of the later events of the 19th century that set the stage for the developments of the 20th, and by extending the reach of this text into the 21st century, students get to explore the consequences and outcomes of the main events detailed in this book. The organization of the material in this text makes it easy for instructors to customize its use to meet their classes' unique requirements and the wealth of supplemental material that is available will enhance the students learning experience.

In addition to the complete textbook discussed in this review, this volume is also available in a two-volume addition what is perfect for those desirous of spreading the material in this text over two semesters. An eBook version with interactive links is also available.

Related Reviews:

The United States, 1763-2001, by John Spiller, Tim Clancey, Stephen Young, and Simon Mosley.
An invaluable study guide on American history for students studying for their AS and A-level history exams.

The Jews of the United States, 1654 to 2000, by Hasia R. Diner.
Offers a general survey of Jewish life in America, covering both historical, religious, and social milestones.

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