Ten Books Any Student of American History Must ReadRoundup: Talking About History
I woke up on Christmas morning thinking about American historians. It probably was because I had a dream about a historian I knew, or maybe it reflected my own wish—having never taken or taught an American history course, but having written five books of American history—to be regarded as one of the gang. I had hours to kill before my family got up, so I started thinking of what historians and books had most influenced my view of American history, and I came up with a list of ten. They're my favorites; they're not the best books, because I haven’t read comprehensively, especially in certain periods. It’s much heavier on the history of religion than on social history, and on the Progressive Era than on, say, the Civil War.
1. Perry Miller, Errand into the Wilderness. (1956) Miller, a professor at Harvard for two decades after World War II, wrote how Puritan theology—before that, popularly identified with sexual repression and witch burning—influenced America’s idea of itself as having a mission—an “errand into the wilderness.” In Orthodoxy in Massachusetts, Miller also parsed the early conflicts within American Christianity that issued, paradoxically, in the First Amendment. Ideas of American exceptionalism and of America having a special mission in the world all date from the Puritan beliefs that Miller described in his books....