Books: Happy Birthday, America



909 pages. Random House. $10.95.

Whatever else James Michener may be guilty of, no one has ever accused him of thinking small. Practically entire forests have been felled to produce such trunk-sized novels as Hawaii and The Source. In Centennial, Michener begins with the first faint primordial stirrings on the face of the deep and slogs onward through the ages until he hits the day before yesterday. He is the Will Durant of novelists, less an artist than a kind of historical compacter.

"The purpose of a writer like me," Michener explains in a separately printed booklet about Centennial,...

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