Hakim, Joy 1931-

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Hakim, Joy 1931-


Surname is pronounced "Hay-kim"; born January 16, 1931, in Forest Hills, NY; daughter of John (a furniture shop owner) and Ida (a department store buyer; maiden name, Ginsburg) Frisch; married Sam L. Hakim (a broker and actor), March 20, 1955; children: Ellen, Jeffrey, Daniel. Education: Smith College, B.A., 1951; Goucher College, M.Ed., 1954, Ph.D., 2003. Religion: Jewish. Hobbies and other interests: Swimming, skiing, reading, grandchildren, volunteer teaching.


Home—1900 E. Girard Pl., Apt. 400, Englewood, CO 80110-3111. Office—American Historical Publications, 37 W. 39th St., New York, NY 10018.


McGraw-Hill, assistant editor of World News, 1952; public school teacher in Baltimore, MD, 1953, Syracuse, NY, 1954-55, Omaha, NE, 1955–56; Country Day High School, Virginia Beach, VA, teacher, 1960–61; Ledger-Star, Norfolk, VA, reporter and education writer, 1961–62; Virginian-Pilot, Norfolk, business writer, associate editor, and stringer, 1963–79; Tidewater Community College, Virginia Beach, instructor, 1984–85; freelance writer, c. 1980s. Council for America's First Freedom, member; National Board for Professional Teaching Studies, member of social-studies board; Blue Ribbon Schools program, member of review panel, 1992.


International Reading Association, National Council for History Education (board member), National Council

for Social Studies, National Science Teachers Association, American Historical Association, Organization of American History, American Antiquarian Society.

Awards, Honors

James A. Michener Prize in Writing, 1997, for "A History of US" series; recipient of gold and silver awards from Parent's Choice magazine; New York Public Library awards; Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 1998, for distinguished contributions to the humanities; Smith College medal, 1999; Edith Workman Matrix Award, Women in Communications, 2005.



The First Americans: Prehistory-1600, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1993, revised 3rd edition, 2006.

Making Thirteen Colonies: 1600–1740, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1993, revised 3rd edition, 2006.

From Colonies to Country: 1735–1791, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1993, revised 3rd edition, 2006.

The New Nation: 1789–1850, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1993, revised 3rd edition, 2006.

Liberty for All?: 1820–1860, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1994, revised 3rd edition, 2006.

War, Terrible War: 1860–1865, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1994, revised 3rd edition, 2006.

Reconstruction and Reform: 1865–1870, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1994, revised 3rd edition published as Reconstructing America: 1865–1890, 2006.

An Age of Extremes: 1880–1917, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1994, revised 3rd edition, 2006.

War, Peace, and All That Jazz: 1918–1945, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1995, revised 3rd edition, 2006.

All the People, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1995, revised 3rd edition published as All the People: Since 1945, 2006.

Freedom: A History of US (for adults; companion book to sixteen-part PBS television series), Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2003.


Aristotle Leads the Way, Smithsonian Books (Washington, DC), 2004.

Newton at the Center, Smithsonian Books (Washington, DC), 2004.

Einstein Adds a New Dimension, Smithsonian Books (Washington, DC), 2007.


A History of US was adapted as a 16-part video series by the Public Broadcasting System, 2003, focusing on the freedom theme in American history. The ten-volume "A History of US" series was adapted for audiocassette, narrated by Christina Moore, Recorded Books, 2003.

Work in Progress

A book on religious freedom and others on earth and life sciences.


Joy Hakim decided to write for schoolchildren when she looked at her own children's elementary-grade history textbooks and found them dull and a turn-off. She

recalled historian David McCullough's comment that most history textbooks are no better than "punishment," and she thought she could do a better job. "A teacher and journalist, Joy Hakim was so disgusted by the way committees had managed to eliminate nearly all content from textbooks on American history that she single-handedly wrote her own series, the bestselling ‘History of US,’" explained Diana Lutz in Natural History. Hakim's ten-volume narrative history of the United States begins with the earliest human settlement and continues to the Iraq War. Hakim has been called "the ‘J.K. Rowling of textbooks’ because of her lively writing style and blockbuster book sales," Jennifer Drapkin wrote in Smithsonian, referring to the best-selling author of the "Harry Potter" novels. Originally published in modest numbers by Oxford University Press, Hakim's nonfiction series has become a popular teaching text in numerous U.S. schools, and by 2006 it had been released in a revised third edition. In her writing Hakim has attempted to break the traditional wall between trade publications and textbooks; her books can be found in bookstores as well as in classrooms throughout America.

Children and adults alike have responded to "A History of US" for substantive and stylistic reasons. One reason may be that Hakim carefully presents the perspectives of people from various groups in society by including the voices of minorities, women, and children as well as those of well-known leaders. The writing style is that of a personable storyteller rather than an anonymous historian or textbook committee. In addition, Hakim peppers her books with questions, primary documents, and colorful graphics that encourage readers to form their own opinions. As Hakim once commented: "I want to change things—especially the way children think about history. I want them to understand that nonfiction can be as exciting as fiction, and that the satisfactions that come with ideas and learning are hard to top."

Hakim's approach to writing history seems unconventional, but she actually used books written early in the twentieth century as a guide: the best of them focused on history's stories and were based on solid scholarship. In today's textbook world, that approach makes her unusual. In addition, Hakim's background is in education and journalism rather than academia, a fact that explains her conversational style and her technique of "exact imaging," in which she tries to make a reader feel the immediacy of the historical event or situation. Second, she never intended to write textbooks, so her narratives are informal and colloquial. She completed all of her research herself, traveling across the country and filling her home with books on the subjects she intended to cover. Finally, when her first book was finished, she not only passed it through a committee of scholars, but also solicited comments from local teachers and students who were encouraged to mark passages as "boring" or "not clear." In the New York Review of Books, Alexander Stille wrote: "While virtually all other textbooks are written by committees in as neutral a tone as possible, and do little more than present a series of events, dates, and people, Hakim tried to make storytelling central to her work. Her books have a distinctive personal voice and are enjoyable to read."

Critical response to "A History of US" has generally been positive. Maureen Fitzgerald, reviewing the series in the Philadelphia Inquirer, called Hakim's books "a thorough and accurate narrative of our nation's history, written in the warm and chatty voice of a grandmother telling juicy stories and leaving in all the good stuff." Judy Fink, in Voice of Youth Advocates, declared that "Hakim has succeeded in writing history for children as it has never been written before." As a Publishers Weekly correspondent observed, the series' "new twist … is a lively narrative that aims to present facts within the context of a good story starring three-dimensional personalities and offering rich detail—features that traditional textbooks often lack." Martha Saxton, in the New York Times Book Review, commended the series as well, concluding that it "is based on the most up-to-date academic research and provides historical contexts for all kinds of Americans. In her account, groups once written off in a sentence become inviting topics of study for a schoolchild."

Hakim initially had a difficult time finding a publisher for "A History of US." Appraising her first volume for possible publication, trade publishers felt that it would not sell as a popular title, and textbook publishers felt that its chatty tone made it more desirable as a trade book. Finally, Oxford University Press bought the series and published it as one of the house's first American-authored children's texts. As Stille suggested, Hakim's work might have far-reaching effects on the school textbook industry. "Publishing companies invest several million dollars in a textbook, employing dozens of writers, consultants, and art directors," Stille explained. "That a grandmother from Virginia could do something superior at a fraction of the cost calls into question their entire system.… The remarkable success of her books shows that many children are starving for good storytelling and real history."

In an era when school books of all sorts come under close scrutiny for political correctness or lack thereof, Hakim's works have found favor with both conservatives and liberals. When the series was adapted for the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) in 2002, U.S. President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura Bush, introduced its first episode.

Hakim has also authored a second series that explores scientific and technological discoveries. "The Story of Science" presents scientific developments in the context of history and, like "A History of US," features art and sidebars containing quick facts and lively vignettes. "At its essence, the book displays the most appealing aspect of science and mathematics: that advances result from a practical need solved by curious minds," wrote Courtney Lewis in her School Library Journal review of the first title in the series, Aristotle Leads the Way. John Peters, writing in Booklist, considered the same title to be "a rare mix of visual appeal, intellectual content, and lively personal voice." Another School Library Journal reviewer praised the "interdisciplinary approach and up-beat writing style" of the series. Hakim "expertly weaves a rich textual tapestry," wrote Charles K. Jervis in Science Teacher of the second title, Newton at the Center. "The reader is immersed in the personalities and politics of the time, the art and economics, and many other aspects of the social fabric surrounding science," the critic added, while a Kirkus Reviews contributor noted that "teachers will find anecdotal information to enliven their lessons" and "browsers will be fascinated by the sidebars." Writing about Newton at the Center, Peters called the book "essential reading," noting that Hakim's "animated discourse lends immediacy to every breakthrough."

"Hakim's chatty style and character-driven stories have won her legions of fans," noted Sora Song in Time magazine, Song adding that the author make a point of visiting schools to meet the students who use her history series. Hakim, perhaps summing up her own unconventional road to success as a writer, explained to a critic for U.S. News and World Report: "I like people who don't do what they're expected to do."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Booklist, October 15, 2004, John Peters, review of Aristotle Leads the Way, p. 417; December 1, 2005, John Peters, review of Newton at the Center, p. 58.

Kirkus Reviews, November 1, 1993, review of Making Thirteen Colonies: 1600-1740, p. 1390; November 1, 2005, review of Newton at the Center, p. S17.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, February 22, 1998, Joanna Rudge Long, "History Matters," pp. 6–7.

Natural History, December, 2004, Diana Lutz, review of Aristotle Leads the Way, p. 52.

New York Review of Books, June 11, 1998, Alexander Stille, "The Betrayal of History," p. 15.

New York Times Book Review, November 3, 1994, Martha Saxton, "The New History: Showing Children the Dark Side," p. 32.

People, February 10, 2003, Allison Adato, "Lady Liberty," p. 147.

Philadelphia Inquirer, February 24, 2000, Maureen Fitzgerald, "Author Weaves Fresh Twist into History."

Public Interest, fall, 1998, Diana West, review of Making Thirteen Colonies, p. 125.

Publishers Weekly, August 30, 1993, Shannon Maughan, "History as Story," p. 41; October 14, 2002, review of Freedom: A History of US, p. 73.

School Library Journal, May, 2000, John Peters, review of A History of US, p. 86; December, 2004, Courtney Lewis, review of Aristotle Leads the Way, p. 161; April, 2005, review of Aristotle Leads the Way, p. S67; December, 2005, Kathy Lehman, review of Newton at the Center, p. 166.

Science Teacher, November, 2005, Charles K. Jervis, review of Newton at the Center, p. 70.

Smithsonian, March, 2006, Jennifer Drapkin, "Joy of Science," p. 42.

Time, December 6, 2004, Sora Song, "History with Flavor: The Page Charmer," p. 66.

U.S. News and World Report, January 20, 2003, Mary Lord, "Smelling the Past," p. 26.

Voice of Youth Advocates, April, 1994, Judy Fink, review of Making Thirteen Colonies, pp. 46–47; June, 1994, Kathleen D. Hutchins, review of The First Americans, p. 108; October, 1994, Suzanne Julian, review of War, Terrible War, p. 230; April, 1995, Patricia J. Morrow, review of Reconstruction and Reform, p. 46; April, 2000, review of The First Americans, p. 58.

Washington Post Book World, March 5, 1995, Michael Dirda, review of All the People, p. 11.


Freedom: A History of US,http://www.pbs.org/historyofus/ (May 18, 2004), companion Web site to PBS television series.