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Being America: Liberty, Commerce, and Violence in an American World Paperback – February 10, 2004


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The 28-year-old lawyer has taken the first step in fulfilling the agenda set out in his widely noted first book, 1999's For Common Things: using earnest dialogue to remedy America's political and cultural ennui. In the months following September 11, Purdy set off on a trip through Egypt, India, Indonesia and China to assess perceptions of America abroad. He found most people divided in their feelings, often simultaneously admiring bin Laden and longing to emigrate to America. Self-consciously brainy, Purdy is preoccupied with initiating dialogue and does not shy away from discussing big issues-AIDS, globalization, environmentalism, nationalism, refugees, empire, freedom-which he often links to political and cultural movements of the past. He's also keen to assess the usefulness of icons on both the political right and left, and of capitalism itself, including groups such as the Mexican Zapatistas, Rainforest Action Network and the International Monetary Fund. For someone young, yet who thinks so hard about so many befuddling issues, he comes across as wonderfully sane: the writing is unadorned, lucid and without cynicism. This new book is a worthy companion, and in some ways counterpoint, to the more world-weary work of Thomas Friedman. Purdy is already among the most inspiring political thinkers writing today, and his ideas resonate like the clear ring of a bell through the cacophony of better-known pundits.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

The young social critic who gave us For Common Things goes global, investigating America's place in the world and new forms of political community.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (February 10, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375727558
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375727559
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,123,964 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful By James E Geoffrey II on November 12, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Jedediah Purdy has developed something of a reputation of a Generation X wunderkind. Thoughtful, observant, and intellectual, Purdy made his name with a call to earnestness as a counterweight to the rising tide of cultural cynicism in America. All well and good, but in his new book, Being America, Purdy's earnestness takes him close to the edge of an intellectual vacuum in which perceptions are expressed but conclusions are scrupulously avoided.
That is not to say that Purdy has not, with this book, rendered a service to his readers. Being America provides a wealth of analysis that is most useful in explaining to America how it got to where it is in the world. Ranging from the "branding of capitalism" to the curses and blessings of a free market, to the ambivalent anti-Americanism that exists in much of the post-September 11th world, Purdy grasps nuances and provides insights that would elude the reader of the daily newspaper. Summed up, Purdy seems to say, "Here is why you are hated, America, when all you think you are trying to do is spread the blessings of freedom and democracy."
Similarly, Purdy has an eye for distinctions that many Americans, including many American political leaders have lost sight of. For example, America as the land of liberty is not the same thing as America as the land of consumerism. Yet so intertwined have the two become in American culture, that it has almost become impossible for Americans to separate the two in their own minds. Ask an American what he most loves about his country and he will likely say "freedom." Ask him freedom to do what, and it will almost degenerate into a laundry list of purchases.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 29, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I was hesitant to purchase this book because a) Purdy is often lambasted as the pseudo-intellectual soundbite guy of Gen X/Y, and b) savage reviews of his first book (which I have not read) implied that it was irredeemably awful.
After reading some of his articles in The Atlantic and other publications, I was convinced that Mr. Purdy wasn't an idiot, but I still wasn't completely sold. In shorter articles, I found his prose to be somewhat stilted.
Purdy's voice is much more suited to the longer format of a book. One adapts to his idiosyncratic syntax fairly quickly, and afterward the book flows quite well.
Purdy discusses liberalism in this book in a fairly broad and classical sense. While he is interested in exploring ideas, the book never becomes too dry or theoretical because the more philosophical musings are interspersed with descriptions of his encounters with people in various parts of the world.
While it would be specious to draw too many conclusions from such a limited sample, Purdy amply illustrates the dangers of oversimplification; the views of those he encounters are more nuanced and conflicted that one might expect, especially as they pertain to U.S. power.
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57 of 74 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 11, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I read Jedediah Purdy's first book, For Common Things, with great interest and admiration a few years ago, so naturally I was intrigued to see what he would produce for his second work. Being America is a magnificent book, and by far the best single work on globalization that I've read. Purdy's depth and sophistication are outstandingly clear, and his observations on American empire, modernity, nationalism and reaction all bear close consideration and careful scrutiny. The book is particularly timely given the events of the moment, which Purdy does not address directly--I assume it was written well before the Iraq showdown--but which he can nevertheless help us think through. Needless to say, the focus of this book is much broader than these current issues, however, and Purdy analyzes deep, perennial concerns in a humane and insightful manner. With this second book, Purdy has shown that he is much more than the one-book wonder that some commentators took him to be during the media splash that accompanied the publication of For Common Things. Instead, Purdy has proven that he is a careful thinker, a beautiful writer, and a sensitive commentator whose maturity and insight are a welcome addition to the public discourse, and will remain so for many years to come.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Panopticonman on July 6, 2003
Format: Hardcover
For those who may have found Purdy's "Common Sense" entirely too earnest, and too impressed with his own high moral seriousness, "Being America" may come as something of a welcome surprise. Purdy's earnestness is still there, but it has apparently been tempered by its more complex and confounding subject: the American Empire.
Taking Edmund Burke as his philosophical muse, believing Burke's positions on the American colonies and India are appropriate for today (pro-independence for the American colonies, and against the British exploitation of India), he uses Burke as a compass to help guide him through the confusing and sometimes dangerous waters created by American foreign policy over the past generation. Giving voice both to those who have been bounced around and/or sunk in the wake of America's exercise in gunboat and cultural diplomacy, as well as those who have been manning the bridge, Purdy does achieve useful insights.
He clearly hopes his readers will find this view unusual, an antidote to the noisome cheerleading of the pro-globalization crowd who, he says, believe that all nations and cultures, for their own eventual good, should stop throwing up sandbags against the flood tide of the liberal economic system and instead, welcome its flows of capital and the disciplinary virtues of the commerce that come along with it. Or their opposites who maintain that cultural and political diversity are being ravaged by the imposition of the liberal economic ethos through agency of the WTO and its powerful sponsors, who see globalization as just the latest version of colonialism as practiced by a new public relations conscious class of blood-sucking imperialists.
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