• A History of the American People

  • By: Paul Johnson
  • Narrated by: Nadia May
  • Length: 48 hrs and 15 mins
  • 4.4 out of 5 stars (652 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Johnson's monumental history of the United States, from the first settlers to the Clinton administration, covers every aspect of American culture: politics, business, art, literature, science, society and customs, complex traditions, and religious beliefs. The story is told in terms of the men and women who shaped and led the nation and the ordinary people who collectively created its unique character.  

Anne Hutchinson, Cotton Mather, Ben Franklin, Tom Paine, George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson, among others, are all presented in a fresh perspective. Wherever possible, letters, diaries, and recorded conversations are used to ensure a sense of actuality.

This is an in-depth portrait of a great people, from their fragile origins and struggles for independence, to their heroic efforts and sacrifices to deal with the "organic sin" of slavery and the preservation of the Union, to their explosive economic growth and emergence as the world's greatest superpower.

©1997 Paul Johnson (P)1998 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

Critic Reviews

"Johnson is a lively writer (more so than nearly all other historians), and May's reading is sensitive to Johnson's wit and sharp comments....Her reading is lively, crisp, and sharp throughout." (AudioFile)

"A magnificent achievement...brilliantly combines broad sweep with extraordinary detail." (Wall Street Journal

What listeners say about A History of the American People

Average Customer Ratings
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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

A British conservative's view of American history.

Absolutely wonderful. Covers history of the US from the first English settlers through the middle of the 1990s when the book was written. Very well read by Nadia May whose clear voice and pronunciation I found suited the book very well. One of the things I found most interesting is that Mr Johnson covers not only the facts but also the background philosophical views at the time as they pertain to the issues being covered. Thus Emerson and others come up not only as poet or writer, but also how their views supported or ran contrary to the then current American thinking.

While I found the entire book fascinating and full of nuggets of information I did not already know I found the treatment of the 20th century most interesting. Johnson's view of the years from Coolidge through Nixon is at odds with the views prevalent 30 years ago, but he makes his case very well indeed with facts, quotes and statistics. I heartily recommend this to anyone with an interest in US history.

Highly recommended.

58 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Fights conventional wisdom a little too hard

This lengthy overview is astoundingly informative, but cannot be anything more than an overview. I recommend it highly to get a broad picture of American history. Johnson has two biases about which he is relatively frank: he is slightly snobby and traditionalist, and he is relentlessly revisionist. I don't agree that America is lessened by its departure from older norms of elitist education and religious morality. His attempts to disprove modern historians, while usually enlightening - it is nice to hear the other side of the story about heroes and villains alike - can be outright deceptive. I make no claim of expertise on American history, but I can cite one outright lie in this work: he claims that Nixon's Whitehouse engaged in no more spying and wiretapping than his predecessors'. Isaac Walters' biography of Kissinger clearly states the changes made in the FBI which expanded domestic spying operations, and specifically names the few people Kennedy and Johnson spied on, and the much greater number of people Nixon spied on. I am for exposing the intellectual weaknesses in typical scholarship, but wonder how many things were twisted in areas I knew nothing about. That said, these inconsistencies are a tiny flaw in what is otherwise a magnum opus on our great nation.

39 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • 9S
  • 01-28-10

Magnificent history

Johnson gives us a pro-American history of our great country. Finally, a book that does not condemn the U.S. due to her many, past wrongs. The overarching tone is optimism. Whether Johnson is discussing race relations, women's rights, industrialization or immigration, he obviously admires our nation(Johnson was born and educated in England)! Nadia May gives a crisp and lively reading which just adds to the listeners experience.

23 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Superb history.

I am a longtime fan of American History and Paul Johnson's "A History of the American People" is the most insightful and as well researched as any I have encountered. I can recommend this book as an excellent source for the novice and advanced connoisseur. In addition the book is very entertaining and engaging.

17 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Best and Worst of Conservative History

This is the best and worst of conservative history. Conservative histories tend to focus on elites, the "great men" as movers of history. In this case, it means we get lengthy biographies of American Presidents and other outstanding historical characters. These biographies are often fascinating, and they make for an interesting listen. And there is much to be learned about the nature of daily life and the whole of society through the select biographies of great individuals. Further, we can learn much about foreign and domestic policy by reading about the character development of the people shaping those policies.

The problem is that these biographies, as with the biographies in all conservative histories, are by definition select. We only hear about the common man and woman through the early life experiences of a common man or woman who became great. I say man or woman, but these biographies are almost always those of men, white men, and usually white men with money and power. We hear almost nothing of Native American, Civil Rights, or immigrant union leaders; little of the people of the American frontier; little of the life of slaves and black people; little of Mexican-Americans or the culture they built before we took their land; little of the environment; little of the urban poor. This means that Johnson provides a highly distorted view of American history. It fails to attune us to the feelings and motives of the real people that matter most. We do not see American history from all points of view, and thus this history, while seeking to be comprehensive, is deceptively biased. And even as Johnson brings to bare great powers of analysis, his history is in the end shallow.

The tendency in reading or listening to this sort of history is that we ignore not only the common people but the deeper socio-economic forces that move history. We miss the meaning of say the Great Migration or the upturn in crime in the mid-1960s. We miss the deeper motives behind the social movements of the left and right alike, the populists in the late nineteenth century, the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, the mass unionization of the twentieth century. What's worse, insofar as reading history deepens our empathy for the people about which we learn, history like this trains us to empathize with elites. Others tend to look like irrational bit players. Worse still is the danger that, having read such histories repeatedly, we will come to care more for elites.

Johnson's emphasis on the biographies of great men cannot be teased apart from his political conservatism. And this conservatism is on full display when we arrive at the twentieth century. To the extent that reviewers of this work, on Audible and Amazon alike, know their history well, they will be disturbed by Johnson's biases at earlier and earlier dates. This is political history in the worst sense of a political hit job. He goes after Woodrow Wilson, Hoover, FDR, Kennedy, Carter, and Clinton. He lauds Harding, Coolidge, Truman, Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan, and Bush Sr. If you know your history well, you will note that Hoover was actually quite liberal in many ways and Truman quite conservative. Liberal and progressive Presidents get bad reviews; conservatives get good reviews. If you don't think your own views will be biased through those of Johnson, I believe you overestimate the powers of your conscious mind. The problem is not that Johnson points out the many ways in which FDR lied and deceived in order to get his way; the problem is that this is Johnson's main focus on FDR. If you are biased against lying and deceiving Presidents and biased in favor of those who are smart, who care for the common people, and exhibit the qualities of institutional genius, you will most likely come away nevertheless frustrated by FDR. This is biased history at its worst.

This political bias makes Johnson's coverage of the twentieth century annoying. Of course, a conservative seeking ammunition may find all of this useful. But we should go to history not for ammunition that might support our current views but rather to learn new information and perspectives and thereby transform those views. In this regard, Johnson fails. But he is such a good writer and insightful in the domains he does cover that I give him three stars.

For a vastly more insightful and authoritative account of foreign policy making elites (Presidents, Secretaries of State, Congressional Leaders, etc), check out George C. Herring's "From Colony to Superpower." If you want bias in the opposite direction, with an emphasis on feeling for the marginalized, check out Howard Zinn's "People's History of the United States." Many on Amazon think the two make a complimentary pair.

Personally (or perhaps I should say impersonally), I tend to give more credit to the impersonal forces of geography, resources, economics, institutional development, and political policy in moving history. If you do as well, read this work with caution.

12 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Took an Englishman to tell us our story...

Any additional comments?

I have to say, I was delighted to read in his preface that his (Johnson's) academic peers in England remarked "what is there to write about the history of America, there is no history whatsoever there...". Well, this Englishman, and the English Narrator Nadia May, create a story of American History that for me, was fascinating. How hard it must be to find a bearable narrator for a 47 hour book? Nadia May pulls it off with her delicious English accent (that I can understand easily) and slightly gossipy tone -- it's like hearing someone recite The National Enquirer of histories. It's that interesting. I listened to it during my 90 min commute time daily. It made the time fly by -- in fact, I often felt disappointed about turning if off when I arrived at work. There is so much information presented that breaking it up that way afforded me the chance to absorb some of the exhaustive details and circumstances. But it does not read like a text book. Some reviewers grouse about his modern history (such as Nixon) devolving into opinion rather than fact -- I have to agree, and I am humored that his accolades for Newt Gingrich will hound his academic career like a drunken night out captured in the tabloids. It's a Lindsay Lohan moment in the hallowed halls of Oxford! I am not a conservative and I didn't see that bias until the end of the book. (Isn't it a relief to realize that the meticulous, nearly inhuman effort to compile this enormous body of information into something readable confirms that even Johnson is human.) I forgive him his trespasses. About me -- I hated the subject of history and through some karma of the universe my high school history teacher taught current events instead - whew - missed the bullet with that one. No history in college so basically I was completely ignorant in this area -- and I wasn't a stellar academic student anyway. So if a person of very ordinary intelligence can enjoy this, who can't? I just want to say "thank you" to Paul Johnson for letting me find such deep enjoyment and appreciation for the story of our country.

12 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Really interesting

Loved the speed and how the time periods and people were covered. I am not a big history buff but I really enjoyed this listen.

12 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

a good book for long travels

This book is well written. History is told in a perspective not told in any school I ever attended and was refreshing. I listened to every hour of it and might even listen to it again in a year or so. The narrator has an english accent which made for easy listening.

8 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Things I never knew

A History of the American People is a facinating account of American history.
My daughter was the one who purchased this Audible text for a class she had taken in college. I listened to every bit of it on my Ipod while driving to and from work. It was great company during rush our traffic. I was spelled bound to my car's speakers after I had arrived at work. I learned many interesting facts that my teachers had never told me. I enjoyed it thoroughly. The author, Paul Johnson, is truthful in his retelling of events as he represents America's flaws, but balances them with the positive results of our culture.

6 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars

Spare me

The author of this book feels that Norman Rockwell eventually will be be remembered in the same category as Rembrandt and Nixon will be compared to Jefferson. I couldn't read any more after this. Save your credits.

5 people found this helpful