Sunday, September 18, 2011

Book comparison: Complete Idiot's Guide to American History versus U.S. History for Dummies

Last month I received an email asking me if I'd like to participate in an interesting challenge- a comparison of two books, one from the Complete Idiot's Guide series and one from the For Dummies series.  I was intrigued by the idea and agreed.  I chose two books on the subject of American History for my comparison.  Although I know quite a bit about American History, there are definitely some gaps in my knowledge. Our high school history classes never seemed to make it much past the Civil War, so I'm a little vague on things that happened after that.

When my two books arrived, I started in on them right away. And I was shocked by how much I learned. These are great books, stuffed full of information! There were definite differences with the two books though. Here's my take on the books.

U.S. History for Dummies:

  • Goes through U.S. history in a chronological manner, with chapters covering an average span of 15 years each. 
  • Briefly discusses lots of topics. 
  • Handy "remember" icons next to important facts and stories
  • Extra information on people and events is highlighted in boxes 
  • Extra lists at the back of the book with information on famous American inventions and events
  • The Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence are also included in appendices
  • Very casual tone to the writing
Complete Idiot's Guide to American History

  • Discusses American History in a roughly chronological order, with some overlap between chapters 
  • More in-depth discussion of events in American History than in the U.S. History for Dummies book (example: covers the presidential election of 2008 in 14 pages versus 2 pages in For Dummies)
  • Serious tone to writing, but still easy to understand
  • Handy icons to draw attention to memorable statements from historically significan figures and documents, biographical sketches of figures from the era in question, vital statistics, definitions of buzzwords, and most important event from the era
  • Each chapter ends with "the least you need to know", which nicely recaps the most important information from the chapter
I can't say that I really liked one book better than the other, since they were both very well-written, easy-to-read and informative.  If my husband (who is Canadian) ever decides that he would like to take the U.S. citizenship exam, I would probably give him the U.S. History for Dummies book, since it's a little simpler, covers lots of topics briefly, and gives a nice overview of American History.  For myself, an American who has a decent grasp on my country's history, I think the Complete Idiot's Guide to American History is a little more useful, since it goes more in-depth to explain what went on and who was involved.

If you'd like to pick up a book from the Complete Idiot's Guide series, you can use this coupon code: CIGBlog11 to get 50% off the price of one regularly priced book. Good through October 31, 2011.

Disclosure: I received these two books to review for myself, as well as a highlighter and shopping bag, from the nice people at Complete Idiot's Guide.  I was not compensated in any other way and all opinions posted here are mine and mine alone.


Heather! said...

Wow...what an interesting campaign, and a cool and fun opportunity for you! I have been both a librarian and a bookseller, and I used to joke that there should be a *Complete Idiot's Guide to All Those Dummies Books* book. Or maybe vice-versa? :)