Most of the world’s nations are places—places with a past, certainly, and with traditions and a heritage, but places nevertheless. The United States is different. It’s a place, but it’s also an idea. Sure, democracy was not exactly a new idea in 1776—the word democracy, meaning “government by the people,” was coined in ancient Greece—but no one had really tried it before. Few people thought it would work.

The story of gambling on an untried notion is bound to be fascinating. When you have a stake in that gamble, the story can be downright riveting. My purpose is to give you a rapid but comprehensive overview of American history. Obviously, a book of this length is also grossly incomplete. Search online for books on American history, ...

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