Book Reviews

Book Review: American History (Thomas Kidd)

Thomas S. Kidd teaches at Baylor University and later this year will begin as Research Professor of Church History at MBTS. Dr. Kidd writes at the Evangelical History blog at The Gospel Coalition. Kidd’s two volumes of American history have been combined into one volume that spans from 1492 to the 2016 presidential election and Donald Trump. The original Volume One began with the early (and already often-changing world of) Native Americans, the coming of the Europeans, and the conquest of the Americas, and it extended to America and freedom for slaves. Volume two began with America reforging itself as a continental powerhouse. Immigration, businesses, and urban centers all expanded, and settlers moved west. The volume moves through the roaring twenties, the growing consumerism of the 1950s, Billy Graham, rock and roll, civil rights, women’s rights, immigration, Clinton, Bush, terrorism, Obama, and Trump. Since this is the Combined Edition there is no “volume one” and “volume two;” it is simply one massive treasury of a book. 

A history book that covers almost 530 years cannot include everything. So in order to make this book manageable, Kidd focused on a few major themes of America’s history:

  1. Religion (primarily the Christian faith);
  2. Racial and ethnic conflict;
  3. The state of American culture, “Especially in regard to issues such as virtue, traditional moral norms, mass media, and entertainment” (2). 

As Kidd notes, a history book on America is like a “national autobiography” (2). It not only tells us how we got to where we are today, but it reminds us of the sins in our past so that we will hopefully not repeat them again. It reveals to us the courage of our past heroes—great and small—to inspire us “to honor their legacies” (2). Kids ends by writing, “I hope that readers will  grow in their appreciation for the role played in the American past and discern the ways in which America has been (or has not been) a congenial place for people of faith to flourish” (2). 

I enjoyed Kidd’s emphasis on the role of faith. Faith played a pivotal role for many—though not all—of the Europeans who initially traveled here and throughout the growth of the nation. But Kidd does not whitewash the past. There have been brutal battles, sometimes in the name of God, that we’re horrendous and uncalled for. Kidd shows the messiness of history with its ups and downs and tangential characters. He doesn’t look only at the big events and heroes of the past, but at minor characters who many either forget about or never hear about: Native Americans, minorities, women, slaves, and small religious groups. He doesn’t try to make people seem “Christian.” He writes what people did, and if what they did was lousy, a lie, or horrendous, it will show.

Recommended?

Kidd is adept at weaving narratives together, showing why certain events worked or didn’t work due to other historical factors. As you will read you will see example after example of how the historical events that shaped our country didn’t happen in a vacuum. I am amazed at the breadth of information and detail Kidd knows and can relay. The book has many pictures, illustrations, and maps. Each chapter ends with a “selected biography” of a few resources for further reading. This is an excellent history book, one that I wish I would have had in college. 

Lagniappe

  • Author: Thomas S. Kidd
  • Paperback: ‎ 691 pages
  • Publisher: ‎ B&H Academic (December 1, 2019)

Buy this from Amazon or B&H Academic!

Disclosure: I received this book free from B&H Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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