Michael Beschloss, is the author of "Taking Charge," the first volume of a trilogy on Lyndon Johnson's White House tapes, among other books.

In Freedom From Fear: The American People in Depression and War 1929-1945, by David M. Kennedy (Oxford), one of our most broad-gauged American historians brings us that increasing rarity: a big book about a big subject. In a compelling narrative, part of the superb Oxford series that includes James M. McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom (on the Civil War) and James T. Patterson's Grand Expectations (on the three decades after VE-Day), the Stanford scholar takes on the job of tracing the American people through three of the most important and widely written-about epochs in this century -- the Great Depression, the New Deal and World War II -- and provides us with consistently original and sometimes startling conclusions.

Morgan: American Financier, by Jean Strouse (Random House).

At a time when antitrust officials in the U.S. Justice Department are going after Microsoft and when the Internet and other technological advances are transforming the American economy, the biographer of Alice James reveals the private life and public impact of one of the crucial figures in America's economic, political and social history.

A Necessary Evil: A History of American Distrust of Government, by Garry Wills (Simon & Schuster). Wills, professor of history at Northwestern and prolific author of Lincoln at Gettysburg, Reagan's America and numerous other enduring works, displays once again his relentlessly questioning, subtle and versatile mind. Published at a moment when the modern American aversion to government may have reached its high watermark, the book follows the anti-government style through American thought and politics to argue -- in response to Ronald Reagan in his first inaugural and the Gingrich Congress -- that perhaps government might not be the problem, after all.

The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy, by Nicholas Lemann (FSG). The author of The Promised Land, the splendid history of the African-American migration from South to North, uses the growth of the Educational Testing Service and the Scholastic Aptitude Test to show how America succeeded and failed during the postwar era in our efforts to establish a genuine meritocracy.