An Answer to the Most-asked Question

Okay, I haven’t posted in almost two months.  So much for New Year’s resolutions.  But to make up for it I am going to answer (finally) the question I have been asked most over my many years of homeschool-mothering, a question which I used to ask myself, and it is this:  My daughter/son is a bookworm and reads voraciously and I don’t have time to read everything before I hand it to her/him so what do I do?

The best answer I have so far is to hand that child a stack of Landmark books and start shopping for more.  Or check your library and inter-library loan program to see if you can get them there.

So what’s so great about Landmark Books?  It’s a series of non-fiction books published by Random House in the 1950’s and 60’s.  Sure, there are other book sets published around then for the same audience, (older elementary through middle-school ages) but the thing that makes Landmark Books unique it that Random House hired “skilled wordsmiths, who could engage a general audience”  to write theirs, many of whom were experts in their field,  not just staff writers.

Here are a few examples of the kinds of authors Random House chose:

The Rise and Fall of Adolph Hitler was written by William L. Shirer, the author of best-seller, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, considered the quintessential book on the subject and the recipient of the National Book Award for non-fiction.

The Story of Atomic Energy was written by Laura Fermi.  Name “Fermi” sound familiar?  She was the wife of  Enrico Fermi, known as  the “architect of the nuclear age” and the “architect of the atomic bomb”.  

The Wright Brothers ( which I reviewed earlier) was written by Quentin Reynolds, an associated editor for Collier’s Weekly, and then a  WWII correspondent who wrote numerous books about war-related themes.  (He wrote several of my favorite Landmark Books, including The Battle of Britain –perhaps my favorite Landmark Book of all, Custer’s Last Stand, The Life of St. Patrick, The FBI, and Winston Churchill (I’ve never seen this one; it’s rare and copies start at $50.)

The American Historical Association has an article on the Landmark Series that explains the  history of Landmark Books; check it out here:

I started collecting Landmark Books when I found out that our friends, Bill Potter and Wesley Strackbein, both noted historians, were avid collectors.  I knew if they collected them they had to be good.  So I got a few Landmarks off Ebay and read them.  Then a few more.  And then I took the plunge and won the bid on a lot of 60 from Ebay…

I think I have about 90 titles now and have read about half of them.  By the time I’ve read them all I’ll be a lot smarter.  In fact, I’m a lot smarter already.  A kid who had read all 185 of them (even if he only remembered half of it) would be pretty well-educated.

So if, like me, you want to invest in the education of children – whether you own or other peoples’ – you should collect Landmark Books too.   Much more sensible than collecting china teacups or owl figurines.

I hope, in time, to write reviews of all that I’ve read, but listing the titles I haven’t liked takes a lot less time than writing about all the ones I love so I’ll start with that.  So far, out of the 40+ Landmark books I’ve read there are only four that I wouldn’t recommend:

The First Men in the World, by Anne Terry White – I haven’t actually read all of this one, but I didn’t have to read much to see that it’s not about Adam and his sons. The author has a totally Darwinian, old-earth viewpoint.  Another title I’d steer clear of is her Prehistoric America.  In fact, you might want to steer clear of Anne Terry White’s work altogether.  She is definitely not writing from a Christian perspective and is a strong evolutionist, and very probably a Marxist. One intriguing fact about her is that FBI documents confirm that her husband was a spy for the USSR, which was where she was born. Her books are the only ones in this series I’ve encountered so far with a definite anti-Christian slant.

Joan of Arc, by Nancy Wilson Ross – There’s really nothing wrong with how this book is written, the problem is that because there isn’t much factual information about Joan of Arc, the book is largely based on the myths and legends  which have arisen about her in the five centuries since her lifetime.  And most of these fly in the face of what we know from scripture about how things work.

Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys, by Slater Brown –  Again, the problem isn’t with the scholarship or the writing.  Ethan Allen, though a patriot, was a deist and his work, published in 1785 as Reason: the Only Oracle of Man,  was an unbridled attack against the Bible and Christianity.

So where do  you buy Landmark Books?  Well, keep your eyes open for them at garage sales and thrift stores, where you’ll find your best bargains.   The vast majority are out of print, but you can buy a few of them new from Amazon, in paperback, for $4-6 dollars.

Random House still prints seven of the original Landmarks books, published in the 1950’s and 1960’s:

The Wright Brothers, by Quentin Reynolds

The Landing of the Pilgrims, by James Daugherty

The American Revolution by Bruce Bliven, Jr.

Ben Franklin of Old Philadelphia, by Margaret Cousins

The Story of Thomas Alva Edison

Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt, by Elizabeth Payne

Gettysburg, by MacKinlay Kantor

(There are some recently-written ones that I haven’t checked into yet, and until I do, I can’t recommend them.)

Sterling Point has reprinted these:

The Barbary Pirates, by C. S. Forester (Creator of the award-winning Horatio Hornblower fiction series)

Alexander the Great, by John Gunther

Daniel Boone – The Opening of the Wilderness, by John Mason Brown

George Washington, Frontier Colonel, by Sterling North (the author of Rascal, another long-time favorite of mine)

Geronimo, by Ralph Moody (Creator of the Little Britches series)

Invasion – The story of D Day, by Bruce Bliven

John Paul Jones – Patriot Pirate, by Armstrong Sperry

The Swamp Fox of the Revolution, by Stewart H. Holbrook

Pearl Harbor Attack, by Edwin P. Hoyt

The Deadly Hunt- the Sinking of the Bismark, by William Shirer

(Sterling Point is also publishing some non-Landmark titles, mostly written in the 1950’s, which look good.  I’ve bought a couple but I haven’t read them yet.)

Beautiful Feet Books publishes:

The Magna Charta, by James Doughtery

The Vikings, by Elizabeth Janeway

Sonlight Curriculum publishes:

Leonardo da Vinci, by Emily Hahn

The Lewis and Clark Expedition, by Richard L. Neuberge

That makes 21 of the original 185 still in print.  Sad.  But the good news is that because of the series’ popularity and the vast numbers which were printed, they  are still easily available online and most are not expensive.  The Rise and Fall of Adolph Hitler, in hardback, for example, starts at about $12 – close to my spending limit – but Thomas Jefferson, Father of Democracy, also hardback, starts at under $3.

You can find them, used, on Amazon or from Advanced Book Exchange, (  Check both sellers for the best price before you buy.  And I wouldn’t buy anything in “fair” or “acceptable” condition unless you want that title desperately.

Old Scrolls Blog has an alphabetical list of all the original Landmark titles: and you can find chronological lists too.  In fact, if you look around online, you’ll find that there are a lot of folks who love Landmark Books, and a lot of information about them is available.

I like the original paper-dust-jacketed hardbacks best, but since it’s really the content I value, I’m happy to get the later reprints with the image printed on the hard cover as well.  (It’s called the “pictorial board format.” ) Whatever format you get, they will be a good investment in the education of children you love.