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American Heroes: Profiles of Men and Women Who Shaped Early America Hardcover – Deckle Edge, May 18, 2009

4.1 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Despite the lowbrow title, these are intelligent, opinionated essays on America between 1600 and 1800. Morgan, a revered historian and the bestselling author of Benjamin Franklin, wrote the earliest chapter in 1937, the latest in 2005. Many describe obscure events but pack a surprising punch. In Dangerous Books, the author tells the story of Yale (where he is professor emeritus), founded in 1701 as a bastion of Puritanism, but with a library of works by English Enlightenment intellectuals. In 1721 six members of the faculty, including the rector, horrified the community by publicly renouncing Calvinism. The last official American execution for witchcraft occurred in 1692, but the popular belief in witchcraft continued well into the 19th century: in a marvelously recounted vignette, Morgan describes Philadelphia in 1787, where a few miles from the halls where America's elite were debating our Constitution, a mob abused and finally killed an old woman accused of witchcraft. Three of the 17 essays are previously unpublished. Happily, all are up to the standards of this wise, venerable (now 93) and deeply thoughtful historian. (May)
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From School Library Journal

This book is a perfect gem. None of the 17 essays here has been published previously in book form, and three of them appear here for the first time. Morgan (Sterling Professor Emeritus, Yale; Inventing the People), the winner of just about every major book award, including the Pulitzer, ranges from Christopher Columbus, to the Puritans and sex (which they liked, providing it was in marriage), William Penn, the Anti-Federalists, and historian Perry Miller. Two characteristics that tie the essays together are Morgan's penchant for taking contrarian views of accepted orthodoxies and his admiration for individuals who stood up against authority. His piece on the development of Yale's library in the 18th century demonstrates that books are valuable because they keep alive the memory of dissident voices that otherwise might be drowned out by official, hagiographical versions of a nation's past. His chapter on George Washington and Benjamin Franklin points out that one of the traits that made them great was their ability to say "no" when popular opinion wanted them to act in one way or another. Both specialists and general readers will find this book both authoritative and fun to read. Highly recommended.—Thomas J. Schaeper, St. Bonaventure Univ., NY
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; First Edition edition (May 18, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393070107
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393070101
  • Product Dimensions: 0.7 x 0.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,304,622 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
American Heroes is a collection of essays about select individuals who made significant (perhaps even heroic) contributions to the founding of the United States. Most of these pieces were previously published in various magazines and journals (one in 1937!--this guy must be pretty old), but three of them are brand new. Some of the individuals he chooses to spotlight are familiar--John Winthrop, William Penn, Benjamin Franklin --while others will surprise you, such as Anne Hutchinson, who had the temerity to stand up to her Puritan church leaders and thereby plant the seeds of religious liberty; and the Anti-federalists, whose opposition to the adoption of the Constitution induced Congress to quickly approve the first ten amendments, known today as the Bill of Rights.

The contributions made by the cast of characters Morgan trots out in this short tome have been chronicled by countless other authors. But Morgan provides astute explanations and keen analysis that cause you to see these people from a different perspective. You will learn that what Columbus expected to find once he reached his intended destination (the East Indies) greatly influenced his interaction with the people he encountered at his actual destination (the West Indies). You will discover why Native Americans, unlike most conquered peoples, resisted assimilation into the larger American Society (they didn't like our hierarchical form of government and they didn't give a tinker's damn about money). And you will wonder how the same people who extolled the virtues of reasoning and logic that characterized the Age of Enlightenment could turn around and burn someone for practicing witchcraft. But then Mr. Morgan will remind you that "witch hunts" have been a part of the American scene through the current day.

Morgan has made a useful contribution to our understanding of who we are and how we are similar to, and different from, our ancestors. Highly recommended.
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Format: Hardcover
Pulitzer Prize winning author and emeritus professor of Yale University Edmund S. Morgan presents American Heroes: Profiles of Men and Women Who Shaped Early America, a close examination of notable individuals from seventeenth-century America with particular focus on their ideals, motivations, and beliefs. In addition to the unforgettable stock figures of America's history such as Benjamin Franklin and George Washington, Morgan tells the stories of lesser known individuals who embodied America's highest precepts, sometimes at the cost of their own lives - such as Mary Easty, an accused witch sentenced to death in Salem who refused to spare her own life by confessing her guilt and naming confederates among her neighbors. In addition to individuals, American Heroes also offers a wealth of insight into early American societies and cultures, particularly the Puritan culture. "As marriage was the way to prevent fornication, successful marriage was the way to prevent adultery. The Puritans did not wait for adultery to appear; instead, they took every means possible to make husbands and wives live together and respect each other. If a husband deserted his wife and remained within the jurisdiction of a Puritan government, he was promptly sent back to her." Enthusiastically recommended not only for public and college library collections, but also for any reader curious to better understand early American history and society.
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Format: Hardcover
In my estimation, Edmund Morgan is one of the finest American historians of his or any other generation and I have read a number of his earlier books. Morgan is now 93 years old, so I was surprised to see a new book from him on the shelves. And of course, it turns out that the book is a collection of essays written over the past many years. Most of the pieces have been previously published. So, now you are forewarned. How much that matters depends in part on how much you enjoy reading Edmund Morgan, that rarest of birds, an academic historian who can tell a good story elegantly and simply, but not simplistically.

Many of the essays trace familiar ground from Morgan's works on early America. For example, his elucidation of the Puritans as more complicated and interesting than you probably think is familiar to readers of The Puritan Dilemma: The Story of John Winthrop (Library of American Biography). Likewise, his views on James Madison's invention of the American people and thus created an American popular sovereignty that were developed in Inventing the People: The Rise of Popular Sovereignty in England and America.

His essay Dangerous Books, while it may be familiar to a few readers of Gentle Puritan (judging by the absence of any ratings or reviews I'm guessing that number is very small), was new to me and worth the price of admission by itself.
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Format: Hardcover
There are American historians, there are great American historians, and then there is Edmund Morgan. Morgan's work has redefined much of the American past, and especially early American history. Only Bernard Bailyn can stand with him as an interpreter of the colonial American past. So it is particularly good news that updated versions of many of Morgan's classic essays are now available in one book -- or in my case, one unabridged CD.

Other reviewers correctly note that the book's title and cover page are misleading. I really don't BLAME Morgan for that, because usually the publisher is responsible for such things. That said, Morgan's name is on the book, too, and he should have changed things.

But that is really the ONLY thing wrong with this book. These essays are as fresh and vivid as when they were first written, and Morgan's updating of them make them come alive even more. For me, the chapter of the Salem witch trials is especially spectacular. Morgan demonstrates that the only reason why the trials moved ahead was due to the decision to use "spectral evidence," normally deemed inadmissible, to convict people, all of whom were of course innocent. He then makes the obvious connection with the modern use of torture to condemn people; he might have had eloquent things to say about DOJ's recent decision not to discipline the authors of the infamous torture memo. But then he comes an observation that truly makes Morgan the best of his time: he notes that five years after, all New England congregations observed a day of fasting and prayer in atonements for the sins of the trials, and wonders whether we could ever see modern society doing the same. The answer, of course, is no, and gives us pause at facile notions of progress in history.
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