Penguin. Paperback published May 2006.

Review posted Mar 2017.

Forget Valley Forge, the Shot Heard Round the World and all the other stories you learned in American History Class. The story of the birth of the United States is more complex, often ugly, many times inspiring, and not so very different from events happening in the 21st century. Subtitled The Unruly Birth of Democracy and the Struggle to Create America, this very readable book looks at people and events which have been forgotten or overlooked -- most of them were, at the time, well covered by newspapers and politicians -- who used them for their own purposes.

We learn, for example, about the Regulators of North Carolina, settlers in the back woods who fought to hold onto the land they were farming when it had been claimed by speculators. It's a sad and ugly tale. Similarly, we learn how the wealthy colonists took advantage of Native Americans. The role of religion in shaping politics is discussed because the Great Awakening, a revival of evangelical religion, took place a bit earlier, giving Protestant ministers greater status and political ambitions. The book also covers some amazingly ferocious actions by colonial women. No fan of Thomas Jefferson, the author discusses some of the times when the great statesman chose self-interest over the needs of the state. Actually, Abigail Adams may be the most highly-praised famous person in this book -- her support of women and the poor was consistent and somewhat influential.

Gary Nash has been teaching American history since the 1960s. He seems to be an early practitioner of the current approach to history which includes minorities and social history as well as treaties and battles.

I took my time with this book, and I'll probably want to read at least parts of it again, because each chapter gave me new ideas or new names to think about. It should, but probably won't, be a text book. It's valuable reading for just about anybody.