DK Smithsonian American History: A Visual Encyclopedia

Last updated date: August 19, 2020

DWYM Score
9.3

DK Smithsonian American History: A Visual Encyclopedia

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We looked at the top American History Books and dug through the reviews from some of the most popular review sites. Through this analysis, we've determined the best American History Book you should buy.

Overall Take

Written for children, this encyclopedia chronicles such events as the Battle of Yorktown and the American Revolution. It starts with the first Native Americans and takes young readers all the way through to the present. But what really sets this encyclopedia apart is the colorful pictures used to bring history to life. In our analysis of 35 expert reviews, the DK Smithsonian DK Smithsonian American History: A Visual Encyclopedia placed 2nd when we looked at the top 6 products in the category. For the full ranking, see below.

Editor's Note August 19, 2020:
Checkout The Best American History Book for a detailed review of all the top american history books.

Expert Summarized Score
9.4
1 expert reviews
User Summarized Score
9.4
111 user reviews
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From The Manufacturer

Uncover the key moments that shaped American history in this extensive history encyclopedia for children. Get the background on the Battle of Yorktown and discover what started the American Revolution. Learn the legends of the Wild West. Relive the atmosphere of the "Roaring Twenties." Covering everything from the cultures of the first Native Americans right up to the events of the present day, American History: A Visual Encyclopedia is the ultimate reference tool for exploring the history of one of the most remarkable nations in the world. Created in collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution, American History: A Visual Encyclopedia gives detailed historical information and brings it to life with more than 750 photographs and paintings, plus extensive maps, charts, and state-specific information. Each double-page spread focuses on one aspect of the nation's history, be it the Civil War or civil rights, the Great Depression or the Moon landing. Complete texts of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution are included in the book for easy reference for classroom work or reports. Perfect as both an irreplaceable homework help and a fascinating read, American History: A Visual Encyclopedia showcases the incredible journey the United States of America has made to become a major 21st century power.

An Overview On American History Books

In school, you were handed a history textbook and told to read it. It likely had a condensed history of America, covering wars, important political figures and big events.

For those interested in history, though, the thirst for information continues long after graduation. Even children may find school textbooks inadequate if they’re really interested in learning history. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of history books, especially if you want to study a particular event or era in depth.

But what if you just want a full telling of the history of America? There are books for that, as well. The key is to find one that covers the timeframe you’re interested in studying. Some start with Columbus’s arrival, while others include the history of Native Americans before settlers arrived.

Most American history books will focus on a certain theme. This is what makes each one unique. So before you start looking for a good book, think about what interests you most. Do you want to learn more about the political climate of America throughout history, or do wars and foreign relations interest you more? Are you interested in exploring a particular theme, or would you prefer to simply read the events in chronological order, pulled together with an interesting narrative?

For younger readers, images can be a great way to break up pages of text. Many children’s history books will use compelling photos, charts, maps and other imagery to both illustrate points and keep things interesting. Also look for text that’s engaging, rather than the more serious approach usually seen in textbooks. When children see that learning history can be fun, they’re more likely to continue to want to research as they grow into adults.

DWYM Fun Fact

It may seem hard to believe, but until the mid-1990s, the only way to look up a historical fact was through books, unless you could actually track down someone who could give you a firsthand account. That meant if a student was working on a paper for class, that student often had to log some after-school library hours to research.

There was one big exception to that. In many homes throughout the 1900s, there was a bookshelf stocked with multiple books called encyclopedias. These books were sold by salespeople who would knock on your door and give a sales pitch. Encyclopedia sales remained strong because almost as soon as a family bought a set, the information was outdated. When a child was working on a report or a family member wanted to look up something, that handy set of encyclopedias was available with the information they needed. As with Wikipedia today, though, the encyclopedia wasn’t meant as a be-all-end-all source. It simply served as a great way to get an overview on a topic you were studying.

The American History Book Buying Guide

  • The structure of a history book is one of the most important aspects. If possible, take a quick look at the table of contents and pay close attention to whether the story is told chronologically or separated by themes. There’s nothing wrong with either approach, but many readers find they prefer one over the other.
  • Even the best-written nonfiction book is useless if it isn’t based in fact. Look for books from authors with impressive backgrounds. A renowned historian or professor of history is better than an author with no connection to the field whatsoever. If you can, check how the author conducted research and whether information came from valid sources.
  • The publication date on the book comes into play, as well. A history of America that was published 20 years ago won’t just leave out a couple of decades of events. It may be missing the perspective that those two extra decades have brought. Some history books are updated to compensate for this lapse, but make sure the updates make the book as relevant as one published recently.
  • Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, you may want an unbiased telling of historical events. There are plenty of American history books that sway conservative or liberal, though, if that’s what you prefer. You can often identify them by the themes they promote in the blurb. However, the review section will often include at least a couple of readers who found the book too political on one side or the other, so browsing those can help.
  • At one time, history books painted a rosy picture of historical events. But toward the end of the 20th century, documentarians and authors began digging into the reality of events that have happened. You can still find positive, upbeat takes on American history, but you’ll probably notice those are rarer than books that are more upfront and honest.