The first is A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn. This book has been out for quite a number of years now and is quite famous. I had always avoided it, somehow afraid it would be full of histrionics or maudlin sentimentality. The book has neither. What is has instead is solid, if unknown, history and is more than merely useful. In fact, it is eye-popping in its breadth and revelatory nature.
The People's History truly shows a hidden history of this nation and its peoples. Notice that
"peoples" is plural, as Zinn is as interested in Native Americans and non-native Americans, as well as the people traditionally called "Americans." It is a history more of struggle between economic classes as it is between England and its colonies, for example.
There is ever so much to learn here, about war and economics, plenty and want, the oppressed and the oppressive. In a later post I plan to present some of the specifics found in this wonderful book of history.
The second book, Master of the Senate, is also a book of important history. Primarily a book about Senator Lyndon Johnson, there are -- as in the other Johnson books by author Robert Caro -- vignettes, almost mini-biographies -- of other important figures, such as Richard Russell and Leland Olds.
Master of the Senate, along with its two predecessor books on Johnson show fairly clearly how the Johnson of the Viet-Nam War came to be. We see Johnson as domineering, manipulative, and suspicious, even as he can show warmth and even humor.
The Viet-Nam War is something the United States has never apologized for. This lack of expressed regret weakens America's moral authority in the world. Until there is appropriate sorrow over American military action in that far-off land, the United States can never stand completely on the moral high ground in condemning other nations for their aggression, even when in the right.
So here are two books which can be highly recommended. They are even useful for our politics now. The inquisitive and wise reader would do well to consult their narrative counsel.