The best books on the real history of America

Louis P. Masur Author Of The Sum of Our Dreams: A Concise History of America
By Louis P. Masur

Who am I?

Louis P. Masur is a cultural historian who has written on a range of topics in American history, from Abraham Lincoln to Bruce Springsteen, from the first World Series to a photograph that shocked the nation. An award-winning teacher, Masur lectures frequently on various topics in American history. His essays and reviews have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, and Slate. The Sum of Our Dreams emerged out a course he teaches on the American Dream, which, somehow, he still believes in.


I wrote...

The Sum of Our Dreams: A Concise History of America

By Louis P. Masur,

Book cover of The Sum of Our Dreams: A Concise History of America

What is my book about?

In The Sum of Our Dreams, Louis P. Masur offers a sweeping yet compact history of America from its beginnings to the current moment. For general readers seeking an accessible, single-volume account, one that challenges but does not overwhelm, and which distills and connects the major events and figures in the country's past in a single narrative, here is that book.

Evoking Barack Obama's belief that America remains the sum of its dreams, Masur locates the origin of those dreams of freedom, equality, and opportunity and traces their progress chronologically, illuminating the nation's struggle over time to articulate and fulfill their promise. Above all, however, Masur lets the story of America tell itself. Inspired by James Baldwin's observation that American history is longer, larger, more beautiful, and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it, he expands our notion of that history while identifying its individual threads. 

The books I picked & why

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A People's History of the United States

By Howard Zinn,

Book cover of A People's History of the United States

Why this book?

With lively prose, Zinn broadens our vision of American history by looking not at political leaders but the workers, women, enslaved and Native Americans who made the nation. This is a work of social history that focuses on class conflict and, while that is only one way to approach American history, Zinn provides a powerful narrative that has influenced a generation of students and was even mentioned by Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting.


These Truths: A History of the United States

By Jill Lepore,

Book cover of These Truths: A History of the United States

Why this book?

Jill Lepore is a distinguished historian and staff writer for the New Yorker. In this volume, she focuses on the ideals of political equality and civil rights that shaped America. Deeply attuned to the struggles that have shaped the United States, the book offers a sweeping lyrical introduction to American history.


Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong

By James W. Loewen,

Book cover of Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong

Why this book?

Loewen’s book, updated since its original publication, explodes some of the many myths and falsehoods contained in textbooks on American history. Whether stories of the first Thanksgiving or America and the Vietnam War, the book challenges interpretations presented as facts and facts that are contested. The result is an indispensable argument for trying to get the facts right when discussing American history.


An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States

By Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz,

Book cover of An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States

Why this book?

Howard Ziinn’s work led to a proliferation of Peoples’ Histories, and none are as important as this telling of history from the perspective of America’s indigenous people. Dunbar-Ortiz refocuses attention to the lives of Native Americans and their centuries-long struggle against settler colonialism and manifest destiny. The book is part of a Revisioning History series that includes works on Queer History, Disability History, and Black Women’s History.


Great Issues in American History, Vol. I: From Settlement to Revolution, 1584-1776

By Richard Hofstadter, Clarence L. Ver Steeg,

Book cover of Great Issues in American History, Vol. I: From Settlement to Revolution, 1584-1776

Why this book?

There is no better way to understand American history than to read the sources out of which we understand the past and through which historians craft their narratives. This collection was published long ago and it only goes to 1981, but it provides an excellent selection of speeches, decisions, and reports that open a direct path to learning American history.


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