Most Americans get their history not from history class, but from the bookstore. The genre of "popular history" has undergone explosive growth in the past few years, with books by David McCullough, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and Stephen Ambrose rocketing to the top of the best-sellers list. But Ambrose's recent admission of plagiarism has fired heated debate over the role that popular history plays in the American consciousness. As the Ambrose case shows, these books may not be held to the same standards of accuracy that so-called "academic" histories are forced to follow. Are Americans, infatuated with popular histories, reading accurate histories at all? Are these nothing more than "valentines" - feel-good renditions - to historical darlings? How do these popular histories influence the American citizenry's sense of itself?
Mark Lewis, staff writer for Forbes.com;
Robert Dallek, professor of History at Boston University
author of two highly acclaimed biographies on Lyndon Johnson
This program aired on January 22, 2002.