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Frequently Asked Questions

About A History of US

Have there been updates to A History of US and The Story of Science since the books were published?

Yes, both series are updated any time there is a reason to do so. So when there is a new election or new material or someone points out an error, I update.

A History of US reads like fiction with various characters. Why did you decide to write it this way?

Narrative nonfiction is for me the writing style that is especially appropriate in this Information Age. I like stories and I like them to be true. Being a newspaper writer trained me to do research and to write about the real world. I had a few tough editors who taught me a lot.

Why should history be important to me?

Without history we all become amnesiacs. Without history we are likely to keep making the same mistakes. If we stay our wars I believe we will be less likely to believe is an avenue to peace.

Some people disagree about certain historical facts. How can they and why do they?

That's one of the wonderful things about history: We really don't know what happened when we weren't there. We have to believe what other people have said, and that isn't always right. So we have to dig deep and find as many accounts of past events as we can. Then we need to realize that looking at the past from the perspective of the present often distorts our view. History is not static. It is constantly being reinterpreted. That's challenging. It can also be fun.

Why did you decide to write A History of US in a way that was understandable to most people? How did you approach this task?

I wrote A History of US the same way I wrote for newspapers: I wrote to be understood. With that history series I had a young audience in mind, so I consulted them, gave chapters to young editors, listened to their comments, and often rewrote.

Do you see your series replacing traditional textbooks or being used in conjunction with standard textbooks?

I believe the standard textbooks used in schools in recent decades have been destructive to learning. Read textbooks from the early decades of the 20th century and you'll be amazed at how good they are. But when the textbook industry began to take over, and make a whole lot of money on school texts, well, things changed. Textbooks soon weren't written to educate, they were written to add to corporate profits. I don't want anything to do with those authorless productions.

What age group constitutes your target audience? What ages are you writing for most?

A History of US was written with middle school readers in mind, but I've been surprised and pleased that I've had older and younger readers too. The Story of Science is a bit more sophisticated. But anyone who can read it, should read it. I don't like the idea that books should be age specific. What age did Mark Twain have in mind when he wrote Tom Sawyer?

I've always used a traditional textbook, why should I switch?

The standard textbook has failed our students. Almost no one reads them willingly. They're usually massive and backbreaking in format and dull in content. I wrote A History of US to attempt to break that non-reading book mold. Think of the standard textbook as a reference book. It can be useful on the teacher's desk, but it has kept our children from discovering the pleasures of reading. In this Information Age we need to encourage literacy, question-asking, and critical thinking. Textbooks don't do that.

Are there any errors in the books?

Graciously, readers alert me to errors or discrepancies in the books and I invite readers to contact me if they see something they believe to be an error. If you are reading or teaching with the first printing of Aristotle Leads the Way you need to know that on page 83, the correct area of the square is 1 (not 2). On page 180 the 30-60-90 triangle is incorrectly labeled. The hypotenuse should be 2. And, on page 221, each person ends up with 262 monetary units of animals (not 168, which is the total of animals). These errors were corrected in the second printing. A friend, a Pulitzer winning historian, tells me that no history book gets published without a few errors and that history is a story of constant discovery. I want these books to be as up-to-the minute correct as possible, so let me know if you see something questionable.

About The Story of Science

Will general readers understand and enjoy the book if they don’t have a scientific background?

This series was written for those who don't have a science background or for scientists who don't know the history (which means the stories) of science. Knowing the stories helps nail and make understandable the science.

Why should science be important to me?

Oh my gosh, this is an age of science and information. Science underlies most of what makes today's world what is is.

Why did you decide to write The Story of Science in a way that was understandable to most people? How did you approach this task?

Understanding the math and processes that underlie today's science is essential if you are a scientist, but all of us need to understand the ideas behind today's science. I believe that is best done through stories of exploration and discovery.

Most science books have chapters with titles like "energy" or "matter." Your books often focus on people. Why should schools be using them?

While learning about people puts information in a framework that helps with understanding and memory, the books don't neglect scientific issues. In the case of energy and matter, readers of The Story of Science journey through historic time with those concepts. They learn how the ancients addressed them, how Isaac Newton came up with laws that deal with them, and what Albert Einstein did that makes us understand them in a completely new way. But those books on "energy" and "matter"

Do you see your series replacing traditional textbooks or being used in conjunction with standard textbooks?

I wrote A History of US as a new kind of text—an anti-textbook—to replace those ponderous tomes that no one reads willingly, but they can also be used as a supplement. The ten small volumes give this series great flexibility. The Story of Science is a text that spans subjects. It can be used to teach critical reading and thinking, it includes a lot of world history, and the science is complemented with coordinated experiments in the teaching materials. These are books built on respect for both teachers and children. They work especially well in multi-disciplinary classes.

What age group constitutes your target audience? What ages are you writing for most?

I'm constantly surprised to hear from readers. They seem to span ages. Homeschoolers make reading them a family project. I've learned of several prisons where my books are used in reading groups, the same in some adult book clubs. But mostly I see my target readers as middle, high school, or (with the Story of Science) first year college students.

I get mail mail from eight-year-olds (bright) and I've had more than one letter from an octogenarian. Storytelling has a broad appeal. Judy Blume says that "starting at 12 I was reading adult books. Everything I was curious about...I learned form reading those books." So I'm writing for today's curious minds, whatever their age.

Teachers often deal with 20-30 students in a classroom, each of whom may be at a different reading level. I'm told mine are high-interest books that keep kids reading. It's the teaching materials and the expectations that need to vary. As a reader, I often read over my head, I encourage readers of all ages to stretch their minds and don't worry if you don't understand it all.

About Freedom: The History of US

What messages should be taken from the story?

I'm not sure I believe in messages. But I do believe that we in the United States are part of a marvelous experiment in self-government, a democrary more successful than any in world history. Democracies depend on citizen understanding and participation. So knowing our history and especially our founding ideas and ideals is not just something that is interesting to do, it is essential to our form of government.

Why did you write Freedom: A History of US?

The book was written as part of what was intended to be a teaching package in American history for a broad public audience: it accompanies a 16-part PBS video special and an amazing PBS teacher/student website. The book is now available from Social Studies School Services.

About Joy

What sparked your curiosity about science and history?

Like so many school kids I hated history, especially American history. European history told of princes and princesses, knights and jousts, our history just seemed a list of past presidents. Then, in college, I had a teacher who taught "intellectual history." It was all about the ideas that underlie historic times. The teacher's name was David Donald and he won several Pulitzer Prizes for his books. A tiny man, he projected big ideas and caught me in their web.

How long did it take you to write these books?

My books always seem to take longer than I expect them to take. Maybe that's because I do a lot of research and a whole lot of rewriting. It takes me about ten years to do a series. Right now I am finishing up books on biology. It's been ten years, but I've done a lot of other things while writing it.

Has writing these books changed your perspective of science or history? How?

Yes. I've learned that anyone can understand science if you consider its basic ideas. It's the details and their execution that take specific skills and learning. If you want to be a scientist math skills are essential.

How has a background in journalism helped you in regard to writing these books?

Journalists are just professional question askers. They are people with a lot of curiosity. That's me.

For Students and Educators

I am a parent home schooling my children. I would like to use your books. Do you have any information, that would help me with that process?

I'm awed by some of the homeschoolers I meet. At its best, homeschooling is one on one teaching and learning and everyone benefits. My books seem to work well in a family environment where everyone participates in discussions and brings different perspectives to the table.

What do you hope students will take from your story? Do you have any advice for students?

Don't be intimidated by history, have fun with it. It's your story and mine and endlessly fascinating. I hope my readers will go on and do their own research and write their own histories. Start with a family history, or maybe the history of your community. Read, research, and interview.