INTRODUCTION

When I was asked to research and write the first edition of this book, my first thought was that history—with decade upon decade of fugitive dates, people, and places—was particularly well-suited to the Handy Answer Book® format. My second thought was that it could not be done. History was too big a subject to squeeze itself into a finite series of questions and answers, neatly arranged by subject, trimmed and bound into a manageable size. But soon, very soon, the questions suggested themselves: What was the Pax Romana … the Trail of Tears … the Gunpowder Plot … the Oath of the Tennis Court … the Boxer Rebellion … the Battle of the Bulge … VE Day … Black Friday? Who were the Huns … the War Hawks … the Big Four … the Robber Barons? Who was Carrie Nation … Alex de Toqueville … Clara Barton … Balanchine? What were the Crusades … the Rights of Man … the Boer Wars … the carpetbaggers?

And so the first edition came into print—and stayed in print, the audience keeping it in demand. The comments I have heard and read from readers have been truly gratifying. The Handy History Answer Book is being used as a study aid for high school and college students; as an introduction to broad subjects, such as the world wars, for younger students; as a refresher for history buffs; and as pleasure reading for the curious-minded of all ages. Readers have called it “nifty,” “handy-dandy,” and “history in a nutshell.” The book found its audience.

So, a second edition was called for. Once again, the questions presented themselves in a hurry. I used the opportunity of a second edition to cover the astonishing events of the early 2000s, including the devastating impact of Hurricane Katrina, which struck the Gulf Coast of the United States as this book went into final production (the preliminary toll of the storm’s ravages are captured here and the situation continues to unfold as this book is published). I also took the opportunity to fill gaps that I perceived to exist in the coverage of some earlier events, update subjects that have not neatly concluded, and to change the record. On this last point, it’s not true that history is unchanging. New documents are discovered, public opinion shifts, scholars develop new interpretations. Just ask Alexander Graham Bell’s descendants.

The Handy History Answer Book is a resource for learning—for brushing up on the events, terms, and history-makers many of us remember but somehow can’t always neatly define. This book is not intended to be a comprehensive work on history; it can’t be done in a single volume. Still, the minds that conceived of it thought that reasonably intelligent people ought to have a convenient place to go to look up those devilish questions that have a way of cropping up in everyday conversation and reading.

While The Handy History Answer Book focuses on Western civilization, it is impossible to not take into account events in the East. Eastern influences are certainly evident in the West. And vice versa. It turns out that the idea of a global village is not so very new. This being so, the reader will find a number of questions and answers regarding Eastern events, ideas, and innovations. Further, since the readership is largely U.S.-educated, the emphasis is on those events that are most-studied in the American classroom.

Herewith: a new edition, revised and updated, to find its place on the desks, bedside tables, and bookshelves of fact-finders.

Perhaps no one has ever issued a better apology than the great Carl Sandburg, who in his prefatory remarks to The American Songbag wrote, “This book was begun in the depths of humility, and ended likewise with the murmur, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’” I, too, sincerely apologize for any factual errors in these pages. Every effort was made to verify the accuracy of the information herein.

Peace in our time.

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