Doomed to Repeat It

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Doomed to Repeat It

History You Won't Forget

There are some books that change our lives and we always remember the first time we read them. History books are not usually in that category, but the stories we tell about ourselves and others can dramatically reshape the way we see the world. This can be because the facts in the books are ones we were never presented with before. Or histories can rock our sense of reality because they highlight a narrative or pattern we never saw before. They may help us make new sense of the confusing present. This is a list of histories that did that for me and I hope will for you, too.

American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America
by Colin Woodard

This book is based on many scholars' work, which you can wade through in books like Albion's Seed by David Hackett Fischer, but the strength of this book is that the author makes the theory and facts accessible and compelling. Woodard argues that the United States is not a nation-state but rather a state with eleven competing cultures within it. He supports his assertion by looking at settlement patterns, linguistics, anthropology, history and geography. He uses this framework to explain all of the conflicts and shifts in American politics throughout our country's history. It is a mind-bending book and will change the way you see America's past and present, an impressive feat in a book that's less than 300 pages.

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus
by Charles C. Mann

Like American Nations, this book's strength is its synthesis of a variety of disciplines and researchers' work. Mann looks at anthropology, archaeology and early New World history to consider what the Americas were really like before European contact. He argues that so much of the usual narrative we hear - that there weren't that many people living here and that they weren't really using that much of the land - are justifications for genocide and displacement. He tries hard to paint an accurate picture of the diversity and density of the cultures that were here before European colonization.

Chocolate City: a History of Race and Democracy in the Nation's Capital
 Chris Myers Asch and George Derek Musgrove
This book may not be as revolutionary for people who do not live in DC, but for anyone who's lived here any length of time this book opens up new ways of understanding our present disagreements about development, schools, governance and housing. For me as a white person who's lived here a decade, it allowed me to better understand the long history of black displacement and
disenfranchisement in Washington. This book puts our current issues in a context better than anything else I've read. Beyond just white and black, the book also looks at Native Americans, various Asian groups and Hispanic communities in DC. It is an amazingly compelling read for a book of over 500 pages.

A People's History of the United States: 1492 to the Present
by Howard Zinn

This is a classic of world-changing history texts. Zinn chooses to focus his history on social movements and the underdog activists who lead them. He enjoys challenging the dominant narratives of high school American history text books and commonly held wisdom. If one is tired of reading histories of rich, white men, Zinn presents a history full of black men and women, laborers, Native Americans and poor immigrants. For him, their stories are where America should look for its meaning and character. The editions that the library owns have extra chapters bringing the book more up to the "present" including the Clinton presidency and the war on terror, which is a challenging addition.

Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong
by James W. Loewen

This is another classic of the genre. Loewen takes it upon himself to encourage you to question pretty much everything your high school history teacher told you. The book is one that encourages you to think critically about dominant historical narratives presented in our schools and who they serve. He also highlights some important missing parts of American history. This is a rich textual analysis of the books in our schools and the industry that produces them. It's a particularly important read for parents or educators as they make choices about what their children are taught.