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The Contours of American History Paperback – October 1, 2011

ISBN-13: 978-1844677740 ISBN-10: 1844677745 Edition: Second Edition

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 513 pages
  • Publisher: Verso; Second Edition edition (October 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1844677745
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844677740
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.2 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #386,581 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

“One of the most original home-grown minds in American history. The welcome republication of The Contours of American History should make William Appleman Williams’ stature and foresight as an analyst of the basic patter of US history transparently evident.”—Eric Hobsbawm

“There is still—fifty years after its publication—no better critique of America liberalism and the contradictions of the ideology of individualism, no clearer analysis of the specificities of American empire. Greg Grandin’s preface is a terrific introduction to Williams’ thinking.”—Joan Wallach Scott

“It is hard to capture the impact of The Contours of American History on a generation of young historians in the 1960s, offering a model of history writing that took account of class forces, state power, and the role of ideas. In a way, the study of history has come full circle, back to examining the interconnections between domestic and international history. Back to Williams, in other words.”—Eric Foner

“A very good book indeed ... It is quietly reasoned, beautifully ordered, and spirited as hell ... [It] is not a book for children, nostalgic or otherwise.”—Loren Baritz, The Nation

About the Author

A former president of the Organization of American Historians, William Appleman Williams taught for many years at the University of Wisconsin and Oregon State University. His books include The Contours of American History, The Tragedy of American Diplomacy, and Empire as a Way of Life.

Greg Grandin is the author of Empire’s Workshop, The Last Colonial Massacre, Who is Rigoberta Menchú?, the award-winning The Blood of Guatemala, and the 2009 National Book Awards finalist Fordlandia. A professor of history at New York University and a Guggenheim fellow, Grandin has served on the United Nations Truth Commission investigating the Guatemalan Civil War and has written for the Los Angeles Times, Nation, New Statesman, and New York Times.

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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Calvin on February 24, 2004
Format: Paperback
This is really a great book, describing the economic systems in America even 100 years before the Revolutionary war. Politicians in England had such a great effect on the economy in the former colony; namely, a smallish fellow, Anthony Ashley Cooper, Lord Shaftesbury, who's ideas on religion and psychology came to effect much in the civilized world. Like all wise men, he was a deist.
I like the book very much and expect to read it again. I was excited by the energy displayed by the characters and it includes many great quotes I've never seen before.
"There is an overweening fondness for representing this country as a scene of liberty, equality fraternity, union, harmony, and benevolence. But let not your sons or mine deceive themselves. This country, like all others, has been a theatre of parties and feuds for near two hundred years." John Adams, 1817
"[a corporation] is, indeed, a mere artificial being, invisible and intangible; yet it is a person, for certain purposes in contemplation of law, and has been recognized as such by the decisions of this court." Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, 1839

He also points out the negative(my word) aspects of American economic and foreign policy, such as "expansion as economic policy." The Louisiana Purchase, the Mexican-American war, the Civil War, the Spanish American War, and . . .it just goes on from there. All were initiated in an effort to expand American territory. Why? Because Americans love wide-open spaces. And the fact American companies can use all the new customers they can get.
I've taken many history courses, but they never brought the people of the times alive like this; the Movers and shakers of the Age of Mercantilism, the Age of Laissez Nous Faire, the Age of Corporation Capitalism. It makes me wonder and hope what the future holds.
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful By James R. Maclean on June 8, 2010
Format: Paperback
Williams adopted an unusual approach to US history in this book. Unlike the relatively more factual (and in my view, successful) Tragedy of American Diplomacy, this book addresses the philosophical traditions behind US political evolution.

_Tragedy_ mostly explains the linkage between long-run expansionary policies of US elites and actual, concrete foreign policies undertaken by the US government. It argues convincingly that both "progressive" and "conservative" political currents contributed to a confrontational, strategic foreign policy. Progressives, in particular, saw expansionism abroad as THE method whereby social goals would be met or paid for. Conservatives mainly rejected idealistic foreign policy aims as bromides, but did favor aggressive pursuit of US business interests as the state's duty to private property. In my view, _Tragedy_ erred in downplaying the conservative role in jingoism, but made a strong case.

In _Contours_, Williams is struggling with a much more ephemeral topic: the philosophical trends that he regards as foundational to the Usonian world view. The central plot is expansionism: the colonies that would later form the early USA were guided by a doctrine of expansion, which was itself the product of perfectionist philosophical doctrines. Most of the first 44 pages is about the life and outlook of the 1st Earl of Shaftesbury (Anthony Ashley Cooper, d.1683), who is credited with the creation not merely of the Whig Party in England, but with the very idea of the the political party itself. In Williams' view, Shaftesbury identified the ideal balance between private initiative and public responsibility.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is one of Williams' utter masterpieces from decades ago, still timeless [as nothing much has changed regarding the American empire]. What HAS changed is that now the book comes with an especially perceptive new introduction by a new-to-me writer. Worth every penny.
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Format: Kindle Edition
A masterpiece. Williams describes how the concept of U.S. democracy meant something quite different for the founding fathers than what is taught in public school social studies classes.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The book is fine. I should have looked more closely though, it was published in 1961. It was recommended by an acquaintance.
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