One of Isaac Asimov’s many enthusiasms is history and to it he brings his own unique perspective along with clarity, balance, and wit with a lively writing style. His first two volumes on American history, THE SHAPING OF NORTH AMERICA (which dealt with the early period) and THE BIRTH OF THE UNITED STATES (the Revolutionary and Constitutional period) were greeted with enthusiasm by reviewers. As Elizabeth Coolidge said about them in the Boston Globe:
“…Isaac Asimov can be counted on to marshal an enormous wealth of material in such a way that young people can read it with pleasure as well as with learning. With short declarative sentences, lively vocabulary and pertinent anecdotes, he organizes history into a smooth yet sprightly prose.
“…Dr. Asimov writes with a broad perspective. He writes about absolutely everything. And he’s certainly not dull.”
Dr. Asimov is not dull when he writes of the Civil War period either. In OUR FEDERAL UNION he covers this critical time in our history. It was an era that was peopled with fascinating personalities and filled with monumental events. Asimov makes the most of them all and the result is an other highly readable book.
Like The Birth of the United States, which this follows, Asimov deals here with United States history, this time the period from the end of the War of 1812 through Reconstruction. As before, the book isn’t so much bad as distinctly inferior to the classic Houghton-Mifflin histories like The Greeks.
Again, the story is interrupted periodically for census and election data which might better be consigned to charts and appendices, and again we’re treated to detailed birth information for even comparatively minor figures. All of this weakens the book as storytelling.
As a history, there is competition for this book in spades, which also weakens the desire to recommend it. Given the fact that it isn’t one of Asimov’s best, and given the number of other good books on the same subject for the same audience, my overall reaction tends to be lukewarm at best.