Page Smith’s Sweeping History

March 23, 2009

I’ve been meaning to write for sometime about Page Smith’s huge and sweeping multi-volume “A People’s History…” series.

First, let me say that I’ve only read one volume of this eight volume work. Each book is massive. Vol. 4, entitled The Nation Comes of Age: A People’s History of the Ante-Bellum Years weighs in at slightly more than 1000 pages. Umph!

But let me tell you why you should read it, or any of the other volumes in this series. Forget the boring history textbooks of high school or college. Smith’s work is both vast, and detailed. He covers all of the basic historical ground – politics, presidents, wars, economy, exploration and so on. But he also has fabulous chapters about cultural life – theatre, literature, religion, and more. He impressively combines narrative of larger historical events with eyewitness history, built from diaries, letters, newspapers, and other first hand sources. These first hand accounts breathe life into the old dusty facts that died in a history class long ago, and are now revived with vigor in Smith’s work.

Sure, it is a massive tome, and one that may take quite some time to read. But I found it interesting, educational, and a helpful way to quickly dig into specific subjects and areas of interest, even if I wasn’t interested in the whole thing.

However, I did have two small problems with it. One, is the lack of an index. This means if you happen to recall reading about something several hundred pages ago – but can’t recall which chapter, there’s no easy way to go back and find it. The second problem I have is a related one – and that is a complete lack of footnotes. The good news is that he is pretty good about including at least a general source citation within the text, like “So-n-So wrote in his diary…”, but I miss having the specifics.

© writingreading, 2009