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American Colossus [Kindle Edition]

H.W. Brands
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $17.95
Kindle Price: $11.84
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Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

In a grand-scale narrative history, the bestselling author of two finalists for the Pulitzer Prize now captures the decades when capitalism was at its most unbridled and a few breathtakingly wealthy businessmen utterly transformed America from an agrarian economy to a world power.

The years between the Civil War and the end of the nineteenth century saw the wholesale transformation of America from a land of small farmers and small businessmen into an industrial giant. Driven by unfathomably wealthy and powerful businessmen like J. P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller, armies of workers, both male and female, were harnessed to a new vision of massive industry. A society rooted in the soil became one based in cities, and legions of immigrants were drawn to American shores. What’s more, in accomplishing its revolution, capitalism threatened to eclipse American democracy. “What do I care about the law?” bellowed Cornelius Vanderbilt. “Hain’t I got the power?” He did, and with it he and the other capitalists reshaped every aspect of American life. In American Colossus, H.W. Brands portrays the emergence, in a remarkably short time, of a recognizably modern America.

The capitalist revolution left not a single area or aspect of American life untouched. It roared across the South, wrenching that region from its feudal past and integrating the southern economy into the national one. It burst over the West, dictating the destruction of Native American economies and peoples, driving the exploitation of natural resources, and making the frontier of settlement a business frontier as well. It crashed across the urban landscape of the East and North, turning cities into engines of wealth and poverty, opulence and squalor. It swamped the politics of an earlier era, capturing one major party and half of the other, inspiring the creation of a third party and determining the issues over which all three waged some of the bitterest battles in American history.

Brands’s spellbinding narrative beautifully depicts the oil gushers of western Pennsylvania, the rise, in Chicago, of the first skyscraper, the exploration of the Colorado River, the cattle drives of the West, and the early passionate sparks of union life. By 1900 the America he portrays is wealthier than ever, yet prosperity is precarious, inequality rampant, and democracy stretched thin. American Colossus is an unforgettable portrait of the years when the contest between capitalism and democracy was at its sharpest, and capitalism triumphed.


From the Hardcover edition.


Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this timely study, University of Texas historian Brands (Traitor to His Class) describes the rise of the great corporate capitalists after the Civil War. J. Pierpont Morgan, John D. Rockefeller, and Andrew Carnegie constituted an trinity of power-obsessed individuals who instinctively understood that wealth was the ultimate political weapon. They defined the cold-blooded authority of big business. Fascinating detours away from the tale of corporate empires examine the Reconstruction process in the South, the Indian Wars of the West, the opening of the Great Plains, immigration in the East, and the rise of organized labor and the agrarian reformers. Effectively, excerpts from the first-person accounts of Booker T. Washington, Black Elk, Jacob Riis, and others convey the drama of the time. Perhaps the only significant omission in this fast-paced, engrossing narrative is a tendency to dwell on political doctrines that sought to repudiate or restrain capitalism while only briefly discussing the dogma of Herbert Spencer's social Darwinism, which favored the monopolists.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

Praise for American Colossus

"Mr. Brands, a terrific writer who commands his material, handles this sprawling, complicated story with authority and panache. A book that might have been a worthy but boring tome turns out to be as close as serious history gets to a page turner....American Colossus is a first-rate overview of one of the most important periods in American history, one without which the American Century could not have happened."
—John Steele Gordon, The New York Times


"A superb new history….This is a big, brash narrative running from the Confederate surrender at Appomattox to the trust busting of Theodore Roosevelt….I read swaths of this book twice, just to savor Brands’ storytelling and mastery of detail."
—James Pressley, Bloomberg News

"Mr. Brands paints a vivid portrait of both this understudied age and those industrialists still introduced by high school teachers as ‘robber barons’: Vanderbilt, Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, and J.P. Morgan….As Mr. Brands relates the tycoons’ stories, he drops some anecdotes wonderfully relevant today."
The Wall Street Journal

"An excellent book….H. W. Brands is a smart, lively writer… [who] demonstrates, as the best historians do, that past is prologue."
Dallas Morning News



Praise for The Age of Gold
“A fine, robust telling of one of the greatest adventure stories in history.”
—David McCullough, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of John Adams

“A barn burner . . . Masterfully sketched historical figures, subtly developed themes, and especially well-braided stories . . . Eureka!”
San Francisco Chronicle

Praise for Traitor to His Class
(Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Bio...

Product Details

  • File Size: 5308 KB
  • Print Length: 626 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0385523335
  • Publisher: Anchor; 1 edition (October 12, 2010)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B003F3PK72
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #96,140 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
115 of 117 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Think: "Ken Burns: The Gilded Age of Capitalism." October 12, 2010
Format:Hardcover
If the term "economic history" makes your eyes glaze over as you think about a dry analysis of GDP projections and steel tonnage figures, fear not. There isn't a single mention of inflation or per capita income in here. Think more along the lines of "Ken Burns: The Gilded Age of Capitalism." Although the subject matter is susceptible to drowning in rivers of mind-numbing statistical data, the author takes a single-mindedly narrative approach to his material. Moreover, economics is not really the sole focus: Custer's last, disastrous campaign; Irish and Chinese immigration; and the rise of Jim Crow are also featured in the book. Usually, the focus is either a major figure of the period or a representative individual. Biographical sketches of J.P. Morgan, Rockefeller, and Carnegie are a must, of course, but you also get to read about Little Big Horn from the viewpoint of a thirteen-year-old Sioux and Booker T. Washington's rise from slavery to national prominence toward the end of the century.

The tone is neither elegiac nor revisionist. The author deals in a relatively straightforward manner with both the positive aspects of the booming American economy and the seamier sides, such as racial tensions, corruption and labor conflict.

A perusal of the books cited gave me the impression that "American Colossus" is not based on either the latest scholarship or any fresh archival work. For example, the narration of Jay Gould's attempt to corner the gold market is almost exclusively based on the printed proceedings of a congressional investigation. And for a more compelling treatment of John Wesley Harding, I recommend checking out Simon Schama's chapter "American Plenty" in his "
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36 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Capitalism and Democracy November 15, 2010
Format:Hardcover
Many people who have thought about the United States have seen a tension between its commitments to democracy and capitalism. The former is based upon equality. Capitalism is based upon an ethic of freedom which allows individuals to go in their own directions which, in economic life, quickly can lead to inequality. In his new book, "American Colossus: The Triumph of Capitalism 1865 -- 1900, H.W. Brands examines the uneasy and shifting relationship between democracy and capitalism during America's Gilded Age following the Civil War. Brands is Professor of History at the University of Texas at Austin. He has written prolifically and popularly about a wide range of subjects in American history from Andrew Jackson to both Theorore and Franklin Roosevelt.

The book is written in a popular, narrative style with little technical discussion or statistics. Yet the book is well-informed, thorough, and balanced. It gave me an overview and refresher on its era in a good broad-based account.

In some respects, the book works less well. With its accessibility, the book tends to be thin on economic issues. As a result, the discussions of the attempt of financiers to corner the gold market early in the Grant administration, the panics of 1873 and 1893, and the controversy over free silver both lack detail and are hard to follow in specifics. Although he mentions it at the beginning and end of the book, Brands is not as clear as he might be about the effect of the lack of central bank in the United States between Andrew Jackson's destruction of the Second Bank of the United States and Woodrow Wilson's creation of the Federal Reserve in 1913. This lack was the source of much of the instability he describes.
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30 of 36 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing February 23, 2011
Format:Hardcover
I was disappointed. The book was like a freshman survey history course. Brands is skillful in his use of words, like an accomplished reporter or novelist. He is an easy read. However, to me the book lacked substance. It did not contain any original material or original research that I could find. The title of the book was misleading. It had little to do with capitalism. Also, Brands sometimes quoted himself from other of his own books as his source of materials.

Recently I was at a Brand's book talk and signing event. I asked him how he has time to write 23 books in 24 years. I mentioned that Stephen Ambrose was accused of many inaccuracies while writing many books. Then, I said that Stiles took 5 years researching and writing his book about Vanderbilt. Brand's response was that all books have inaccuracies and that Ambrose sold lots of books. After thinking over his response for several days I concluded that Brand's test is not accuracy, but sales, as the measure of a writer of history.

In perspective, to put where I am coming from, the kind of books I like, for example, are "Ratification" by Maier and "Albion's Seed" by David Hackett Fischer. Others might like Brand's book, but I was looking for more.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good Introduction to Post-Civil War Era October 25, 2010
Format:Hardcover
Although the title might suggest a focus on the robber barons of the Gilded Age, Brands actually offers a more general history of the Post-Civil War era, albeit with an emphasis on economics. He covers all the geographical areas (North, South, East, West), social classes (rich, poor, working class, middle class, immigrant, native) and ethnicities (Native American, Northern and Southern European, Jewish, Chinese, African American). Brands is particularly adept at demonstrating the inextricable ties between capitalism and government, but without overburdening the reader with statistics and dates.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best histories of the USA that I have read
One of the best histories of the USA that I have read. The author places many well known (and some only superficially known) events and people in their historical context, focusing... Read more
Published 29 days ago by Edward Laughinghouse
4.0 out of 5 stars Well written, entertaining but unfocused
H.W. Brands is on of my favorite historians and writer of history books for a general, as opposed to a specialist, audience. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Metallurgist
4.0 out of 5 stars Brands' story telling is great. The rhetorical formula is
There isn't much said that wasn't said already.

Brands' story telling is great. The rhetorical formula is: introduce a topic, support is with solid evidence then tell a... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Ricardo Y. Cortes
5.0 out of 5 stars Read it!
I listened to this book on audio from my public library. I loved it so much that I now bought myself a copy. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Kelly T.
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
perfect to listen to while driving, instead of reading the book. a man read to you in this version
Published 2 months ago by stephanie
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Fantastic work: well-written and told
Published 2 months ago by Stephen R. Brown
3.0 out of 5 stars 19th Century Overview
He does an overview of the end of the 19thC. While there is a lot of information about the consolidation and growth of major industries, he also includes the end of the frontier,... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Linda Sears
5.0 out of 5 stars Very good general survey of capitalist factors to consider as our ...
Very good general survey of capitalist factors to consider as our country grew into being a world power. Read more
Published 3 months ago by David Clapp
3.0 out of 5 stars Worthy of Your Time Provided You Aren't Expecting a Masterpiece
I give this book a three of five star review, about the quality I expected but not necessarily for the reasons I would have assumed. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Clyde Macalister
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Interesting well written book about a fascinating period in American history
Published 5 months ago by Mary Rossi
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More About the Author

H.W. Brands taught at Texas A&M University for sixteen years before joining the faculty at the University of Texas at Austin, where he is the Dickson Allen Anderson Centennial Professor of History. His books include Traitor to His Class, Andrew Jackson, The Age of Gold, The First American, and TR. Traitor to His Class and The First American were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize.

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I heard that both David Kennedy, the general editor of the series, and Susan Ferber, the editor at Oxford, felt that the book, even after several revisions was not up to the standards of the series. Given some of the books in the series, Empire of Liberty, What Hath God Wrought, Battle Cry of... Read More
Sep 1, 2010 by John Payne |  See all 4 posts
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