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An `outsider's' history of the US

The Longman History of the United States of America, by Hugh Brogan. New York: Morrow. 740 pp. $25. Son of the distinguished British historian of America, Denis Brogan, Hugh Brogan teaches history at the University of Essex. His massive new book, its publishers tell us, is the first single-volume history of the United States to appear in two decades.

Beginning with a preliminary glance at the migrations of the earliest Americans, shrouded in the mists of prehistory, this volume takes us from the first European explorers and settlers to the Vietnam war, the Watergate scandal, and the nation's Bicentennial celebration.

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Although its scope is vast and the coverage impressively detailed, this history is as convenient as it is comprehensive. (It weighs less than three pounds!)

For, whether he is discussing the sad fate of the American Indian, the reasons for the American Revolution, the causes of the Civil War, the growth of big business, American attitudes toward immigrants, the Roaring '20s, or the civil rights movement, Brogan displays a truly enviable ability to convey subtlety and complexity without losing the reader in a maze of digression.

There is always an added interest in reading an ``outsider's'' history of one's own country, and a special value in obtaining a British viewpoint.

Brogan's approach is refreshingly free both from the faintly superior cynicism and the gushing na"ivet'e encountered these days in equal measure from more superficial commentators. He is too knowledgeable and too sensible to strike such poses.

Yet the book is written with enormous verve. It is the farthest thing imaginable from ``dry history,'' for every page expresses sympathy, indignation, admiration, or dismay, always tempered, of course, by the author's sound judgment and his ability to balance scholarly detachment with thoughtful insight.

Brogan, who has also written a study of Alexis de Tocqueville, is to be congratulated on having written a history lively enough to be read for sheer pleasure, solidly researched enough to serve as a reliable reference book, and well in keeping with the sympathetic yet acutely analytical spirit of the great French historian who painted America's first formal portrait. Excerpt from Longman history . . . The educated American middle class does, to a surprising degree, live according to the enlightened ideology of the Founding Fathers and the benevolent ethics of conventional Christianity. Its individual members can be as stupid and selfish as anyone else, but the class as a whole tries to live up to its formal belief in the equality of human rights and the importance of maintaining an open society.

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