Hey, pals! I’m bringing you another nonfiction book about American History. Even if you think nonfiction is a boring and dense genre, you’re in for a surprise! This is one of the most accessible and bite-sized books I’ve ever read. A great introduction to American History if you’re not familiar with it yet! However, it isn’t without some (big) flaws…
Title: Master American History in 1 Minute a Day
Author: Dan Roberts
Genre: nonfiction, history
Page count: 304 pages
Published on April 1st, 2019 by Familius
Disclaimer: I was given a free review copy of the book by the publisher via Edelweiss+. As this is not a finished copy, I can’t be sure if the book will hit the shelves like this, so take my observations with a grain of salt.
As you may or may not know, I’m a huge history fan. My degree focuses on American History, and so that is what I know the best. Lately, I’ve been getting really into trying out different nonfiction history book styles. I decided to request access to Master American History in One Minute a Day because I thought I would love it. Unfortunately, I didn’t.
I will go over the pros and cons of this book, namely what worked and what didn’t. I will say, though, that if you are interested in a fast-paced, well-researched history nonfiction book focusing on the 20th century, How to Hide an Empire is a great place to start.
☀️ what works… ☀️
There are some things that work in this book. These are the main reasons why I recommend it to people who have never gotten into American History…
🌷 The short-and-sweet approach works to captivate the reader. Even if you don’t have much time on your hands, you can go through a few entries every day. The author won’t bog you down with too many details, as the “chapters” (I would rather call them vignettes) are never longer than two pages at the most.
🌷 The tone is easy to follow and never too heavy. As it is meant to be read in one minute, the language used in the vignettes is very simple and easy to follow. I don’t think you need any background in American history to understand everything, really.
🌷 The author makes sure to add not only historical events but also people and cultural marks. How individual people shape history is a traditional way of retelling history. After all, who hasn’t learned about Abraham Lincoln or JFK? But what isn’t as highlighted sometimes is specific cultural shifts. Take, for example, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a now-criticized novel that in the 1800s successfully riled up support for the Abolitionist movement. Its importance is overwhelming, and luckily it makes its way into the book as a vignette of its own. It’s these little things that really mattered to me.
🌷 The 1600s and 1700s are told in quite a lot of detail! Which is something that is maybe not so common for books such as this one. While it does focus a lot on the major wars that happened around those centuries, it also gives us a glimpse into how life was like in what is now America before Independence.
🌷 The illustrations that go along with each vignette are well chosen. Even though they’re not all faithful to what they’re portraying, they help the reader imagine a certain place or feeling important to that particular vignette. I thought it was a really nice touch.
🌷 There is a reference for almost all vignettes that leads you to the author’s podcast. At the end of each entry, you will find a reference number which you can type on the A Moment In Time website and find a lengthier explanation of the topic. This is actually very cool if you’re a podcast person, as you can download several of the episodes and listen to them at your own pace!
🌧 what doesn’t work… 🌧
While there are a lot of points to be brought up in favor of this book, there is clearly a reason why I chose to give it only two stars…
💧 The title has good intentions, but it is very misleading… I always have problems with books that promise to make you a master at anything. Especially when they also advertise it as a “learn quickly” deal. There is no way you can master American History in just one minute a day, not even in an entire lifetime! To me, it felt very reductive and dismissing, even though I understand the commercial logic behind it.
💧 Each vignette isn’t really read in a minute, is it? Either I’m a slow reader and the author is completely right, or each vignette really does take longer than one minute to read. I’m sorry for being nitpicky.
💧 Sometimes the author just wouldn’t get at the crucial part of that vignette. Each entry is one or two pages long, so it’s obvious that condensing all the valuable information is hard. But sometimes I was left wanting more and then being abandoned in that vignette because the author didn’t explain the topic well enough. Luckily, there are the podcast references, but sometimes, by not getting to the heart of the matter, Dan Roberts just put me off from even trying to figure out more about the event.
💧 Incoherent amounts of details for certain decades or centuries. The 18th and 19th centuries are the ones that clearly dominate this book. There are multiple entries pertaining to the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and even to the Civil War. However, as the book focuses a lot on those decades, it also seems to neglect other equally-as-important time spans. Which brings me to…
💧 There is barely any information about the 20th and 21st centuries — which is a real shame! There is so much to be said about 20th-century history. Even if you pretend the 21st century has been uneventful (it hasn’t), it could be a book in of itself. Now, I would have much rather have the book stop completely with the end of WWII than to have continued and summed up almost 80 years of history in a dozen pages. It felt so unnecessary and very unfair to readers. I mean, the rise of birth control, the invasion of Afghanistan, the war in Iraq… Aren’t all these events relevant to understand modern-day America? And weren’t they directly influenced by the country’s past?
⭐️ favorite bits ⭐️
My favorite parts of this book were the chapters about:
⭐️ Elizabeth Zane, because I didn’t know of her and think I should really read up on this impactful woman who has been the origin of some American myths and legends.
⭐️ Tippecanoe and Tecumseh Too, because I really ought to learn more about Native American history and these two men represented intratibal solidarity as a way to defeat white settlers.
⭐️ Charles Dickens and the publishing wars, because oh my god this was an actual authorship and copyrights fight between the two countries and it sounds so interesting that I need to learn more about it!!!
⭐️ Abraham Lincoln’s advice to young lawyers, because the President was a charismatic and leveled person who I would love to meet in real life. The advice he gives lawyers on how to defend their clients well and ethically makes his personality shine right through.
⭐️ The phases of the Civil War, because it surprisingly goes into quite a bit of detail about how the war evolved from the South having the upper hand to the North winning the war in the end.
⭐️ Civil War Women Spies, because this is such an amazing concept to imagine, and I am totally waiting for a writer to step up and write a kickass historical fiction centered around these brave women from both sides!
🌼 so… do I recommend it? 🌼
Well… It’s complicated, you see?
I recommend Master American History in 1 Minute a Day to…
☀️ newcomers to the study of American History
☀️ readers looking for a quick book to read giving them the basics
I don’t recommend this book to…
🌧 readers who already have knowledge of the topic
🌧 people who don’t have a lot of background in history but want to dive deep and not only superficially
So… What do you think? Will you pick up this book anytime soon? Or maybe you have good recommendations for me about any period in American History?