When I began this year’s United States history course, I felt weighed down by the curriculum’s cumbersome strings of facts and dates, seemingly endless readings, and required memorizations of statistics, dates, and names that I knew I’d likely forget within a year or two. But guess what – history doesn’t have to be portrayed that way. I found a book that completely transformed my view of history with new perspectives. U.S. History for Dummies by Steve Wiegand – an unfortunate title, to say the least – is a book that’s not for dummies and is an excellent supplement to any history curriculum.
Before I read this book, I used the Calvert high school history curriculum. However, it was boring, dry, and made me memorize a slew of unimportant dates and names just to succeed in the onslaught of quizzes and tests that are required in the course. But I know history is more than that! I’ve had the good fortune to experience living history at places like Colonial Williamsburg, Historic London Town, and Mount Vernon. I’ve perused antique stores and held in my hand items that are hundreds of years old. I have even dug through the hills of Dinosaur Park to find ancient fossils reminding me of the creatures that once roamed in our own communities. Every day, I’m reminded that history is something were a part of right now. Even as I write this article, we’re in the throes of a worldwide coronavirus pandemic. We’re a part of a chapter in history and the actions we take will be in the history books of tomorrow. So, this is why I sought out a supplement to my learning that would remind me that history is not boring; it is an unfolding story in which we are active players.
U.S. History for Dummies begins with a brief synopsis of ancient times, and then proceeds to the 1600s. One thing I liked about this book is how it talks more about slavery and racism in America more than most history books or curriculums I have encountered. It delves into historic figures like Columbus, and instead of building them up as legends and icons, the book reminds us that they were at the spearhead of evil, abuse, and exploitation. This book doesn’t pull any punches; for example, I appreciated how it presents an unbiased view of our presidents. The thing I especially enjoyed in this book is the coverage of modern history. The author discussed recent chapters in history in as great detail as those that took place hundreds of years ago. This contrasts to the Calvert history curriculum that seemed to me to spend more time on the earlier years of our nation’s development than on recent years. I enjoy modern history better because it’s more relatable. Some of it I have experienced in my own life, and other chapters I’ve experienced through first-hand accounts from my parents and grandparents. So the ample discussion of modern history in this book is something I appreciated.
Another aspect I valued, as a feminist and a young woman, is how this book covers the women’s movement and the fight for the right to vote. In addition, I found it refreshing that this book covers how LGBTQ+ rights have slowly increased through recent years – a topic that most history curriculums avoid because they likely fear tackling any politically-charged or controversial topics. This sets this book far above the rest.
Even though the title says it’s for dummies, it’s ironically one of the most comprehensive books I’ve ever read. While I think it would be best for high school students, even those with a college degree would find it to be an exceptional refresher course in a topic that affects us all. The addition of this book greatly benefited my curriculum and kept this history buff engaged from the first page through to the four hundredth.