20th Century American history

Jul 2013
148
Michigan
I am interested in 20th Century American History, primarily the 20s-60s. I feel like this period of time was one of the best times to live in history (let's forget about the Great Depression :confused: ). Just the simplicity, and people, and really most things in general had character, as opposed to today. Anyways, I would like to create a reading plan to study the century in chronological order. When it comes to reading history, I can be overwhelmed though. It is very easy to talk about reading something, but it is not quite as easy for an inexperienced history reader to actually start the process. I learned that when I tried to start my reading plan for learning about the Mafia with an 800 page exhaustive overview of the subject. I can get overwhelmed by never ending blocks of text, since I read slow. So, I think it would be best if I started with a couple small books to introduce myself to the early 20th century, so I can get into the swing of things and get used to reading historical books. I'd like to switch from reading mainly fiction, to non-fiction, and hopefully become well read and informed about recent American history, as I feel it is my duty as an American to not be another ignorant average joe.

I would want to read at least one book per decade about society and everyday life in that era, at least one book that serves as an overview of the decade, a few biographies, and books that focus on one particular aspect or event in the decade.

Any book suggestions on any point in the 20th century are welcomed (I wouldn't only be reading about the 20s-60s), and any suggestions on how I can go about this monumental task. Also, if you could point me towards some quality documentaries (especially ones on Netflix), that would be nice. I will probably watch Ken Burns' Prohibition & The Dust Bowl. I want to eventually, years down the road, become an expert on the subject. I tend to forget things quickly after I read, so I will for sure be writing notes while I read. Never in the books though :).
 
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RoryOMore

Ad Honorem
Mar 2012
3,395
USA
This is an easy read that deals with the intersection of WWII and smalltown America:

[ame="http://www.amazon.com/Once-Upon-Town-Miracle-Canteen/dp/006008197X"]Once Upon a Town: The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen: Bob Greene: 9780060081973: Amazon.com: Books@@AMEPARAM@@http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51FpgxwHY5L.@@AMEPARAM@@51FpgxwHY5L[/ame]
 

Jax Historian

Ad Honorem
Jul 2012
4,379
Here
Here's one that is an interesting introduction to American society in the 1920s.

[ame="http://www.amazon.com/Modern-Temper-American-Culture-Society/dp/0809015668/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1381877350&sr=1-1&keywords=modern+temper+dumenil"]The Modern Temper: American Culture and Society in the 1920s: Lynn Dumenil: 9780809015665: Amazon.com: Books@@AMEPARAM@@http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41Ljq-w%2BPIL.@@AMEPARAM@@41Ljq-w%2BPIL[/ame]
 

GogLais

Ad Honorem
Sep 2013
5,461
Wirral
It's a long time since I read it but I thought William Manchester's The Glory and the Dream was excellent although it's probably not that "academic" a book.
 

Jax Historian

Ad Honorem
Jul 2012
4,379
Here
It's a long time since I read it but I thought William Manchester's The Glory and the Dream was excellent although it's probably not that "academic" a book.
I read that a long time ago, too, and think it would be good for a beginner in 20th century American history to read. But the OP asked for short books and Manchester's book is about 1,300 pages. I would have also recommended the Oxford History of the U.S. entries for the period, but they are about 900 pages each.

Here's a fairly short (360 pages) intro to the 60's...

[ame="http://www.amazon.com/America-Divided-Civil-War-1960s/dp/0199765065/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1381925424&sr=1-1&keywords=america+divided"]America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s: Maurice Isserman, Michael Kazin: 9780199765065: Amazon.com: Books@@AMEPARAM@@http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51YvhJbzTaL.@@AMEPARAM@@51YvhJbzTaL[/ame]
 

GogLais

Ad Honorem
Sep 2013
5,461
Wirral
I read that a long time ago, too, and think it would be good for a beginner in 20th century American history to read. But the OP asked for short books and Manchester's book is about 1,300 pages. I would have also recommended the Oxford History of the U.S. entries for the period, but they are about 900 pages each.

Here's a fairly short (360 pages) intro to the 60's...

America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s: Maurice Isserman, Michael Kazin: 9780199765065: Amazon.com: Books
Good grief, is it that long? I don't remember it being a difficult read though.
 

Jax Historian

Ad Honorem
Jul 2012
4,379
Here
Good grief, is it that long? I don't remember it being a difficult read though.
Yes, its a very straightforward read. Manchester is an entertaining writer. I read it before I got very interested in history and had no trouble with it - and really enjoyed it.

If I were the OP, I might reconsider the short book way to go. There's not much difference in reading 4 books of 350 pages with each covering one decade and reading one book that covers 4 decades (1932-73 if I remember it right) in 1,300 pages. The Oxford histories are a bit denser; I would guess that they average about 450 pages per decade.
 

Jax Historian

Ad Honorem
Jul 2012
4,379
Here
Also, I don't know of single introductory books for each of the first two decades of the 20th century, but here's one that covers both decades in a little over 400 pages. I own it but haven't read it yet but the reviews look good.

[ame="http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0393956555/ref=ox_sc_sfl_title_3?ie=UTF8&psc=1"]Pivotal Decades: The United States, 1900-1920: John Milton Cooper Jr.: 9780393956559: Amazon.com: Books@@AMEPARAM@@http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51pEfISYL3L.@@AMEPARAM@@51pEfISYL3L[/ame]
 
Jul 2013
148
Michigan
Thank you for the suggestions, and when I said I want short books, I meant to start off the century with (since I'll go in chronological order), so that doesn't mean I will only read short books. I am open to all suggestions.
 

JCO

Oct 2013
94
Central Texas
I recently read Lucy Moore's book "Anything Goes: A Biography of the 1920s" and enjoyed it. It's not a scholarly book, but not everything we read has to be. It's more "pop history," I suppose, but I found it to be interesting.

Here's a review of the book: https://www.forewordreviews.com/reviews/anything-goes/

Here's the link to the book on Amazon, with several other reviews:
[ame="http://www.amazon.com/Anything-Goes-Biography-Roaring-Twenties/dp/1590203135"]Anything Goes: A Biography of the Roaring Twenties: Lucy Moore: 9781590203132: Amazon.com: Books@@AMEPARAM@@http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51KKuGI6oML.@@AMEPARAM@@51KKuGI6oML[/ame]