America has been in the media more than ever these last couple of weeks with the presidential election on the 8th November 2016 announcing Donald Trump as the new president of the United States. As more statistics from the election emerge, we’re learning that Hilary Clinton received more than 1 million more votes than Donald Trump, and yet due to the complexities of American politics, Trump is the winner. So, why does it work like that?

Democrats, republicans, liberals, libertarians, left wing, right wing – there’s a lot of jargon to get your head round, and the history and politics of America is something we’re often exposed to but not taught much about. With the recent spotlight on the colonial treatment of Native Americans and its echoes today with the South Dakota pipeline protest, the Black Lives Matter movement growing all the time and a renewed interest in the problematic but fascinating political figures who formed America during the American Revolution in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit musical Hamilton, it’s more important than ever to get a bit of context for the USA.

For a better understanding of the United States of America, try some of these!

Tuntitledhe USA by Terry Deary

Horrible Histories hops the Atlantic in this entertaining approach to American history. Deary brings his trademark humour to complicated political matters and grim tales of colonialism, with cartoons, mock-up newspaper articles and some gory facts to add a bit of spice! As with all the Horrible Histories books, this provides a really accessible and fun approach the subject.


america-2Alistair Cooke’s America

British-born American journalist Alistair Cooke created this pioneering television series as a personal journey through American history and politics designed to entertain and educate, as well as being a sort of love letter to a nation that has shaped world politics since its creation as an entity. Cooke is an engaging narrator and he considered this series his best work, which, considering he presented Radio 4’s Letter From America for more than 50 years, shows it must be worth a watch!


dude-wheres-my-countryDude, Where’s My Country? by Michael Moore

Michael Moore is well-known for his scathing documentaries and books on the state of America, tackling subjects from 9/11 to private healthcare. Dude, Where’s My Country? takes on corporate America and the Bush administration with humour, interviews and shocking statistics.

BOOK ZONE 320.973

james-americaJamie’s America by Jamie Oliver

On the lighter side, the unique population of the USA, shaped by immigration over the centuries, has produced an incredible range of food and culture. Jamie Oliver goes on a road trip of the US, learning about the origins of some characteristic foods and putting them into recipes you can try at home! Ever wondered what grits, gumbo and hush puppies are? Now you can make them yourself, and learn about the areas and cultures they come from as well!

BOOK ZONE 641.5973

heart-of-a-womanThe Heart of a Woman by Maya Angelou

We’ve featured Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings on this blog before, but The Heart of a Woman is a particularly powerful volume of her autobiography as it relates her life during one of the most turbulent and important times in American history, the Civil Rights Movement. Angelou met Billie Holiday and Malcolm X and worked closely with Martin Luther King Jr. during this period, helping organise a sit-in demonstration at the United Nations and taking part in many rallies. Like all of Angelou’s writing, it is passionate, powerful and wry, as well as being a unique account of the Civil Rights Movement by someone who was involved.


Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West

Dee Brown’s reframing of the American West from the perspective of the Native Americans who inhabited much of the land being colonised was revolutionary when it came out. These days the account is dated, but in 1970 it was a powerful indictment of the myth of white Americans as a civilising force and confronted readers with the realities of the displacement, violence and genocide used against Native American tribes. A classic that made a huge difference, even if American society still struggles with such issues today.

BOOK ZONE 973.0497

absolutely-trueThe Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Going from the big picture down to the personal, this is our only fiction recommendation in this list. Native American writer Sherman Alexie writes about a young boy from a Navajo reservation who goes to the off-reservation school nearby and lives in two worlds, his Navajo family and friends, and his school world amongst white students, showing the destructive legacy of the treatment of Native Americans. It’s a reminder that despite America’s place on the world stage, there is still a lot of tensions under the surface that still need to be explored. Plus it’s a fantastically engaging story by a brilliant young adult writer!



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s