The book contains mini-biographies of each never-president — the author calls them Also Rans — and a rundown of each of their runs for president and a final section that compares them to the man who did ascend to the presidency.

Owning to the nature of lifetime political careers, the biographies can help my students review the major political issues over time, and, better yet, they put a personality behind the portrait and name they see in their book.

Horace Greeley help found the Republican party following the death of the Whig party. He will never be on the Advanced Placement test, but knowing that the journalist was so disgusted with the graft and incompetence of Ulysses Grant that Greeley accepted a Reconstruction-era Democratic nomination reviews the following information:

1. Former Whigs were the earliest Republicans.

2. Ulysses Grant’s administration had legendary graft and incompetence.

3. Reconstruction was so hard on the mostly Southern Democratic Party that a founder of the Republican Party was nominated in its ticket.

Though the reading level is a little high for lower-level students, I love the book for it. He closes a section on Henry Clay with this jem.

He blamed his defeat on fraud, foreigners, Catholics, abolitionists, Tyler-ites, renegade Whigs — on everything except the life, career and character of Henry Clay.

William Jennings Bryan was even better liked.

His mind was like a soup dish, wide and shallow; it could hold a small amount of nearly anything, but the slightest jarring spilled the soup into somebody’s lap.

When I teach AP U.S. History, this book will be transformed into copyright-infringing packets.

I’ll buy my own reams, if I have to. I’ll probably have to.

Moral of the story? Teachers know their subject can be interesting, and an outside text hammers that point home.


  1. Here’s a question: how much are you beholden to the standard text? If I had my way, I would ditch it entirely, or at least severely reduce its role in my classroom. Is there any way I would get away with it?

  2. The American Pageant isn’t that bad, as generally the standard text for high school AP and college courses.

    For regular courses, you could get away with not using the text at all, though some students need it or something like it to reinforce their understanding of the material.

  3. I teach a section of regular high school US and rarely use the textbook. If I need textbook-like readings I point them to http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/ but honestly? No one even cares if I follow the text or not.

    This may be different for you Neal, I dunno. Since I’m in Virginia, I have the SOLs to contend with, and everyone’s used to ignoring the text/pulling in outside resources that better match the state standards.

    I need this book, btw.

  4. Ancient Bearded One

    I plan to read this book. The CA state textbooks have little to do with real history as an actual study. They’re almost content free.

    My favorite HS history classes were the ones that didn’t even hand out the CA state textbook. Freshman world history used mimeos and a wide assortment of serious histories approachable by average freshman readers. Sophomore US history was a documentary history. We read origianl sources, including contemporary newspaper articles and sppeches from many points of view, plus “fact sheets” which gave us a framework for the details we got. Those who could read a few of the Federalist papers.

  5. There were a few textbooks in the late 1970s that included only primary sources, but that style fell out of fashion as soon as it became apparent that they were a lot of work.

  6. Thanks for the responses to my inquiry. I’m in Illinois, and not yet a teacher, so I guess we’ll have to see if anyone gives me trouble for eschewing the textbook as much as I can get away with. I’m pretty sure I’ll be fine, but my own high school experience was a little unusual (International Baccalaureate program), so I wasn’t sure how to apply it to my likely experience as a teacher.

    I have been thinking about the best way to keep an underlying framework of historical facts suitably close to my students. Textbooks are one way. Reliable web sources are another. More specialized historical narratives or surveys are great, but probably too long and too specific for a high school class to use them exclusively. I wonder how effectively I could subsist with a predominant diet of lecture (awesome lecture, to be sure)…

  7. Students don’t last past the first 20 minutes of a lecture. They need another outlet by then, be it worksheet or poster or book reading or skit project. Going a full 30 minutes is pushing it even more.

  8. I meant merely using that ~20 minutes of lecture to essentially teach them the textbook (while eliminating its presence from reading assignments), not instituting a full blown drone-a-thone. Mostly, I was thinking out loud about grander ideas (i.e. well-trod paths) that have not yet begun to coalesce before me. I’ve found I’m too needy to think via excessive introspection.

    I hate theorizing about this without first hand experience teaching history. I can’t wait to get my hands on a classroom full of guinea pigs young impressionable minds.

  9. Borrow a textbook from a local school; take notes from it. Students need to copy some things down — they need to see “Schlieffen Plan.”

    Copying your own notes from a notebook onto the board is the classic way of presenting material vis-a-vis lecture and without the textbook. That’s the way I’d do it, if I had only 20 minutes.

  10. Hannah Baxter

    I’m going to assume that if you want to teach gov, you’ll have to do econ as well. If you do, check out the book “Naked Economics.” It was really effective in my econ class last semester.

  11. I will. If you have a copy, I’d be obliged.

  1. 1 Out of Print, and Still the Best, Part 1 « On the Tenure Track

    […] forget about Part 2.  4 […]




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