Sunday, January 15, 2012

Book Review: The Smart Aleck's Guide to American History by Adam Selzer

Book: The Smart Aleck’s Guide to American History
Author: Adam Selzer et al
Published: 2009
Source: Local Library

What’s there to summarize? It’s American history. We know all this stuff. Columbus discovered, the sons of liberty rebelled, there were some wars. Oh, and some guys got elected. Nothing new here people, move along.

Except this is history with all the snark included. In addition to bringing the mockery to such ripe topics as the Puritans (“stupid hats of history”) and the Industrial Revolution (“Rich Industrial Jerks”), Selzer and co talk about the stickier bits of American history, the nasty stuff that we’d really rather sweep under the rug. Special kudos for the way they discuss the slave question way earlier than most history books. They also don’t pussyfoot around with apologies. In the Civil War section, they basically come out and say, “Dude, it was about slavery,” and boldly invite the pissed-off reader letters defending the South.

I generally don’t write about nonfiction on this blog, because I don’t read much nonfiction, and also because I’m more comfortable examining fiction. But I picked this up after a considerable reading slump, and found that I wasn’t able to put it down. Wha?! It’s not like the plot was a surprise to me. But the delivery kept me glued to the page.

Although Selzer and Co. cover some dark and complicated periods of history that kids generally don't encounter until high school, I'm going to say that it would probably work well for middle schoolers as well, for two reasons. One, the clear way they explain the events and what led up to them will lead kids through unfamiliar territory. Also the irreverent, entertaining style will keep their attention. This is a rare combination, an entertaining and tongue-in-cheek history book that also takes a more nuanced look at American history than most of what’s written for kids and teens. Loved it.


Ali B said...

This sound perfect for my husband, the high school history teacher. Think it's romantic enough for a Valentine's Day gift?

Ms. Yingling said...

LURV this! Stupid Hats of History should be included in every history book!And when Adam stopped by my school and our history teacher was reading this very book for SSR? Oh, couldn't buy that moment for a million dollars!

Bibliovore said...

Ali, I think anything that makes your hubby geek out is romantic enough. :)

Holy cow!! I'm so jealous that you got to meet him, Ms. Y. And what a perfect story!