A History of the American People

In This Review

A History of the American People

By Paul Johnson
Harpercollins, 1997
1,088 pp. $35.00
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This brilliantly executed history achieves the same level of excellence as two of Johnson's previous works -- A History of the Jews (1987) and Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Eighties (1983). (Indeed, a good many pages are drawn verbatim from the latter work). Johnson's gift is to combine a strong narrative line, a boundless curiosity, and an exceptionally sound judgment of events, all of it leavened with a fine appreciation of individual character and, not least, great wit. There are various minor errors in the book, and the final sections have an annoyingly partisan character, but these flaws are not characteristic of the work as a whole. A natural-born polemicist, Johnson seems rather to improve himself when he assumes the office of the historian, for this obliges him to balance his own strong judgments with the report of an opinion contrary to his own. The result is a fascinating history that should appeal to a broad audience.