Archive for the ‘Powell History Book Recommendations’ Category

Because as children we are not taught how to seek the living past in the present, most people never develop what I call the “history habit.

The “history habit,” like its more famous cousin the “reading habit,” is an ingrained intellectual method of functioning. It means studying history as an automatic, unquestioned behavioral pattern. It means that seeking to gain and sustain an awareness of the past on a regular basis comes as naturally as turning on the TV after a hard day’s work.

In my experience the fact that adult students, through no fault of their own, do not have the history habit, is the single most limiting factor in their ability to gain insight, inspiration, and instruction from history.   Even students of Powell History who find themselves carried along by the compelling narrative of ancient, European, American, or any other history, tend to take their history classes and then, returning to their normal lives, find that the content simply slips away.  Because history is not integrated into their intellectual lives, they can’t retain the facts — a psycho-epistemological problem I call the problem of “sinking concretes” — and in the absence of any integrated factual framework (i.e. a “big picture” outlook) from which to productively continue their studies, they find themselves back where they started.

Not entirely, to be sure.  Any student who has been inspired by A First History for Adults at least gains a more positive outlook on what history can be and may be inclined to dabble in it here or there, seeking ways to incorporate it into one’s professional life, political activism, or investing practices, as the case may be.  Some who have the time and motivation go back and listen to courses repeatedly.

Any form of periodic review of one’s studies of history is what I mean by “iteration”–the fifth I of history.

If one’s goal in studying history is powerful knowledge, then regularly revisiting and expanding one’s historical knowledge base is actually a necessity.  Powerful knowledge means useful knowledge, means knowledge that is used.  Here the popular phrase “use it, or lose it” definitely applies.

But how?

One form of iteration is simply going over the same content again, as in simply retaking Powell History courses.  (When you buy one, you get permanent access, so there’s no extra cost to re-listening. And you can keep a personal recording for yourself as well.)  Another, complementary approach is to use the resources that I provide in the various First History for Adults courses that I call “first histories,” which can be used in conjunction with my courses or after them.

In recognition of the challenges involved in the upkeep of historical knowledge for non-historians, I’m also going to be creating some other easier ways for Powell History students to keep their knowledge vital and relevant.

One is free one-hour video and audio lectures on various topics, including summaries of American, European, and ancient history.  Not only will these videos be the best introduction to the histories of any particular nation for those who haven’t taken my courses yet, but they will also be a great way for former students to go back and revisit the content they’ve seen before, as well as a way to motivate them to revisit the lectures they’ve taken which provide more detail.

Another way will be to follow the new PHR newsletter, either by subscribing to this blog or my e-mail list.  The newsletter will help adult students acquire the history habit, despite not having done so in childhood, simply by offering a regular, accessible presentation of historical topics, often connected to current events, to help people build a bridge between the past and their own values here and now, and to regularly practice fostering that connection.

I’m going to call the feature the “History Pop Quiz,” and my goal is to make it a weekly one.  Look for it, coming soon!

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One of the things that my readers and students have come to expect from me over the years is book recommendations.  For that reason, I’m thrilled to be able to announce the return of an important book…

Fingerhut Press has just published its first book “A Short History of Ancient Times” by Philip Van Ness Myers.  This is a reprint of a book originally published in 1922, and is first installment in a new History At Our House Series of books for homeschoolers and lifelong learners.  You can learn more about it and order a copy here.

Here is the preface to the HistoryAtOurHouse edition:

Anyone wishing to learn history in America today faces an almost insurmountable challenge.  Modern history texts – even those intended for children – impede the reader with vast quantities of non-essential information.  They abound with biased content (religious, multicultural, politicized, or otherwise subjective) while omitting, or at least deemphasizing, many of the most indispensable facts that render the story of the past intelligible.  Consequently, students find themselves unable to grasp the “big picture” when it comes to human history, and thus lack the foundational awareness required to appreciate the deeper meaning and relevance of its component narratives.

The tragic result for American culture is widespread and growing historical ignorance, and even disdain for history.

An explanation of the causes of the current debacle in historical pedagogy is beyond the scope of this preface.  It is enough for the reader to know that A Short History of Ancient Times is different.

This book was written in a time when historians still believed that the average educated person could and should learn the basic outline of history, and that learning that outline was a necessary step in becoming a “historically-minded” adult.  To facilitate the learning process, historians wrote short, accessible narratives, whose greatest virtue was that they stripped away all the minutiae and interpretive controversies that cloud the story of the past to reveal its straightforward, causal, fundamental progression of events.

I can honestly say that I could not have grasped the basic outline of history without the help of P.V.N. Myers.   I am thrilled that homeschoolers will have this resource at their disposal to help them salvage history education in America.

Scott Powell
Creator and Teacher, www.HistoryAtOurHouse.com

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What if your personal library could contain the best history books ever written?

Thomas Jefferson’s library at Monticello once numbered perhaps as many as 10,000 volumes. It was the largest personal collection of books in the United States of the Founding Era.

When the British burned the Capitol in 1814, Jefferson offered to sell his library to the government, providing a core of new reference materials for the representatives of the still young republic. Concerning the scope of the materials offered, of which 6500 volumes were eventually purchased, Jefferson commented, “there is in fact no subject to which a member of Congress may not have occasion to refer.” (Read more about Jefferson’s library here: Library of Congress.)

Of course, most of us do not have reason or occasion to amass a library of 6500, let alone 10,000 volumes. But wouldn’t it be great to have the books your really need?

What if you could build a history library of only the most essential texts, which would allow you to research any important historical topic and provide you with a gateway into the vast store of human knowledge about the past?

As my own collection of history books approaches the 2000-volume mark, I’ve decided to share my list of top ten books on four different crucial historical topics, for a total of only 40 books.

This includes my top ten books on each of these four topics:

  1. History of America
  2. History of Europe
  3. Ancient History
  4. The History of the Middle East

You don’t have to scour libraries and bookstores, and spend thousands. I’ve done that! Take advantage of my groundwork, and build a great library with only forty. Over the next weeks, I’ll be sharing with my mailing list subscribers which 40 books out of my 2000 book library I would save if there were a fire in my house!

Don’t miss it! The first issue of this four-part series, I cannot live without books!–an exclusive e-zine series for Powell History mailing list subscribers, comes out this weekend. Be sure to join the Powell History Mailing List to get your recommendations, learn about Powell History products, and receive special offers for current and upcoming courses.

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In the ongoing “A First History for Adults” program, Mr. Powell recommends books to students as follow-up resources.  Here are useful links to the resources, he recommended for material about English constitutional history and the Crusades: 

Constitutional and Legal History of Medieval England by Bryce Lyon
I didn’t find this one on-line for free, but here are on-line booksellers that carry it: Abebooks.Com | Amazon.Com

I did find “Mr. Empiricism” Hume’s History of England online for free.

The Crusades by Richard A. Newhall also doesn’t seem to be on-line.  Again, here are some on-line sources:  Abebooks.Com | Amazon.Com.

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Here are some links to the recommended readings from Lectures 2 & 3 — Rise of Feudal Christendom, Part 1 (c.476-c.1066):

Emerton –Introduction to the Middle Ages: Books.Google.com. (Free on-line)
Adams — The Growth of the French Nation:
Scanserver.ulib.org. (Free on-line)
Hollister — The Making of England:
Menzies — History of Germany: Amazon.com 
Parmele — Short History of Spain:

(According to Scott Powell, this last book has a Christian slant, but it’s so obvious as to be harmless.)

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With my course on European History just around the corner, I wanted to provide students (and others) with a chance to pick up the best history books that you can use to follow-up on the material independently.

My list of the top ten history books on European history begins with #10, Willis Mason West’s “Early Progress.”

West’s “Modern Progress“, which I’ve recommended before, is perhaps my favorite history book.  It does more to render the story of Western civilization accessible than any other work. But “Modern Progress” spends very little time on the early history of Europe; it deals almost exclusively with  developments after the Reformation.  That’s why I also recommend West’s “Early Progress.”

The main focus of this complementary volume is Ancient history, but a sizeable portion of the book is dedicated to Rome around the time of the Fall of the Western Empire, to the rise of Christendom during the Dark Ages, the establishment of the different feudal monarchies of Europe, and the torturously slow progress of man through the Middle Ages.

The main strength of the book is its flowing narrative and avoidance of minutiae–which it shares with “Modern Progress”–but “Early Progress” has one advantage over its companion volume.  Since it doesn’t deal with modern history, its narrative is not as colored by misinterpretations of contemporary topics, which tend to mar the latter part of “Modern Progress.”

You can find “Early Progress” at either Amazon.Com or Abebooks.Com.

For those who are interested in more recommendations, #9 on my list goes out tonight, exclusively in my newsletter. (Sign up here!)  #8 will show up here in a little while.

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Although my primary focus in PHR will always remain to provide readers with guidance in finding the best history books ever written, I decided that in this first offering of PHR, I want to start by introducing you to a book that will help you find a way to fit more history into your life.  In fact, it will help you fit that much more of anything you can’t seem to make time for yet!

For me as a historian, fitting history in has never been a problem, of course; my issue tends to be fitting life in along side history!  But the basic organizational problem the vast majority of us have in the modern world is the same.  It’s the problem of having too much “stuff” to do.

The solution is a system explained by organizational guru David Allen in his book, Getting Things Done.

Allen defines “stuff” as “anything you have allowed into your psychological world that doesn’t belong where it is, but for which you haven’t yet determined the desired outcome and the next action step.” It’s often this overwhelming amount of “stuff” that we haven’t tamed that reduces our efficiency and saps our motivation, and renders our myriad goals into what one of Allen’s clients called “an amorphous blob of undoability!” 

The answer to this problem is an efficient procedure to capture and process the “stuff” in our lives, remove it all from our consciousness, and put it into an organizational system.  The result is a higher level of clarity and definition. Your mind is freed from the lower-level value tracking that it otherwise insists on performing at the expense of the focus you need to be optimally productive. 

Although there’s nothing easy about the procedure itself, and the system, like any other, requires maintenance, the payoff is very real.  For one, I couldn’t have made the time to start up the PHR blog without it.

Make sure you check out this great resource, at:


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