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145 of 152 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great edition but...
This is a classic book. One that belongs on the bookshelf of any person with a serious interest in civil society and politics in America. This book comes in the familiar classic Penguin style binding which means it's an affordable but solid paperback which will still be in one piece even after years of thumbing your way through it (and I think I'm somehow...
Published on October 14, 2004 by nyc_economist

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37 of 53 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars de Tocqueville made a mark on history for a reason....
To get to the point: I made a mistake in buying this edited/abridged version of de Tocqueville's classic. I bought this edited version for speedy debate research, but I ultimately ended up buying the classic anyways because I found this to be too paraphrased to cite as the work of de Tocqueville in a debate round, and I (being a libertarian) cannot say I trust the...
Published on September 7, 2010 by LalaBlankie


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145 of 152 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great edition but..., October 14, 2004
By 
This review is from: Democracy in America (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
This is a classic book. One that belongs on the bookshelf of any person with a serious interest in civil society and politics in America. This book comes in the familiar classic Penguin style binding which means it's an affordable but solid paperback which will still be in one piece even after years of thumbing your way through it (and I think I'm somehow addicted/comforted by the smell of their pages).

But the one unforgivable defect of this 900+ page edition is that it contains no index!! de Tockville wrote lots of chapters with descriptive titles, so you can kind of find your way around, but still it substantially diminishes the usefulness of the text.
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80 of 82 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Bevan Translation, April 26, 2004
This review is from: Democracy in America (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
This translation of Democracy in America is the one to buy. As you would expect from a Penguin edition, the typeface is clear and the paper is of good quality. The book as an object is a pleasure to hold and inviting to read.
But the real joy of this edition is that it is the only one to contain the two short essays that are tucked away at the back. It is worth beginning the book with these essays. They work in their own right but they also serve well as an introduction to the America of De Tocqueville.
'Excursion to Lake Oneida',the second essay, is a beautiful vignette of that time and that place; a rare gem that deserves to be read more widely.
If you intend to read De Tocqueville, read this translation. It is lucid, informative, entertaining and hugely readable. I thoroughly enjoyed travelling through America with De Tocqueville, and I will carry the story of the 'Excursion to Lake Oneida' with me for along time.
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57 of 62 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars On the Road to Contemplation with Aristocracy and Democracy, June 26, 2005
By 
R. DelParto "Rose2" (Virginia Beach, VA USA) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Democracy in America (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
Alexis de Tocqueville looks at the United States and examines its political, social, and cultural intricacies in DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA AND TWO ESSAYS ON AMERICA. This edition of DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA is well introduced and translated by Gerald Bevan and Isaac Kramnick. This is not a basic travelogue of a French aristocrat -Intellect - statesman's journey through the American wilderness in a span of nine months, but it is a significant documentary that compares and contrasts European Aristocracy to American Democracy. At the time that Tocqueville wrote DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA, both Europe and the United States experienced an enormous shift in its political and social structure. On the US side, several events occurred, Andrew Jackson was president, the Anti-Slavery movement, Indian Removal commenced, immigration was on the rise, and the industrial age was emerging; for the French and European side, the Revolution of 1830 and autocracy took precedence as well as a radical shake-up of the social class. Possibly, for Tocqueville his travels to the United States served as a respite from France's revolutionary tendencies, and the opportunity to observe US history in the making. In terms of chronology, 55 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence and 30 years before the Civil War. In essence, Tocqueville's accounts bear much significance to how the United States progressed, and where it was headed.

Tocqueville writes and thinks in a Jeffersonian stance. With Bevan's translation, the book is readable. Throughout DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA Tocqueville suggests that productivity cannot occur while a man remains idle, and that action must take place in some form or another - the rule of law or through communication. No doubt, this annotates Jeffersonian politics and ideology. However, the basic premise throughout the book concentrates on the difference between Democracy and Aristocracy and their relationships to the social classes of each respective ideology, and how each accomplished and achieved effectiveness. Tocqueville looked toward America as a model to post-revolutionary France (back cover of the Penguin edition), and one may say that this was an exchange of politics and ideas that the United States had done a century before; this was a shared entity.

DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA should be required reading. However, with its large volume, two volumes, small increments should be divided into separate reading sessions in order to understand the gist of Tocqueville's purpose of critiquing America's political system. The most exemplary aspect of the book is how Tocqueville speaks rhetorically in a no nonsense way as well as its timelessness, which will further entice readers to read on. As an added treat, the appendices and the two most important essays of the book pertaining to Tocqueville's encounters with the Iroquois and Chippeway Indians should not be overlooked.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars He predicted American and Russian ascendency a century early, July 6, 2009
By 
This review is from: Democracy in America (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
This is a truly amazing book.

As noted above, de Tocqueville predicted both American and Russian ascendency over one hundred years before they actually occured.

However, beyond that, de Tocqueville applied a keen and discerning to then emergent trends in the United States and where they would lead. For example:

--On Slavery...de Tocqueville noted the inherent problems with extracting work from people who themselves were not compensated for doing the work;

--On North/South relations...de Tocqueville recognized that its reliance on slave labor put the South at a competitive advantage relative to the North in terms of developing a strong economic infrastructure;

--On the fate of African Americans...de Tocqueville recognized that if revolution was to occur in the United States, the fate of African Americans would play critically in it because once the process of giving people an equal stake in society was started it would have a self propogating effect;

--On the status of women...de Tocqueville though he was more careful here to hedge his bets allowed for the idea that the power of equality would eventually include American women as well;

--On the future...de Tocqueville perhaps at his most prescient recognized that equality could be a recipe for government either of the people or alternatively a dictatorship imposed on those same people.

This last observation is perhaps still most salient for our times as we come to see that even an oligarchy can be a dictatorship. Maybe even all governments, however started, are ultimately destined to oligarchy, a status that will change only when enough of the right excluded demand a change and in so doing start the process all over again.

However, the observations listed here in no way exhaust this book's insight. Indeed, this book is uniquely resistant to Cliff's Notes types of discussions. For this reason, there can be no substitute to actually reading it and seeing for yourself just how prescient and amazing de Tocqueville actually was.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not an easy read, but worth the effort, February 23, 2007
By 
silversurf (Planet of Paint) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Democracy in America (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
I can't say anything new about a book this famous, so I will just give my personal opinion about why and how to read it. Why: because it is a timeless description of how American democracy works, in both theory and practice. As to how to read it, I have this book sitting next to the Bible on my bedside bookshelf, and I read in the same way. I have been reading Democracy in America in a piecemeal way over several decades, in small installments, with time in between to think and ponder and question what I have just read. It's a book that doesn't give you a straightforward narrative that's easy to follow. Rather, each section has its own character and focuses on one facet of the rough-cut jewel we call democracy. You could read Democracy in America all the way through, but that would be an endurance test, not necessarily a way to understand the wealth of ideas it contains. Some parts of the book are dry and technical, as when de Tocqueville describes township government in microscopic detail. He was a devoted student of political theory who took those matters very seriously, so he gave his readers all the data they might need in order to form a clear idea of how American intitutions operated. But he was also very good at lively observations of the social scene and the natural wonders he encountered in America. These are the parts of the book that really spring to life and make this book much more than a political science text.

To go back to the Bible/de Tocqueville analogy, Democracy in America is a book in which any reader can find a quotation (or misquotation) to support any point of view. However, it's only by sitting down and actually reading de Tocqueville's words in their proper context that you will understand the real greatness of this book.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb analysis of democracy in America and elsewhere, October 21, 2007
By 
Eduardo Veiga (U.S. Mid-Atlantic) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Democracy in America (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
As a sat to write this review I randomly opened my copy of Democracy in a page with this quote that I had highlighted: "When the taste for physical gratifications among [democratic people] has grown more rapidly than their education and their experience of free institutions, the time will come when men are carried away and lose all self-restraint at the sight of the new possessions they are about to obtain. In their intense and exclusive anxiety to make a fortune they lose sight of the close connection that exists between the private fortune of each and the prosperity of all. It is not necessary to do violence to such a people in order to strip them of the rights they enjoy; they themselves willingly loosen their hold. The discharge of political duties appears to them to be a troublesome impediment which diverts them from their occupations and business. [...] These people think they are following the principle of self-interest, but the idea they entertain of that principle is a very crude one; and the better to look after what they call their own business, they neglect their chief business, which is to remain their own masters". This is a small sample of what you find in Democracy... It is a superb book, with timeless truths about America and about democracy in general. I read the Everyman's Library edition by Knopf, and utterly enjoyed it: good quality paper, print, translation (based on Francis Bowen's), index. Don't rely on what others tell you about the contents of this marvelous book--dive in with a pencil handy to highlight the many good quotes and enjoy!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intuitive political observations that read like a travel-log, October 16, 2006
This review is from: Democracy in America (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
A wonderful study that reminds us of what America was meant to be while entertaining us with insightful, balanced, often prophetic, and provocative observations of our shortcomings. It is a record that reminds us of our better angels and calls us back to the high ideals that made America great. A reminder of a simpler but nobler time like a time-traveller's log of America's seedling ideals of a democratic-republic. Mr. de Tocqueville will help you regain your inner American and restore your faith in what America can be when she is cognizant of her founding principles.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Democracy in America is the sine qua non of political science in the USA!, August 29, 2006
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This review is from: Democracy in America (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
Alexis De Tocqueville was a brilliant young French aristocrat when he arrived on the Yankee shore in 1831. De Tocqueville came to America to research penal conditions in a report to be submitted to the French Government. De Tocqueville did much more than that!

In his long, brilliant and sage book he looks at America in

1831. He points out American love for the practical, the religious community minded Americans who also enjoy making money in the volatile and exciting new nation.

It would take several textbooks to explain and expound all De

DeTocqueville discovered on his eye opening trip to the USA.

C-Span a few years ago devoted several programs to following his

footsteps across our broad land.

The book looks out how America works from township meetings,

to the state and federal levels. His analysis of the US Constitution is erudite. His view of American morals and religion is worth reading.

Any politician and informed citizen should read this classic.

The Penguin edition is beautifully designed. Two chapters at the

end of the book deal with De Tocqueville's visit to the wilderness and his visit to Indians. De Tocqueville's analysis of

slavery and how we treat our native Americans is incisive and

on target!

Democracy in America is one of the seminal books of the American experience.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Shotgun social science on the United States, June 25, 2009
By 
Hinkle Goldfarb (R.R. 1 Highway 162, Butte City, California) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Democracy in America (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
In Part 1, de Tocqueville writes a constant stream of aphorisms, quotes, pithy remarks and general and specific observations about the American experience. Like a double-barreled shotgun blast, some of the pellets are going to find their mark and a few are going to go astray. Overall though it is well worth the read. Seldom does he get too bogged down in any one topic and his style cuts through to the essentials, leaving details for his footnotes.

Part 2 is a more general philosophical work, more a rumination on the passing away of the aristocratic age and the institution of the democratic one. Some of his observations are still insightful and relevant, and his outsider's perspective on both the strengths and weakness of democracy bear reading, thought and reflection. Are his observations still relevant today? Let me quote a few and you be the judge.

* "If ever the free institutions of America are destroyed, that event may be attributed to the unlimited authority of the majority" (p 311).

* "Scarcely any question arises in the United States which does not become, sooner or later, a subject of judicial debate" (p 323).

* "if despotism were to be established amongst the democratic nations of our days, it might assume a different character; it would be more extensive and more mild; it would degrade men without tormenting them" (p 868)

* "The foremost, or indeed the sole, condition which is required in order to succeed in centralizing the supreme power in a democratic community is to love equality, or to get men to believe you love it. Thus the science of despotism, which was once so complex, is simplified, and reduced as it were to a single principle" (p 852).

* "the concentration of power and the subjection of individuals will increase amongst democratic nations, not only in the same proportion as their equality, but in the same proportion as their ignorance" (p 849).

* "I readily admit that public tranquility is a great good, but at the same time I cannot forget that all nations have been enslaved by being kept in good order" (p 668).

* "they must know that liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith" (p 13). "Despotism may govern without faith, but liberty cannot" (p 355).

* "there are no surer guarantees of equality among men than poverty and misfortune" (p 32).

* "there exists also in the human heart a depraved taste for equality, which impels the weak to attempt to lower the powerful to their own level, and reduces men to prefer equality in slavery to inequality in freedom" (p 59)

* "In England the Parliament has the acknowledged right to modify the constitution; as, therefore, the constitution may undergo perpetual changes, it does not in reality exist" (p 111).

* "In the estimation of a democracy, a government is not a benefit but a necessary evil" (p 238).

* "There is another species of attachment to a country which is more rational than the one we have been describing. It is perhaps less generous and less ardent, but it is more fruitful and more lasting; it is coeval with the spread of knowledge, it is nurtured by the laws, it grows by the exercise of civil, rights, and, in the end, it is confounded with the personal interest of the citizen. A man comprehends the influence which the prosperity of his country has upon his welfare; he is aware that the laws authorize him to contribute his assistance to that prosperity, and he labors to promote as a portion of his interest in the first place, and as a portion of his right in the second" (p 279).

* "One of the most ordinary weaknesses of the human intellect is to seek to reconcile contradictory principles, and to purchase peace at the expense of logic" (p 541).

* "The advantages which freedom brings are only shown by length of time; and it is always easy to mistake the cause in which they originate" (p 617).

* "they call for equality in freedom; but if they cannot obtain that, they still call for equality in slavery" (p 619).

* "But men will never establish any equality with which they can be contented. Whatever efforts a people may make, they will never succeed in reducing all the conditions of society to a perfect level" (pp 663-664).
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lives up to its billing, November 28, 2009
By 
This review is from: Democracy in America (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
I've tackled - or tried to tackle - my share of the great classics. I've been disappointed as often as I've been impressed. Some of them, like "The Education of Henry Adams," simply lack the substantive content that would justify their reputations as classics. Others, like most of Aristotle's stuff, require more effort to read than a lot of people might be willing to put forth. But with Tocqueville's "Democracy in America," we have a book that both lives up to its reputation and can be easily read.

Perhaps some of the credit for the fluidity of the language should go to Gerald E Bevan, the translator of this edition. Regardless of who gets the credit, there is no reason for any ordinary reader to be intimidated by this book. It's long (over 800 pages), but the length is fully justified by the breadth, depth, and richness of Tocqueville's observations and reflections on what he has seen.

There's far too much material in the book for a detailed description of the contents, but here are a few comments that come to mind:

Tocqueville wrote for a French audience, not American. He hoped to examine and evaluate American democracy so that the French could learn lessons from America's successes and failures. The ostensible reason for Tocqueville's trip to America, believe it or not, was to study the American prison system!

Democracy was not then the universally shared aspiration of all nations that it is today. Today, even the most despotic governments claim to be democracies. But in Tocqueville's day, there was serious debate among political theorists about whether democracy was practical at all.

Tocqueville was not an uncritical admirer of American democracy by any means. He found as much to criticize as he did to praise. Even when he approved of certain democratic practices, he expressed reservations about the transportability of those practices to countries which had different cultures, geography, history, and ethnic composition from America's.

Tocqueville did not write the book for the purpose of predicting the future. Far too much emphasis, in my opinion, has been placed on the accuracy of some of his predictions about the United States and the world in general. The fact is that his predictions were wrong about as often as they were right, and those predictions are by no means the primary focus of the book.

Perhaps the most valuable aspect of the book is Tocqueville's ability to see us as others see us instead of how we would like to see ourselves. One striking example is the deluded propensity of Americans to proclaim themselves as individualists. Tocqueville puts that false notion to rest when he observes that there is "no country where there is generally less independence of thought and real freedom of debate than in America." He uses as an example the almost total absence of any public displays of religious unbelief - an example that could be repeated, verbatim, with equal truth today. (Can you imagine any admitted atheist or even agnostic ever being elected President of the United States?)

The book provides an interesting picture of what Constitutional government was like in the earlier days of the Republic, when the Constitution was much more of a living document than it is in our day, when it is seen largely as an obstacle to be circumvented when the federal government wants to undertake or regulate something which it has no power to do under the Constitution. Modern readers will chuckle at Tocqueville's assertion that the Presidency is an inherently weak office, empowered to do nothing but administer the laws which Congress has passed. Equally quaint is his interpretation of the entire federal government as nothing more than an agency for conducting foreign policy, since all domestic concerns are handled by the states and localities. As a result, the book spends a disproportionate (to modern minds) amount of its attention on the structure and practices of local and state governments, making careful distinctions between the political habits of New Englanders and frontiersmen, for example.

The book gives little support to those who would (and do) quote it for partisan political purposes. No one who isn't promoting his or her own political agenda could state with certainty that Tocqueville would today be a Republican, Democrat, Socialist or Libertarian; or a liberal or a conservative. Most of the issues that concerned people in the 1830's are far removed from our attention today, and neither Tocqueville nor anyone else of that era could have anticipated the topics of debate that preoccupy 21st century Americans.

Tocqueville credits the churches with many of the aspects of American democracy that he admires. However, he never said, "America is great because she is good, and when she ceases to be good she will cease to be great," - or anything like it.

Tocqueville discusses the problems of the African slaves and the American Indians at considerable length. (That's one way that you can tell that the people who criticize the book for a single-minded focus on White/European people haven't read the book at all.) He is justifiably pessimistic about both problems. There is nothing which we could go back to and say, "If we had only followed Tocqueville's advice, the problems of African-Americans and Native Americans would have been solved long ago." But then, there are few policy prescriptions of any kind in this book - that wasn't Tocqueville's purpose.

This book is, in my experience, incomparable and irreplaceable. I admit to not having yet read Mill, Montesqieu, or Locke. But those men were political theorists rather than observers on the ground, so to speak. If I were the Vice President of Academics for some university, I would eliminate the social science distribution requirement in favor of handing each incoming freshman a copy of "Democracy in America," and requiring an in-depth report on the book before advancement to sophomore status.
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Democracy in America (Penguin Classics)
Democracy in America (Penguin Classics) by Alexis de Tocqueville (Paperback - July 1, 2003)
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