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Democracy in America, Volume 1 Paperback – January 11, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In 1831 French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville came to the United States to investigate its prison system. America was then a nation of 13 million people populating 24 states, with a largely unsettled territorial claim stretching westward to the Pacific. Seriously distracted from his original mission, the 25-year-old Tocqueville ended up writing about America's people, culture, history, geography, politics, legal system, and economy in ways so insightful and prophetic that today historians, professors, and politicians still consider his work Democracy in America a classic.

"For [Tocqueville] America was both the enticing object and the universal symbol of a New World in the making," writes historian and author Daniel J. Boorstin in his introduction to Volume I. "He was a master at seeing and describing the symbolism. Even more important, he wrote with an uncanny feeling for the grand currents of history and with a wholesome sense of how much and how little we can deflect those currents." This edition, the first in a two-volume set, is the Henry Reeve text, revised by Francis Bowen, and further edited by Phillips Bradley. (Click here for information about Volume II of Democracy in America.) If you've never read Democracy in America, take this opportunity to discover Tocqueville's startlingly astute observations on a democracy in its infancy. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Review

"No better study of a nation's institutions and culture than Tocqueville's Democracy in America has ever been written by a foreign observer; none perhaps as good."
--The New York Times

Praise for the work of Joseph Epstein:

"Epstein is one of the premier contemporary American essayists...What is so remarkable about Epstein as an essay writer is that he'll begin a discussion at some personal place...and end up in another place relevant to us all. He enjoys making language work, not making it jump through hoops for show." --Booklist

"Joseph Epstein is an essayist in the brilliant tradition of Charles Lamb. He moves so effortlessly from the amusingly personal to the broadly philosophical that it takes a moment before you realize how far out into the intellectual cosmos you've been taken."
--Tom Wolfe

"Joseph Epstein's essays no more need his identifying byline than Van Gogh's paintings need his signature. Epstein's style--call it learned whimsy--is unmistakable; for Epstein addicts, indispensable."
--George Will

"Joseph Epstein is the liveliest, most erudite and engaging essayist we have." --James Atlas

"If Epstein's ultimate ancestor is Montaigne, his more immediate master is Mencken. Like Mencken, he has fashioned a style that successfully combines elegance and even bookishness with street-smart colloquial directness. And there is nothing remote or aloof about him."
--John Gross, Chicago Tribune


From the Paperback edition. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 488 pages
  • Publisher: Nabu Press (January 11, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1142831140
  • ISBN-13: 978-1142831141
  • Product Dimensions: 7.4 x 1 x 9.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (144 customer reviews)

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116 of 123 people found the following review helpful By Guillermo Maynez on November 11, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It has been said that this is the best book about the US and the best book about democracy. Having just read it, I can say it is even more. Tocqueville reflects not only on the US or on democracy, but his comparative approach sheds light on the Europe of his times and before, on the nature of aristocracy and the inevitable democratic revolution which was on its way across the civilized world. Tocqueville was a realistic aristocrat, sometimes nostalgic for the "greatness" of yesterday, but bearing no illusions whatsoever about the feasibility of stopping democratic change. So, he sets to find out what is it about democracy that can work, and what its inherent risks are. And he decides to tour the grandest democratic experiment ever attempted by Man: the United States.
What Tocqueville finds is a unique nation. Unlike most other nascent states in history, the English who moved to America found a huge land, practically devoid of people (and in those cases where it was inhabited, they were easily killed), where everybody could be a landowner. This, plus the particular ethics of the Puritans, the glorifiaction of hard work, thrift and virtuosity, provided for a prosperous, practical people (not necessarily tolerant, especially in religious affairs). Far away from kings and emperors, Americans developed a communal democracy. So far so good, Tocquevill really admires the basic qualities of the US.
But this book is not a long eulogy of democracy. Tocqueville admits democracy is the best way to govern a modern society, but that does not mean he thinks it's perfect or endlessly beneficial. Democracy DOES poses risks: among others, the tyranny of the majority, the mediocrity towards which it impels mores; the loneliness of the individual, lost amidst an endless, faceless crowd.
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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful By J. P. Ledbetter on December 24, 1999
Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
One of the most stricking and accurate evaluations of the American physical, mental and emotional existence then, now and in the future. De tocquevile, before our time, predicted most if not all of our successes and failures. And both congratulated and warned us of the paths we would wind up on if we chose to go left or right along the way. A compliment to the wisdom of men of his time and an insult to the pettyness of those of ours. Reading this book along with others like the Federalist Papers makes one wonder if we are progressing or regressing in our mental abilities and reasoning powers. I tend to think, the more I study the philosophies of his time and the ones presented today that we are moving backwards in knowledge, wisdom and common sense. The more technologically advanced we seem to become the more spoiled arrogant and naieve we seem to be in our social, economic and judicial practices. De Tocqueville and the men and women of his time were the true pioneers in mankinds attempt to be more than the sum of his parts. We have lost our way in regards to logic heading into the 21st century and the new millinium. And it will take men like our founders and De Tocqueville to lead the way back.
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118 of 135 people found the following review helpful By David E. Levine on June 22, 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback
The specific edition I am reviewing is the Heffner addition which is a 300 page abridgement. I also own an unabridged edition but I have only read Heffner cover to cover. What is amazing about de Toqueville is how uncanny many of his observations are over a century and a half later. He accurately predicted in 1844 that the world's two great powers would be the United States and Russia. He aptly pointed out that Americans are a people who join associations and he is so right 156 years later. Although there are both religious extremists on both ends, ie fundamentalists and atheists, he was dead on that, as a whole, we are a religious society but that our religious views are moderate. De Toqueville shows how American characteristics evolved from democracy as opposed to the highly class structered societies of Europe. From de Tocqueville, it could have been predicted that pop culture, such as rock music etc, would develop in America because the lack of an aristocracy causes a less cultured taste in the arts. In a thousand and one different ways, I found myself marveling at how dead on de Toqueville was. Most controversially, those who argue that we have lost our liberties to a welfare state might well find support in de Toqueville. Here, 100 years before the New Deal, he forsaw that a strong central government would take away our liberties but in a manner much more benign than in a totalitarian government. There are certain liberties that Americans would willingly sacrifice for the common good. Critics of 20th century liberalism in the US might well point to this as an uncanny observation. By reading "Democracy in America," the reader understands what makes Americans tick.Read more ›
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159 of 187 people found the following review helpful By Kirk R. Anderson on January 12, 2007
Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
I have three complaints about this edition of Tocqueville:

1) Nowhere in the book is the translator credited. This violates basic principles of publication and scholarship.

2) This is in fact an abridged version of the original English-language translation by Henry Reeve, dating from sometime before 1862. Unless you want to re-create the experience of a modern Frenchman confronted with de Tocqueville's somewhat archaic French by reading the text in somewhat archaic English, I would seek out any of the more recent translations: there are at least three.

3) The ellipses, that is, the abridgements, have sometimes been made to conceal some of the author's less flattering views America. In fact I suspect this is a "patriotic" abridgement. For example, in the second chapter of part one, Heffner has omitted references to some of the excesses of Puritan law in New England which the notoriously even-handed Tocqueville had cited.
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