A quirky gathering of 13 essays, The Century That Was pumps personality into what many consider a dry subject: U.S. history. But Century is neither text nor reference book; each essay hinges on telling statistics and critical dates, strategically placed to frame the period. And thanks to the perspective of its many talented writers, Century deserves to be a companion to mainstream texts. The strongest argument for the book as a companion text is author and historian Albert Marrin's 20-page piece regarding WWI's immediate and lasting effects on our county. First Marrin sketches the Home Front, then he colors it with the mosaic bits of economic, social, and political issues that shaped our lives. How did the War Industries Board, Bernard M. Baruch, and his "dollar-a-year men" supply what the war required? If this chapter doesn't prompt a few questions, kick your student he's sleeping.

"A Hundred Years of Wheels and Wings" explains how came to move as fast as the price on the Model T (it plunged from $600 to $290 in 12 years not unlike today's careening computer costs, eh?). And in a historical contemplation of religion (how often do textbooks openly address religion?!) Hans Christian Andersen- and Newbery Medal-recipient Karen Patterson recalls the day she asked a friend, "Do you believe in Science or in God?" Lighter but no less thoughtful fare, "Fashioning Ourselves" describes from a woman's point of view that while our clothing has changed through the ages, we've not changed at all in one way: No matter what they wear, we never think our mothers are cool.

Diane Stresing personally experienced more than three decades of the century that was.

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