This fiftieth anniversary issue of American Heritage was born on the Garden City, New York, railroad-station platform. That is where my longtime colleague and Forbes vice president Scott Masterson begins his day and, to hear him tell it, is approached nearly every morning by one neighbor or another with a question that invariably begins: “You work at American Heritage . What’s the best book on … ?” The subject might be the Revolution, or the Great Depression, or the Old West, but the aim is identical: to find an authoritative book on a particular aspect of the American past.
Scott would relay the questions to one or another of the editors, and we’d do our best to answer them, but we’d find ourselves talking about how there was no overall guide to such books, and how useful it would be if there were. Scott urged us to compile one, and with the laziness common to editors the world around, we’d say: too time-consuming, too complicated, too expensive.
But then our fiftieth anniversary began to loom through the mists of the future, and Scott’s enterprise, though daunting, seemed to us more and more worthy of the event.
So here it is, certainly the most challenging editorial task we’ve ever attempted—and one of the most rewarding. We have drawn on the knowledge and enthusiasm of leading historians, writers, and critics to offer a compendium of the very best books about the American experience. Divided into both chronological and subject categories ranging from the rise of the Republic to sports, from the years of World War II to the African-American journey, each section presents the writer’s choice of the 10 best books in a particular field, along with lucid, lively explanations of what makes them great. The result, we believe, is both a valuable reference work and an anthology of highly personal views of the making of our country and our culture that is immensely readable in its own right.
We feel that “America Unabridged” is as unusual as the magazine whose demi-centenary it marks; we are proud to offer it to our readers and are grateful both to them and to its contributors.