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America Reborn: A Twentieth-Century Narrative in Twenty-six Lives Paperback – July 10, 2001


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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

With the detailed expertise of a historian and the insight of a contemporary, Martin Walker presents a narrative of the outgoing American century through individual portraits of 26 of its most influential participants. Beginning with Teddy Roosevelt and concluding with Bill Clinton, Walker's portraits are less biographical than they are temporal; he brings to life particular moments in the 1900s that his subjects helped shape. For example, his narrative of William Boeing traces the history of American aviation from its origins to the present. After World War I, Boeing, Martin, Loughead, Northrop, and Douglas recognized the potential for commercial aviation, and the industry was born. Walker then outlines the shift into aerospace when President Kennedy pledged to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade, and the industry's present contraction into two conglomerates, competing with Europe's Airbus consortium.

Former bureau chief of The Guardian and author of several critically acclaimed books, Walker is a seasoned, skilled writer. His portraits read easily. Averaging 15 pages, they can be read individually or as part of the larger narrative. Each of them illustrates the "primacy of the individual" and the powerful "cult of the winner," unique characteristics of American society that lead the author to consider the 20th century the "American century" and America the cultural, economic, and political world leader. --Bertina Loeffler Sedlack --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

As the title suggests, British journalist Walker (The Cold War: A History, etc.) views history through the prism of biography in his engaging, though sometimes superficial, chronicle of the U.S.'s political, social and economic development over the course of the 20th century. Each chapter takes a well-known individual as a paradigm for a larger development ("Emma Goldman and the American Dissident," "Lucky Luciano and the American Criminal," etc.). The early chapters are essentially recapitulations of received wisdom: for instance, Henry Ford invents mass production and realizes he must also create a mass consumer class, hence the five-dollar day for his workers. When the choices are not conventional, they can be arguable: Katharine Hepburn is hardly a typical Hollywood star, and using Winston Churchill (whose mother was American) as a way of examining "the American diaspora" (whose meaning is never satisfactorily clarified) simply doesn't work. As the narrative approaches the 1970s, when Walker began reporting in the U.S., it sharpens considerably. Particularly strong is the chapter on Richard Nixon, in which Walker argues that the most important of the "three strategic disasters that marked his presidency" was neither Watergate nor the fall of Saigon but Nixon's decision to abandon the gold standard and devalue the dollar, which led to the ghastly inflation of the '70s and the resulting triumph of Reaganomics in the '80s. Throughout his accessible text, the author also does a good job of tracing his main theme, the nation's century-long struggle to deal with Americans' ambivalence about international involvement. There's little new here, but Walker's lively popular history is generally informative and appealing. 26 photos. (May)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (July 10, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375703640
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375703645
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,382,708 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Former foreign correspondent in USSR, USA, Europe and Africa for the Guardian (UK), author of histories of the Cold War and 20th century USA, and of studies of Gorbachev, Clinton, the extreme right etc.
Now I write mystery stories set in the Perigord region of rural France, home of truffles, foie gras, great cheeses and wonderful wines.
In 2013, I was made a chevalier of foie gras, in the confrerie of pate de Perigueux, and also an honorary Ambassador of the Perigord, which means I get to accompany the traveling exhibition of the Lascaux cave as it goes on display at museums around the world. I also help promote the wines of Bergerac at international wine fairs, and was chairman of the jury for this year's Prix Ragueneau, the international culinary prize,
The hero of my mystery stories is Bruno, a French country policeman and former soldier who was wounded while serving it UN peacekeepers during the siege of Sarajevo. Bruno hunts, cooks, tries never to arrest anyone and, hates to carry his gun (but sometimes must. He loves his basset hound, his horse and a complicated array of firmly independent women.
The Perigord also contains more medieval castles per square kilometre than anywhere else on earth and is home to the prehistoric paintings of the Lascaux cave. Most of what we know of prehistory comes from this valley of the river Vezere, where humans have lived continuously for some 70,000 years or more. Devoted to the area and his adopted home of the small town of St Denis, Bruno instinctively understands why our ancestors chose this spot

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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I've read all of his fiction, so have started reading some of his non-fiction.
Thanne
The approximately fifteen page, tidy chapters devoted to each individual fly by with interesting tidbits of historical information and clear explanation.
JRK
This is one of the most enjoyable as well as one of the most informative books I have read in recent years.
Robert Morris

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Robert Morris HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 13, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This is one of the most enjoyable as well as one of the most informative books I have read in recent years. Walker's purpose is to "describe and explain the American century through the lives and careers of a handful of individual Americans." He discusses 26, each whom he views as representative of a specific component within the evolution of American civilization. For example, Teddy Roosevelt (Ambition), Emma Goldman (Dissidence), Woodrow Wilson (Idealism), William Boeing (Air Transportation), Lucky Luciano (Crime), Katherine Hepburn (Stardom), and Alan Greenspan (Banking).
One of my favorites of the 22 essays is that which discusses Walt Disney (representative of American Entertainment). Walker first quotes Joseph Nye: "Soft power occurs when one country gets other countries to want what it wants, in contrast with the `hard' or coercive power of ordering others to do what it wants." In response, he suggests that "the essence of America's new global hegemony was that the United States was not only the unique military superpower but also the dominant soft superpower, which [because of Disney's films] invented the world's dreams and defined its aspirations....The Disney Corporation has become the heartland of soft culture's colonial realm. It is unmatched in pillaging there cultures of others to repackage them in Disney's universal vocabulary....[Disney] aimed for what he once described as `that deathless, ageless, absolutely primitive remnant of something in every world-wracked human being which makes us play with children's toys and laugh without self-consciousness at silly things....You know, the Mickey in us'." These brief excerpts correctly indicate Walker's highly subjective and yet circumspect perspective on 22 quite unique Americans. I have already mentioned eight.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By JRK on June 19, 2000
Format: Hardcover
In America Reborn, British writer Martin Walker assumes the unique perspective of examining quintessentially "American" attributes through retrospectives of twenty-six individuals. For anyone with an interest in American history, this book provides clear and interesting essays that reach from the depths of American politics (FDR and an exceptionally harsh view of Nixon), American economics (Alan Greenspan), and American international intrigue (Richard Bissell and George Marshall) to the heights of American leisure activities (Duke Ellington, Katharine Hepburn, and Walt Disney). The approximately fifteen page, tidy chapters devoted to each individual fly by with interesting tidbits of historical information and clear explanation. This British writer has provided an introspective and fascinating look into America and its personality, matching up attributes to individuals that would be, in most cases, proud to claim them.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 13, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This book gets my vote as the best single history of 20th century America, simply because it is so readable. History is not about great sweeping flows and the tidal forces of social and economic change but about people, about individuals, and what they made of the world they encountered. This book explores the American century through a thoughtfully-chosen group of individuals: the film stars and criminals, the spies and generals, the preachers and bankers, the dreamers and the dissidents. And the author takes us from the particular to the general, putting those deeper social forces into the background where they belong. I never knew that modern US aviation depended on William Boeing not only for his airplanes, but because he also founded United Airlines. I never knew that evangelist Billy Graham was such an intense political animal, or that John Steinbeck was suspected of communist subversion by the FBI, or that Richard Nixon was by most counts a liberal politician, or that Emma Goldman tried to raise funds for the revolutionary cause as a prostitute. I had also never thought about Bill Clinton in such historical terms before, nor realised that the real revolution for American women was economic rather than erotic. Beautifully written, this is a book full of delights and information, that will make you think about America while it keeps you greatly entertained.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on September 8, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This chronicle of the 20th century uses over twenty lives as a foundation for examining cultural trends, social issues, and daily life in America. Participants featured herein include presidents, artists, entertainers, soldiers, criminals an numberous others drawn from all walks of life. The diversity of social and economic stratas makes for an exceptional presentation.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By N. Tsafos on January 30, 2004
Format: Paperback
Admittedly, ever since Alexis de Tocqueville wrote "Democracy in America" the bar has been set high for those wishing to dissect and explain the American psyche. Though not aspiring to do any such thing, journalist Martin Walker has come very close to it by encapsulating the essential and enduring features that define the American character.
"I suspect that this book began unconsciously as a love letter to America from a foreigner who sees it both as a second home and as an inspiration." Thus Mr. Walker begins "America Reborn," and what follows is a chronicle of the twentieth century as marked by the lasting footprints of twenty-six larger-than-life Americans.
Beginning with Theodore Roosevelt's ambition and ending with Bill Clinton's new America, "America Reborn" is a sweeping narrative that couples people with their impacts on American life-Roosevelt with ambition, Woodrow Wilson with idealism, William Pershing with the army, and so on. But Mr. Walker knows that there is more to America than politics: his book includes such diverse personalities as Babe Ruth, Duke Ellington, John Steinbeck, Walt Disney, Lucky Luciano, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Katherine Hepburn.
In the end, the book does feel like a "love letter to America." But it is not the kind of love which would blind the author; perhaps, it resembles that of Emma Goldman, one of Mr. Walker's heroes: "the kind of patriotism we represent is the kind which loves America with open eyes. Our relation to America is the same as the relation of a man who loves a woman, who is enchanted by her beauty and yet who cannot be blind to her defects." It this simultaneous love and concern which makes the book both candid and remarkably enjoying.
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