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The Mental Floss History of the United States: History made awesome

Updated on August 23, 2011

Unlike many people (if we are to believe media stereotypes) I actually enjoyed History classes, enough to become a History major in college. I am also a fan of the magazine "Mental Floss," which prides itself on being "where knowledge junkies get their fix." "Mental Floss" also on occasion produces books with a similar purpose as the magazine, although usually on a more focused theme. Having enjoyed their history of the world, which came out a few years ago, I snapped up their history of the United States as soon as I could get my hands on it. It did not disappoint.

Before I launch into what I liked about the series, I must deal with what I feel is the biggest issue with the series: namely, large gaps in what it covers. These gaps deal mostly with a serious lack of information about really anywhere west of the Mississippi after the Civil War, and nothing about Native Americans after the Revolutionary War. Admittedly, after the Civil War most important American historical events involve the country as a whole, but it still bothered me. And having nothing about the various Indian wars, reservations, and etc. really are inexcusable.

However, this book does do a remarkable job of covering quite a lot of history in only 400 or so pages. The writer, Erik Sass, seems mostly interested in ferreting out both overlooked aspects of American history (I particularly liked the profiles of early 20th century serial killers and a chronicle of the adventures of William Walker, an American adventurer who was briefly president of Nicaragua, amongst other things), as well as revealing "lies your teacher told you," assumptions about American history that are simply untrue, such as the belief that George Washington was a great military commander (he was merely average, and said so), or that the New Deal single-handedly solved the Great Depression (it was much more because of World War II). Sass was also quite good at remaining politically neutral throughout, especially around recent events (and the book goes up to the current recession), which is quite an accomplishment I feel.

All in all, although it does leave out some stuff I would have preferred it had left in, it does a great job covering the high points of American history with both depth and brevity, quite an accomplishment all around, Check it out if you're a fan of American history or a lover of interesting historical trivia.


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