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The Underbelly of American History

Michaela Keating

Instruction & Liaison Librarian


As an American historian, my soul withers every time I hear “history is boring.” For many, history is viewed as an exercise in memorization, but I’m on a one-woman mission to shatter that assumption. If you dig a little deeper and shift your focus away from the mainstream narrative of American progress, you will see there is much more to the story and a lot of it is downright weird and/or hilarious.

Kurt Andersen’s “Fantasyland: How American Went Haywire- A 500 Year History” provides an in-depth explanation of the “wait, what?” moments in American history, from the first colonies through the first year of the Trump administration. Andersen does an amazing job of showing that many of the moments that left us scratching our heads in the last few years are nothing new.

Dave Anthony and Gareth Reynolds’ book, “The United States of Absurdity: Untold Stories from American History,” skips over the nuance and goes straight to the bonkers with topics like the nineteenth century “Vampire Panic,” and Andrew Jackson’s 1400 pound cheese wheel. There’s not much glamor in these pages, but there is delight in the imperfections.    

American history is dynamic, and while it certainly has its dark places that cannot be ignored, there is lightness that can be entertaining and enlightening. Both of these books prove that the American experiment is far from perfect, but we can still find a way to carry on through the next mistake and onto a future breakthrough. Both of these books are in the Hot Titles collection, located on the second floor of the McQuade Library.