Books: The Living Past

LIFE IN AMERICA (2 vols., 1,076 pp.)—Marshall Davidson—Houghton M/fflf/n ($20).

Marshall Davidson, of Manhattan's Metropolitan Museum of Art, wanted a new kind of U.S. history book and decided to write it himself. Instead of rechewing the dry bones of political campaigns, Civil War battles and tariff disputes, he went looking for the marrow in the U.S. past: the way Americans really spent their days.

What games did Puritan children like? How did people get along on the Western frontier? What was it like to live in Chicago 100 years ago? With the help of 1,200 pictures and a 250,000-word text, Historian Davidson has...

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