The 2016 presidential election cycle prompted, without question, a level of interest in governmental affairs not seen in decades. But what this year has also done is to spur an interest in not only where we’re heading as a country, but where we have been as a nation. Our history, in other words.
Most of us could use a refresher now and then, but we did learn it when we were young. What about our children and grandchildren, though? We’ve all seen the street interviews, where students (and adults, for that matter) are asked basic questions about historical figures or major historical events. The answers can be amusing, but they reveal a general unfamiliarity with the amazing story of our country’s five-century journey.
Studies confirm that the lack of knowledge is profound and widespread across all age groups and all academic levels. For instance, in the most recent testing of high school seniors by the U.S. Department of Education, only 12 percent were proficient in American history, far below the results in reading, math, or science. Surveys of college students show that the problem is not corrected in higher education. The younger generation is growing up without a true sense of what it means to be an American.
So, what to do? Well, one American citizen has stepped into the void and made it possible for anyone to quickly gain—or re-gain–a solid foundation. Randolph G. Russell has written an easily digestible history of America from before Columbus to the present day. American History in No Time lays out the basics of our culture, or the “big picture,” in around a hundred pages. It provides a complete and highly informative summation of the key things we all need to know about our past.
Who is Randolph Russell?
As a lad growing up in South Florida in the ’60s, Randolph acquired a strong sense of history from his father, a World War II veteran. He inherited his father’s voracity for reading at an early age and recalls that patriotism was woven into many of the family’s activities throughout his formative years.
From the time he began playing the clarinet at the age of nine, music has also been a major part of Randolph’s life and led to his first career, as a professional musician. He performed with Tony Bennett, Burt Bacharach, and many other big names while still in college. After graduation he toured Europe with Clark Terry, an alumni of the Duke Ellington and Count Basie big bands. That led to a stint with Woody Herman during which he played at the New York Jazz Festival and recorded a live album. A tour with a Broadway musical followed.
After two years on the road, Randolph wanted an occupation more conducive to family life. He went back to school and, after earning a degree in accounting, began a career in business. He was a controller for a number of companies in Florida and Georgia before starting his own accounting practice.
Then another career beckoned, as an author intent on putting America’s history in perspective for all of us.
The Start of an Idea
The idea for American History in No Time began with Randolph’s realization that his children did not know many things he assumed they were learning in school. He went to several bookstores hoping to find some short, easy-to-read book to help them. Surprised at being unable to find even one that fit the bill, he began making little booklets for each of his children. In the course of doing research, he came across survey after survey showing that the problem extended far beyond his own family, and he wondered, “What are the basics everyone should know, and could they be learned quickly and easily? Is it possible to convey the country’s rich heritage in a short volume?” What started out as an informal family project grew into a full-fledged book that, since publication, has been used at a number of colleges but remains easy for anyone to understand, even children. Perhaps it took someone from outside academia to see the problem in a different light and create a simple solution.
What Does the Book Cover?
American History in No Time is a unique overview divided into short sections that can be read in around five minutes each. The entire book can be read in just one sitting. Even though it is short, nothing major has been left out. In just a few hours, anyone can know the key events, people, places, and principles.
A quick look at the table of contents gives one a feel for its breadth, from the indigenous cultures populating America anciently, through the early colonies and the Continental Congresses, the Declaration of Independence, and the Revolutionary War. Randolph explains the Constitution, the push westward across the continent, slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction. The storyline continues through the rest of the 19th and 20th centuries with the growth of industry, the Great Depression, both world wars, the civil rights movement, the advent of space travel, and into the current century, including 9/11 and the election of Donald Trump.
All of this is presented in segments, each averaging a page and a half packed with the salient details that will give the reader an understanding of how we as a people arrived at this point. And that understanding fosters something else. “All of us want our children and grandchildren and everyone else we care about to love this country,” Russell said, “but you can’t love what you don’t know.”
Where to Find the Book
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