Like the three-decker Victorian novel, the multi-volume narrative history of the United States fell out of fashion at the close of the 19th century. There is nothing today that quite compares with George Bancroft’s History of the United States, from the Discovery of the American Continent (which filled ten volumes by 1874), Richard Hildreth’s The History of the United States of America (six volumes by 1852), or the similarly titled three-volume serial histories by William Bartlett (published posthumously in 1856) and by Jesse Ames Spencer (in 1858). Some long-series histories and biographies survived into the 20th century, notably Allan Nevins’s Ordeal of the Union (eight volumes, 1947-71) on the Civil War era, Dumas Malone’s Jefferson and His Time (six volumes, 1948-81), and Robert Remini’s life of Andrew Jackson (three volumes, 1977-84). But none of these was an attempt at a comprehensive national history in the expansive manner of Bancroft.

Part of the reason for the disappearance of long-form American history is surely the sheer cost of printing and marketing it. Attention spans that will tolerate endless seasons of televised melodrama cannot seem to endure written histories by installment, and few publishers see much sense in a series commitment that few readers are inclined to stick with. Then there is the staggering

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