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America, Empire of Liberty: A New History of the United States Hardcover – October 13, 2009

4.1 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In an animated overview up to the present time, Cambridge historian Reynolds (In Command of History) captures the sprawling chronicle of a nation forged from the fires of revolution, populated by immigrants and constantly evolving politically and culturally. Reynolds constructs his story around the richly, sometimes fatally ambiguous themes of empire, liberty and faith in the nation's development. The American colonists who overthrew an imperial government themselves created an empire based on manifest destiny and removal of Native Americans to reservations. As for liberty, Reynolds reminds us that it was built on the backs of black slaves, but white Americans were free from the intrusion of the federal government in their personal lives until the New Deal, which dramatically changed the nature of American liberty. The development of religious denominations in America contributed moral fervor to many progressive causes, such as temperance, and animated America in the cold war and George W. Bush's war on terror. Reynolds draws on letters and other documents from ordinary Americans to show the uneasy relationship among empire, liberty and faith. Most readers will find Reynolds's epic overview provocative and enjoyable. 3 maps. (Nov.)
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Review

Publishers Weekly
“In an animated overview up to the present time, Cambridge historian Reynolds (In Command of History) captures the sprawling chronicle of a nation forged from the fires of revolution, populated by immigrants and constantly evolving politically and culturally… Most readers will find Reynolds’s epic overview provocative and enjoyable.”

American History Magazine
“Dazzlingly sweeping yet stippled with detail, this one-volume narrative runs from 1776 to Obama’s election, serving up fresh insights along the way.”

Kirkus
“Concise and still-inclusive…teeming…an evenhanded distillation of America's story from a singular outside observer.”

The National Interest
“Let us not mince words…this is the best one-volume history of the United States ever written…At least on the face of it, no single mind can master this mountain of material, avoid the almost-inevitable factual blunders, negotiate the long-standing scholarly controversies, and control the narrative in clear and at-times-lyrical prose. But that is precisely what Reynolds has done…[A] remarkable tour of the American past.”
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; First edition (October 13, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 046501500X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465015009
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.9 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,150,251 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By R. Spottiswood on October 1, 2010
Format: Hardcover
The chief selling point of this book is that it is a one volume history of the United States using three themes, empire, liberty and faith. Except it doesn't. The true themes of this book are the levels of rights and powers between the State Governments, the Federal Government, and the Supreme Court. Faith is a topic discussed in its own sections of a chapter. 'Empire' and 'liberty' are terms frequently invoked at the beginning and end of chapters, but rarely are they put in context.

The book is divided into three sections. The first starts in the distant past with the arrival of prehistoric humans, and winds down to the beginning of the Civil War. The second continues with the Civil War through to the end of World War II. These sections are an interesting but conventional and conservative overview of US history. To anyone familiar with American history, there should be few surprises here, except some of the author's conservative spin on events. For instance, he takes a consistently negative and 'interfering' view of the decisions of the Supreme Court.

The third section of the book is set from after World War II right up to the Obama Presidency. I found this section the most memorable but also the most frustrating. Apart from a chapter on the civil rights movement of the Sixties and a section on the Information Revolution, this section is a series of shallow biographies of the US presidential administrations. It covers what they intended to do, and what standard histories say they achieved. American events not involving the Presidents are not covered. Apart from Watergate, scandals are only mentioned, not truly covered. This section is also where the author's viewpoint goes from just conservative to aggressively imperial.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This very rapid and not particularly insightful trip through our nation's history seems to be a story without a theme. There is much to anticipate in this book. The author is British and teaches history at Cambridge. He also has won the prestigious Wolfson prize, awarded annually for the best history book in the United Kingdom. Nevertheless, this book tackles a huge, complex subject, the broad sweep of American history, and recites events familiar to the casual student of our history without any novel insights or themes. The Revolution is dismissed in four pages, the Civil War in ten, World War I is hardly discussed and the victory is awarded to the British forces, stalemated until the American Expeditionary Forces were injected into the War in 1917, and World War II is finished in five pages. It is difficult, indeed, to say anything meaningful or novel about these monumental pivot points in American history in such a short space. I am all for brevity but this is brevity brought to the border of superficiality.

History written to illuminate a particular theme can be absorbing and challenging. Frequently, it can shape new ideas about what were previously known facts. This is what I had expected from this book but there is little of this here. We know that Americans are religious, hard-working, lovers of liberty, and relatively young. Each of these is discussed briefly without any new conclusions.

But our tour guide presents a breezy and fast-moving review of American history. I had been looking for something more than a review: I wanted fresh insights and a different slant. Sadly, America, Empire of Liberty disappoints in this.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Those who are well read students in the history of the Republic won't find much new in this single volume overview, but it serves its purpose as such: a single volume for readers needing a refresher on the nation's history; and younger people who would be better served by a readable, near-comprehensive narrative history than some of the history books written now focusing more on social analysis, etc. than the story.
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Format: Hardcover
Contrary to some of the other reviews written here I found the book fairly balanced. Obviously, many interesting things are glossed over and others omitted, but that is to be expected from a single volume covering the whole history of the USA. Overall a very good read.
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Format: Audio CD
David Reynolds Presents an "Outsider's' unbiased view of American History. It is a Personal Interpretation, Developing a Broad Argument about the Dynamics of American History in Three Crucial Themes: Empire, Liberty and Faith. The Story Begins in the 18th Century, with an Extended Struggle among the Rival Empires of France, Britain and Spain for Predominance in North America, Which Britain Eventually Wins in the `First World War' of 1756-63.

Coming of Age as a Military Power in its Own Right in World War Two, the United States Establishes a Global American Empire While Waging the Cold War and Does Not Dismantle it, Thereafter. From its Founding, the Colonies and the New Nation Enjoy Greater Economic and Political Liberty than Europe, Especially Through Cheap Land. But Shortage of Labor (The Flip Side of Cheap Land) Makes Black Slavery Economically Necessary.

Liberty, Therefore Becomes a Crucial Issue in the History of this Nascent Nation. `Whose Liberty?' Is the Big Question in the Twentieth Century - Causing Often Violent Agitation about the Rights of Blacks. This Debate Then Extends to Women, Homosexuals, Guns, the Unborn and Multi-Culturalism.

The Driver Behind the American Way of Life Is, So Often, its Religious Faith, Derived from Calvinist Protestantism. Reynolds Shows How it Can Be Characterized by a Providentialist Sense of Mission, So Powerful in its Reach, it Becomes the Underlying Evangelical Ideology of America and its Foreign Policy; from Wilson to George W. Bush. This Persuasive Interpretation of the History of the Superpower of Our Times Will Be Required Reading / Listening for Years to Come.

I purchased a MP3 CD for $10 of the Complete 90-part BBC Radio series, for my children to use as a reference, when they are taking American History in School.
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