Cambridge Dictionary defines "primer" as "a small book containing basic facts about a subject, used especially when you are beginning to learn about that subject." But this book, The Untold History of the United States by Stone and Kuznick, with its as many as up to 750 pages, can hardly be called a small book.

So I go to check out the word primer in Random House Unabridged Dictionary of American English, which has two definitions for it: (1) an elementary book for teaching children to read. (2) any book of elementary principles. Clearly, The Untold History is for adults to study rather than for kids; it is not elementary either, for its seriousness tapping into big political troubles.

Thus, I wonder the meaning of the word "primer" - Has the author used it correctly?

"A brave revisionist study which shatters many foreign policy myths... the Stone-Kuznik team grapples with the unsavory legacy of American militarism.... Make room on your bookshelf for this compelling leftist primer." -Douglas Brinkley, New York Time bestselling author of The Great Deluge

Source: The Untold History of the United States

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    This is the first time I've ever heard a primer defined as "small". Quite the opposite, if anything - as an introduction to a subject, the more complex the subject, the bigger the primer needs to be to properly introduce it. And politics is quite the complex subject.
    – Xono
    Apr 13, 2021 at 5:55
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    I've looked at 5+ other dictionaries, and Cambridge is the only one that mentions "small". The others say "elementary" or "introductory".
    – ColleenV
    Apr 13, 2021 at 13:52

1 Answer 1


You are correct that a 750-page book should not really be called a "primer" in the traditional sense. But the book is likely written for a general audience—probably for people who took high school history, maybe some college, but are not scholars or historians. So Brinkley is using the term to mean that it is "introductory" in the sense that you don't need a lot of specialized knowledge to understand the book's content.

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