Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

8th Grade American History: A Reading Course

Many wonderful people who provided book recommendations as I put together the reading list of our second eldest's eighth grade American History reading list, and so it seemed only fair to share out what I've put together.

The student in question professed herself bored by history, perhaps in part due to a poor textbook selection last year, and in part due to lack of desire to put in effort. Needless to say, this sort of statement puts pangs in my heart as someone who has history as a primary interest. My main goal this year was thus to put together a reading list of highly readable popular history books for adults (rather than a grade school or high school text book) and show the student that history can be involving. Because several of the books I've picked are very long, and I wanted to set the history reading quota at ~100 pages per week, this meant only covering a few major topics in American History. However, my hope was to make up for this by covering these with interesting enough books to make the student want to eventually go back and read more about other connecting topics.

I'm also trying to cover some gaps with my selections for reading/literature and for science. The student's main science course this year will be a video based astronomy course, but I'm also including some inventions/technology reading to cover elements of history that relate to science and technology.

History Books

Eyewitness to History (selections) I struggled with a number of options dealing with the Spanish discovery of the Americas and the following conquest, etc. However, I couldn't settle on something which looked interesting and balanced enough yet also wasn't hugely long, so we're going to start out with several short selections dealing with the discovery and conquest of the Americas from the collection of primary sources Eyewitness to History which I happened to have sitting around. It's a useful (though often British/European focused) collection of short primary source selections which I've turned to at times over the years.

One Small Candle: The Pilgrims' First Year in America by Thomas Fleming deals with the journey on the Mayflower and the first year in America in vivid narrative form. Fleming came highly recommended by Jay Anderson.

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow The kids were all big fans of Hamilton the musical, and when she flamed out on her textbook last spring I had this student start reading Chernow's book, which although brick-like in length reads almost like a novel. She read the first part and said she liked it, though she dropped it over the summer, so I'm going to have her finish this to cover the American Revolution.

Selected Founding Sources: Declaration of Independence, Selected Federalist Papers, Preamble to the Constitution, Washington's Farewell Address

Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era by James McPherson This is a fairly opinionated account of the civil war (and I actually haven't read all of it, though I'll be reading it along with the student to discuss it) but I picked it for two reasons: 1) It's only one volume, while Catton and Foote are three each. 2) Due to the nature of the course I needed a Civil War history which dealt in depth with slavery and racial issues as well.

The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression by Amity Shlaes Again, a pretty opinionated history, but I wanted a history of the Great Depression which was heavy on anecdote and yet fairly sound on economics. This seemed to cover both.

Delivered from Evil: The Saga of World War Two by Robert Leckie This was a tough one for me, because the world wars and their interpretation is a topic which I care a lot about. However, looking over a number of general histories of the war, this looked like the most readable one for someone who is not currently a history geek. Thanks to Rich Leonardi for this recommendation. I knew of Leckie but not of this book.

High Noon in the Cold War: Kennedy, Krushchev, and the Cuban Missile Crisis by Max Frankel This was a bit of a coin toss. I was looking for a short (200-300 page) book on a post-WW2 topic: Cold War, Civil Rights, 60s Revolution, Vietnam, Nixon, Gulf War & Middle East, 9-11 I struggled to find something which was a short, contained work that did a good job with it's topic. This looked like it would fit the bill.


End of Track Autobiography of a man who lost a leg as a teen soldier in the civil war but went to a career as a work gang manager building the railroads across the west.

By the Shores of Silver Lake Of the Little House books, this one is set when Laura is the student's age (and she mostly has only read the early books) and also deals with railroads and the westward expansion.

The Last Days of Night I discovered this recent novel set in 1888 when looking for a biography of Westinghouse. It deals with the War of Currents; Westinghouse, Tesla, and Edison; the industrial barons, and the boom in business and technology of the late 1800s. I found it an enjoyable read and surprisingly for a modern novel for adults there's nothing at all one would hesitate to put in front of an eighth grader in it.

My Antonia or One of Ours I'm still trying to decide whether to go for the famous Willa Cather novel or the one that also gets in World War One.

To Kill a Mockingbird Somehow I didn't read this classic till a couple years ago, but 8th grade seems like a traditional time for it.

Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the 1965 Selma Voting Rights March Since the Civil Right Movement didn't make it into the history list, this autobiographical work seemed like a good one to include. (Thanks to Mar Grady for suggesting this and also the next one.)

A Night Divided Okay, so this isn't about American history, but I was a sucker for the idea when Mar pointed me to a historical novel for the age group which was about the building of the Berlin Wall, especially since my recent kick has been histories of post-war Europe. And it's not a bad idea to get in a book dealing with communism as it actually existed.


The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention

The Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century's On-line Pioneers

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