From The Beginning: A First Reader in American History, 4th ed.
A content reader must above all be interesting and enriching. From the Beginning fulfills both these criteria, for it presents the exciting story of American history and expands the cultural horizons of the reader. It is made even more attractive and helpful by the inclusion of specially drawn maps and more than fifty contemporary illustrations--an 1886 photograph of the inauguration of the Statute of Liberty taken from a steamer appears on its cover.
This reader is intended for foreign students and native English speakers who need to know or are interested in American history for junior high through adult classes. The book's level is low intermediate and its suggested use is as a supplement to a core text in an American history class or as a major reading project in any class at this level.
This review is divided into three parts: 1) the historical content, 2) the linguistic form of its presentation, and 3) the exercises which follow each reading section.
I found the Reader historically accurate and up-to-date. The new countries formed from the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia, appear on the world map. My only quibble is the premature designation of Soviet Russia in 1917 as the Soviet Union-- the Union was formed seven years later in 1924 after the Bolsheviks succeeded in restoring most of the tsarist empire under their control. I would probably also not gloss Great Britain at the time of the American Revolution as just "England, Scotland and Wales" (p.25), since at that time it also included Ireland.
Personally, I would have liked to see more on cultural history. American literature or music, for example, are not mentioned at all. But even without that there is plenty of interesting material for reading and discussion.
The grammar of the reader is also very simple, since it uses only the historical present. This works very well in most of the chapters--Paul Revere's ride for example, and Woodrow Wilson's death, have an air of immediacy and drama. But in some passages it works less well-- "Harriet is born in 1820" (p.74), "today we know that not everybody is spending, not everybody is buying stocks," (p.133) or "In Pennsylvania and Texas wells dig deep into the earth" (p.96) all struck me as awkward.
On the whole however, the historical present works and in spite of the relatively simple vocabulary, the prose is clear and often quite eloquent. Numerous quotations from various sources, including songs and slogans, are skillfully interwoven into the text. "The only good Indian is a dead Indian" (p.61), and "Hell no, we won't go" (p.173) graphically reflect, for example, the prejudices and the [-2-] spirit of the time. Most of the quotations, such as those from Ben Franklin, Abe Lincoln or Neil Armstrong, are common knowledge which ESL students in the U.S. need in order to share in the cultural background.
The exercises are competent, useful, but call for very little inferencing--questions such as "What do Lincoln's words mean?" or "Why does the Yankee officer say to the people of France, 'Lafayette we are here'"? are unfortunately rare. (The instructions for the open-ended questions call for copying from the text or answering in one's own words.) Here too, only the historical present is used, and obviously expected in the answers. I would have preferred using the past when it fits better-- "why were the sailors afraid to sail in the Atlantic Ocean?" (p. 3) instead of "are," for example.
The answer key, with one exception (question 2 on p. 126) is admirably accurate.
On the whole, this is a lovely reader, offering both students and teachers a rich resource.
Isabelle T. Kreindler
University of Haifa
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