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The American Story: Conversations with Master Historians

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Co-founder of The Carlyle Group and patriotic philanthropist David M. Rubenstein takes readers on a sweeping journey across the grand arc of the American story through revealing conversations with our greatest historians. In these lively dialogues, the biggest names in American history explore the subjects they’ve come to so intimately know and understand. — David Co-founder of The Carlyle Group and patriotic philanthropist David M. Rubenstein takes readers on a sweeping journey across the grand arc of the American story through revealing conversations with our greatest historians. In these lively dialogues, the biggest names in American history explore the subjects they’ve come to so intimately know and understand. — David McCullough on John Adams — Jon Meacham on Thomas Jefferson — Ron Chernow on Alexander Hamilton — Walter Isaacson on Benjamin Franklin — Doris Kearns Goodwin on Abraham Lincoln — A. Scott Berg on Charles Lindbergh — Taylor Branch on Martin Luther King — Robert Caro on Lyndon B. Johnson — Bob Woodward on Richard Nixon —And many others, including a special conversation with Chief Justice John Roberts Through his popular program The David Rubenstein Show, David Rubenstein has established himself as one of our most thoughtful interviewers. Now, in The American Story, David captures the brilliance of our most esteemed historians, as well as the souls of their subjects. The book features introductions by Rubenstein as well a foreword by Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden, the first woman and the first African American to lead our national library. Richly illustrated with archival images from the Library of Congress, the book is destined to become a classic for serious readers of American history. Through these captivating exchanges, these bestselling and Pulitzer Prize–winning authors offer fresh insight on pivotal moments from the Founding Era to the late 20th century.


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Co-founder of The Carlyle Group and patriotic philanthropist David M. Rubenstein takes readers on a sweeping journey across the grand arc of the American story through revealing conversations with our greatest historians. In these lively dialogues, the biggest names in American history explore the subjects they’ve come to so intimately know and understand. — David Co-founder of The Carlyle Group and patriotic philanthropist David M. Rubenstein takes readers on a sweeping journey across the grand arc of the American story through revealing conversations with our greatest historians. In these lively dialogues, the biggest names in American history explore the subjects they’ve come to so intimately know and understand. — David McCullough on John Adams — Jon Meacham on Thomas Jefferson — Ron Chernow on Alexander Hamilton — Walter Isaacson on Benjamin Franklin — Doris Kearns Goodwin on Abraham Lincoln — A. Scott Berg on Charles Lindbergh — Taylor Branch on Martin Luther King — Robert Caro on Lyndon B. Johnson — Bob Woodward on Richard Nixon —And many others, including a special conversation with Chief Justice John Roberts Through his popular program The David Rubenstein Show, David Rubenstein has established himself as one of our most thoughtful interviewers. Now, in The American Story, David captures the brilliance of our most esteemed historians, as well as the souls of their subjects. The book features introductions by Rubenstein as well a foreword by Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden, the first woman and the first African American to lead our national library. Richly illustrated with archival images from the Library of Congress, the book is destined to become a classic for serious readers of American history. Through these captivating exchanges, these bestselling and Pulitzer Prize–winning authors offer fresh insight on pivotal moments from the Founding Era to the late 20th century.

30 review for The American Story: Conversations with Master Historians

  1. 5 out of 5

    John McManus

    Co-founder of The Carlyle Group and patriotic philanthropist David M. Rubenstein is the editor of The American Story: Conversations with Master Historians. These conversations were originally discussions with members of Congress in the Congressional Dialogues series, sponsored by the Library of Congress. Throughout the book, Rubenstein demonstrates himself to be a skillful interviewer. Interviewees include David McCullough, Jon Meacham, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Walter Isaacson, Robert Caro, and Co-founder of The Carlyle Group and patriotic philanthropist David M. Rubenstein is the editor of The American Story: Conversations with Master Historians. These conversations were originally discussions with members of Congress in the Congressional Dialogues series, sponsored by the Library of Congress. Throughout the book, Rubenstein demonstrates himself to be a skillful interviewer. Interviewees include David McCullough, Jon Meacham, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Walter Isaacson, Robert Caro, and among many others. This book serves as an insight into the minds of historians and their subjects. The greatest achievement of The American Story is that it tells a wide arc version of American history, but as Rubenstein points out, not a complete view: only two women (Goodwin and the late Cokie Roberts) are interviewed, and women and minorities are the subject of only one conversation apiece. There is much to learn from this book, whose audience includes both history buffs and those seeking a primer in American history.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Travis Standley

    I found these interviews very engaging and informative. I’m impressed with the thought that good historians like those interviewed are a national treasure to help us remember our story, to maintain hope, and to have more clear thought about the present heading into the future. I’m not sure the final interview with a Supreme Court justice for the pattern for the rest of the book but it was interesting nonetheless.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Allison

    “In early 2013, I had a thought that it might be a worthwhile exercise to do a series of interviews with accomplished American historians about their books, in front of an audience principally comprising members of Congress . . . The idea was simply to provide the members with more information about the great leaders and events in our country’s past, with the hope that, in exercising their various responsibilities, our senators and representatives would be more knowledgeable about history and “In early 2013, I had a thought that it might be a worthwhile exercise to do a series of interviews with accomplished American historians about their books, in front of an audience principally comprising members of Congress . . . The idea was simply to provide the members with more information about the great leaders and events in our country’s past, with the hope that, in exercising their various responsibilities, our senators and representatives would be more knowledgeable about history and what it can teach us about future challenges.” —David M. Rubenstein I really enjoyed the eloquent, insightful and intellectual nature of David Rubenstein’s Congressional Dialogue series, and highly recommend listening to the audio book, which features the live recordings of these conversations. The master historians and distinguished authors that Rubenstein interviews are not only great storytellers, but they also spoke with a veracity, passion and humor that made learning about these influential American figures both fascinating and engaging. “You have to understand history in order to understand who we were, how we got to where we are, why we are the way we are, and where we might be going.” —David McCullough “I started looking back at Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, Andrew Jackson and Jefferson, in part to see whether the world seemed as complicated and confounding and difficult in their time as our world does now. And the answer is yes, for in real time we never know how the American story is going to turn out” —John Meacham “The reason I find biography so compelling is that when you look at great American figures . . . their vices are almost as large as their virtues” —John Meacham “The success of any individual president has as much to do with the state of the country as with the character of the individual candidate” —H.W. Brands Two more quotes I loved: “I was giving a talk at a university in California, and during the question-and-answer period one of the questions was, ‘Aside from Harry Truman and John Adams, how many other presidents have you interviewed?’ And I said, ‘Appearances notwithstanding, I did not know President Truman or President Adams.’” —David McCullough   “And that’s the moment that Charles Lindberg becomes the first modern media superstar. I have often said, ‘Twenty years ago now, there was an English princess who was chased through the streets of Paris and was killed. That car chase began the night Lindberg landed in Paris.’” —A. Scott Berg

  4. 4 out of 5

    Gwen

    If you haven't read many biographies of our founding fathers and presidents, think of these interviews as appetizers for sampling bits of interesting historical facts combined with a sense of their personalities. The interviews are accessible and interesting vignettes that may inspire you to dig into America's story as told through the hopes, dreams and flaws of our Chief Executives. I liked the format because I could preview biographies I haven't read yet for reading later.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Wbahrmail.Com

    I found this to be a highly enjoyable, very informative book. I particularly liked the format of the author interviewing a number of highly renowned authors covering the American Story. In some cases, the interviews seem quite casual, with Rubenstein leading his interviewees in quite specific questions. In other cases, the questions are broad, with the authors waxing poetic with innumerable interesting commentaries about how the character of key people plays a leading role in shaping our I found this to be a highly enjoyable, very informative book. I particularly liked the format of the author interviewing a number of highly renowned authors covering the American Story. In some cases, the interviews seem quite casual, with Rubenstein leading his interviewees in quite specific questions. In other cases, the questions are broad, with the authors waxing poetic with innumerable interesting commentaries about how the character of key people plays a leading role in shaping our country. For what it’s worth, though, I’d like to make a few observations, based upon reading a number of other books, especially about Revolutionary War figures: Kindle Page 2 of 396: “Second, he [Washington] asked not to be buried for two days.” (repeated on page 22). Actually Washington requested not to be buried for three days and got his wish. He died on 14 December 1799 and was buried on 18 December, a difference of four days. Kindle Page 4 of 396: “Although George Washington had never led more than a couple of hundred men, he was the most experienced military leader in Virginia,…” While head of the Virginia Regiment, Washington commanded around 1,000 men, at one time around 1,400. Remember Horatio Gates, formerly a British captain and American militia captain (NY), was also experienced militarily, as was Charles Lee, formerly a British Lieutenant Colonel. Friends and near-neighbors, both were living in Virginia at the start of the Revolutionary War in an area which is now West Virginia. Kindle Page 9 of 396: “This [1776, presumably right before Trenton/Princeton] was the darkest moment in the war.” Depending upon the length of “moments,” one could also argue that 1780 was the darkest timeframe of the war, with American defeats at Charleston (worst defeat of the war) and Camden (serious defeat of Gates’ army), the traitorous betrayal of Benedict Arnold, and inflation becoming rampant, with Congress unable to pay the troops, leading to mutinies beginning on 1 January 1781. In April 1781, Washington would write: "We are at the end of our tether…” Kindle Page 10 of 396: “When he heard this, King George III said, ‘If George Washington gives up power, as I hear he’s going to, he’s the greatest man in the world.’” In fact, when told by the American painter Benjamin West that Washington was going to resign his military command, King George III is said to have said that, if Washington did that, he would be “the greatest character of the age.” Kindle Page 13 of 396: “He [Washington] was elected unanimously. And under the Constitution, whoever got the most votes from the electors was president and whoever got the second most was vice president. So the vice president was John Adams.” For clarification of exactly how the election was set up (to elect Washington unanimously while Adams getting the second most votes), Wikipedia says: “The Constitution created the offices of President and Vice President, fully separating these offices from Congress. The Constitution established an Electoral College, based on each state's Congressional representation, in which each elector would cast two votes for two different candidates,…” Kindle Page 21 of 396: “Washington didn’t expect a French invasion [Quasi War with France, July 1798 – September 1800], but he was willing to lend his prestige to the administration to calm public fears, which were soon dispelled.” I believe the Washington’s involvement in the Quasi [undeclared] War was a little more complicated than this. He spent months (perhaps up to eight) setting up his military organization, and while picking his immediate subordinate of Hamilton, got into a dispute with Adams and effectively ruined his relationship with Knox. During this period, as well, the Alien and Sedition Acts were passed, with Washington privately concerned about the “French Plot” to take control of the direction of American foreign policy, moving America away from neutrality and into the war between England and revolutionary France and onto the side of France. Kindle Page 31 of 396 "Only about a third of the country was for independence. A third of the country was against it. And the remaining third, in the good old human way, was waiting to see how it came out.” This ratio is supposedly one originating with something John Adams said, but not, as I recall, about the Revolutionary War. Actually, he was talking at the time about the American view of the French Revolution. As regards, the American Revolution, though, other historians place the ratio somewhere around 10% for, 10% against, and 80% just wanting to be left alone. However, as the revolution progressed, the percentages varied wildly depending upon prospects for independence. It's been written that, at most, those for the Revolution did not exceed 45% and those against 20%. Later on that page: “It [the Revolutionary War] was the longest war in our history except for Vietnam.” I’m not sure when this interview was made. Certainly as of November 2019 the war in Afghanistan has now eclipsed in length even the Vietnam War. Note: The index in the Kindle version doesn’t always link to the correct Kindle page(s). I make these comments just as a small matter of record, not to diminish Rubenstein’s amazing accomplishment of bringing together such a renowned cast of expert historians. And, I’ll happily modify this review if my observations are wrong or the book is revised. However, I know from my own writing the difficulty in fact-checking and proof-reading: there’s always a new, perhaps more valid source one finds after the book is published; and in every new revision, for every two typos taken out, a new one unfortunately somehow goes in. C’est la vie! : ) But back to the book itself – it’s a joy to read! Here is one of my favorite passages, from David McCullough’s chapter: “One of the lines that appears again and again in the Founding Fathers’ writings is a line from Alexander Pope’s ‘Essay on Man’: ‘Act well your part, there all the honor lies.’ In other words, history has cast you in these roles and you better damn well play that role to the best of your ability. And why? ‘There all the honor lies.’ Nobody talks about honor anymore. Not money, not fame, not power—honor. And they really believed that. Of course, they didn’t always live up to it, but they believed it." Bottom line, I highly recommend this book, a monumental conversation about the importance of high character in leading figures throughout our distinctly American Story! A must-read!! “Character is Key for Liberty!” Check out how “Character, Culture, and Constitution” played “key” roles in the American and French Revolutions: George Washington's Liberty Key: Mount Vernon's Bastille Key – the Mystery and Magic of Its Body, Mind, and Soul, a best-seller at Mount Vernon.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Larry

    The complete title is "The American Story: CONVERSATIONS with Master Historians". I listened to the audiobook. It’s great. I strongly recommend NOT READING it. An audiobook is the best format to deliver this type of information. You can also listen to a chapter at a time. You don't need to listen to the entire book – but you'll want to. This is one of the best audiobook I've listened to! Businessman and philanthropist Rubenstein started a program of live interviews at the Library of Congress for The complete title is "The American Story: CONVERSATIONS with Master Historians". I listened to the audiobook. It’s great. I strongly recommend NOT READING it. An audiobook is the best format to deliver this type of information. You can also listen to a chapter at a time. You don't need to listen to the entire book – but you'll want to. This is one of the best audiobook I've listened to! Businessman and philanthropist Rubenstein started a program of live interviews at the Library of Congress for members of Congress. He interviews the giants of historical authors, e.g. Ron Chernow, and history makers, e.g. the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Amazingly, in these conversations, Rubenstein is able to garner even more information than from these historians than just the contents of their noteworthy books (each of which are lauded as definitive works). There are fascinating insights into the Founding Fathers as well as other history makers. Having read the books of four of the speakers, I still learned small – but significant – tidbits.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Tedawes

    I was first introduced to this book when a family member went to a conference where David Rubenstein was speaking. he was giving out copies of his book, so of course, I picked it up and began to read it. I took AP US History as a junior, and with a majority of the facts still fresh in my mind, I figured it would be a good idea to get a different perspective of important historical events and figures. This book expanded on my previous knowledge of history and gave me a different perspective on I was first introduced to this book when a family member went to a conference where David Rubenstein was speaking. he was giving out copies of his book, so of course, I picked it up and began to read it. I took AP US History as a junior, and with a majority of the facts still fresh in my mind, I figured it would be a good idea to get a different perspective of important historical events and figures. This book expanded on my previous knowledge of history and gave me a different perspective on the events that I already knew about. The book is written in a series of interviews and short essays with master historians. This means that the interviewee's opinions are nearly unfiltered, which is different than other novels written about historical figures. By asking open-ended questions with every interviewee, Rubenstein allows them to lead the dialogue and express their own opinions on crucial historical events.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Rob

    A terrific read for those who love American history. David Rubenstein interviews David McCullough, Jon Meacham, Ron Chernow, Walter Isaacson, Doris Kearns Goodwin and a host of other notable American historians on their recent works – many Pulitzer prize-winners – in a unique Library of Congress monthly program entitled “Conversations with Master Historians.” Although you may have read many of the works cited, this is a refreshing look at how these historians came about to write their books, A terrific read for those who love American history. David Rubenstein interviews David McCullough, Jon Meacham, Ron Chernow, Walter Isaacson, Doris Kearns Goodwin and a host of other notable American historians on their recent works – many Pulitzer prize-winners – in a unique Library of Congress monthly program entitled “Conversations with Master Historians.” Although you may have read many of the works cited, this is a refreshing look at how these historians came about to write their books, their personal feelings about their subject matter, and interesting tidbits of American history lost on current generations of students learning American civics taught in today’s classrooms. Easily five-stars, one of the best books you’ll read all year.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Joe Armao

    Disappointing, on the whole. I suppose I expected more from a series of 15 hour-long interviews about America's great statesmen (from Washington to Reagan) with the nation's preeminent historians and biographers, many of whose books I admire greatly. There are a few startling nuggets, like Bob Woodward's (author of The Brethren: Inside the Supreme Court, 1979) comment that Harry Blackmun's decision in Roe v. Wade was based mainly on Blackmun's close connection to doctors at the Mayo Clinic and Disappointing, on the whole. I suppose I expected more from a series of 15 hour-long interviews about America's great statesmen (from Washington to Reagan) with the nation's preeminent historians and biographers, many of whose books I admire greatly. There are a few startling nuggets, like Bob Woodward's (author of The Brethren: Inside the Supreme Court, 1979) comment that Harry Blackmun's decision in Roe v. Wade was based mainly on Blackmun's close connection to doctors at the Mayo Clinic and his determination to allow them to practice medicine as they saw fit. I guess the death of millions of unborn children didn't enter the equation for him. Barbaric.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Kathy

    These are transcripts of interviews with leading (well-known) historians/authors conducted by David Rubenstein. There were times in reading these interviews that I wondered what might have been cut out as there seemed to be a loss of continuity in a conversation. But, even with that, these are interesting and insightful. I compared it to being like having a transcript of James Lipton interviewing an actor on "Inside the Actor's Studio." About as much depth, but there is a real appreciation by These are transcripts of interviews with leading (well-known) historians/authors conducted by David Rubenstein. There were times in reading these interviews that I wondered what might have been cut out as there seemed to be a loss of continuity in a conversation. But, even with that, these are interesting and insightful. I compared it to being like having a transcript of James Lipton interviewing an actor on "Inside the Actor's Studio." About as much depth, but there is a real appreciation by each historian/author for his/her subject, and the place of that subject in American history.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jack Townsend

    This is a series of biographies by noted authors. It is a very easy read and, given its size and target (congressmen), cannot get too deep in the details of the subjects' lives. Having said that, I have read full length biographies on most of the subjects and this shorter treatment(s) does a good job of capturing key "anecdotes" about the subjects that give a sense of who they are in the U.S. imagination. Highly recommended.

  12. 4 out of 5

    UChicagoLaw

    An engrossing set of interviews with prominent historians with American leaders, ranging from George Washington to Martin Luther King, Jr. The author adroitly draws out what makes these leaders extraordinary, the challenges they faced, and how they shaped American history. The nation’s ability to produce such leaders will inspire the reader’s confidence in our future. —Thomas J. Miles, Dean, Clifton R. Musser Professor of Law and Economics

  13. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    A delightful and highly accessible book, this collection of interviews with master historians on key American leaders is one of the more unusual and enjoyable books I’ve read. Insights into Lincoln and Nixon were my favorite, although every chapter was interesting and engaging. Listen to the audiobook for the treat of hearing the actual interviews. Recommended: Highschool and above

  14. 4 out of 5

    Joye

    Excellent interviews about important American historical figures. I do agree with the criticisms that the people interviewed as well as the historical figures could have been more diverse. There was no mention of Native American figures for instance. But I did certainly learn a lot from what he offered.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Mark Linder

    These interviews with historians about major historical figures is fantastic. Vivid portrayal of figures such as John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, Founding Mothers, BenjaminFranklin, Abraham Lincoln, FDR, Ronald Reagan, and others. Everyone who wants to advance their understanding of American history will enjoy this book.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Joseph

    A great collection of interviews from award winning biographers. Telling the American Story through these interviews is clever. However, the introduction to each interview could include more supplemental or detailed information rather than a summary of the interview.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Mark Burris

    Technical problems ... easy enough to overlook because the content is so enthralling. And audio is the best way to enjoy this book: Rubinstein allows the interviews to speak for themselves ... in the authors' own voices. Very, very good.

  18. 5 out of 5

    David

    Learned about some great Americans! Dazzled by the writer’s interviewed! Much to like here. Favorites include the pieces on George Washington and Charles Lindbergh as well as the editors pithy style.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Caitlin

    I really liked the interview format. Honestly, a few of the books discussed were ones that I said I should read but would provably never get around to. The last couple of chapters on Reagan and the interview with Chief Justice Roberts weren’t as interesting and I skimmed through them.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Hill Krishnan

    Splendid audiobook!

  21. 5 out of 5

    Doris Raines

    NICE BOOK.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Kristopher Larsen

    Great collection of interviews that touch on so much of the last 250 years of history. Need a political primer of, this is it.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Lauri

    Listen to the audiobook. I cannot imagine reading this.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Hapzydeco

    Listen to the podcasts, where historians discuss their famous subjects.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    sometimes lite weight. Other times wonderfully insightful. easy quick read.

  26. 4 out of 5

    John Kuvakas

    An important book filled with amazing and insightful peeks into the lives of some of history's movers and shakers.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Interesting short interviews with historians on key American figures

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jeremy

    Light listening. Learnt some historical facts and interesting stories.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    Excellent audiobook.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Greg Cohen

    What an excellent book. Having read several of the books by these authors, it was great reading these interviews. Would have loved to watch these sessions on TV

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