Marvin Olasky

I've received over the past year many requests for a reading list of American history books for high-school students, so here goes -- but I should first mention that I'm skipping three kinds of books.
My list does not textbooks. Some of the following may be a reach for high-school students, but many would rather read harder stuff by good writers than what is typically assigned them. (For those who insist on an overall text, the best one I've seen is Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen's "A Patriot's History of the United States.")

 My list does not include books whose authors assume greater knowledge than we have of why specific events happened in particular ways. All history is providential, in the sense that God, the master novelist, intricately weaves together billions of subplots -- but unless the Bible gives us the reason for a particular occurrence, we can't state that cause as certain.

 My list does not include the wonderful, terrific, extraordinary history books that I've written -- students will just have to let their fingers do the clicking to online venues. (Editor: Noble of you to be self-sacrificing in this way. Me: Yes, and humble, too.)

 I'll start with a book now on bestseller lists: David McCullough's "1776." McCullough writes history the way it ought to be written, with graceful prose, a dramatic narrative thread and a focus on individuals. Examining the ups and downs of Revolutionary War battles, McCullough shows how "circumstances -- fate, luck, Providence, the hand of God, as would be said so often -- intervened," and doesn't wave away the clouds of mystery that make history so fascinating. Burke Davis' "The Campaign That Won America" tells a good story about the end of the war.

 To have students understand early 19th century America, I'd have them read Stephen Ambrose's "Undaunted Courage," about exploration, and extended excerpts from Alexis de Tocqueville's "Democracy in America," which is really a romance -- Alexis loves America of the 1830s and describes happily his beloved's face, form and character, particularly noting the role of churches and informal social institutions.

Marvin Olasky

Marvin Olasky is editor-in-chief of the national news magazine World. For additional commentary by Marvin Olasky, visit
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