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Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815 (Oxford History of the United States) [Paperback]

Gordon S. Wood
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (117 customer reviews)

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Book Description

October 1, 2011 0199832463 978-0199832460 Reprint
The Oxford History of the United States is by far the most respected multi-volume history of our nation. The series includes three Pulitzer Prize winners, two New York Times bestsellers, and winners of the Bancroft and Parkman Prizes. Now, in the newest volume in the series, one of America's most esteemed historians, Gordon S. Wood, offers a brilliant account of the early American Republic, ranging from 1789 and the beginning of the national government to the end of the War of 1812.
As Wood reveals, the period was marked by tumultuous change in all aspects of American life-in politics, society, economy, and culture. The men who founded the new government had high hopes for the future, but few of their hopes and dreams worked out quite as they expected. They hated political parties but parties nonetheless emerged. Some wanted the United States to become a great fiscal-military state like those of Britain and France; others wanted the country to remain a rural agricultural state very different from the European states. Instead, by 1815 the United States became something neither group anticipated. Many leaders expected American culture to flourish and surpass that of Europe; instead it became popularized and vulgarized. The leaders also hope to see the end of slavery; instead, despite the release of many slaves and the end of slavery in the North, slavery was stronger in 1815 than it had been in 1789. Many wanted to avoid entanglements with Europe, but instead the country became involved in Europe's wars and ended up waging another war with the former mother country. Still, with a new generation emerging by 1815, most Americans were confident and optimistic about the future of their country.
Named a New York Times Notable Book, Empire of Liberty offers a marvelous account of this pivotal era when America took its first unsteady steps as a new and rapidly expanding nation.

Frequently Bought Together

Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815 (Oxford History of the United States) + What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848 (Oxford History of the United States) + The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789 (Oxford History of the United States)
Price for all three: $40.32

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Take a Look Inside the Empire of Liberty [Click on Images to Enlarge]
Empire of Liberty
George Washington (1732–1799): This portrait painted by Gilbert Stuart in 1797 was the one rescued by Dolley Madison in 1814 when the British burned the White House.
(Library of Congress)
Empire of Liberty
Lyon-Griswold Brawl (1798): Outraged by this brawl on the floor of the House of Representatives, many concluded that Congress had become contemptible in the eyes of all “polite or genteel” societies. (Library of Congress)
Empire of Liberty
Washington, D.C. in 1801: The nation’s capital remained for years primitive and desolate, with muddy streets, a swampy climate, and unfinished government buildings that stood like Greek temples in a deserted ancient city. (Library of Congress)
Empire of Liberty
Capture of the City of Washington: In 1814 the British army set fire to many public buildings here. Although this was considered a violation of the laws of war, they were probably retaliating for the Americans’ burning of buildings in the Canadian capital, York (Toronto). (Library of Congress)
Empire of Liberty
Shakers: The name “Shakers” was originally pejorative, mocking the religious group’s rituals of trembling, dancing, and shaking. Their commitment to celibacy kept a rigid separation of the sexes, even in dancing, as this illustration shows. (Library of Congress)

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. A new addition to the Oxford History of the United States, Wood's superb book brings together much of what historians now know about the first quarter-century of the nation's history under the Constitution. Acknowledged as the leading historian of the period, Wood brings authority and easy style to a tough task—wrestling into order a period of unusual anxiety, confusion, crisis and unbridled growth in the nation's affairs. The emergence of democracy and individualism is his overarching theme. No surprise there, for he's the author of a celebrated work (The Radicalism of the American Revolution) on just that topic. In this new work, he concentrates more on events, institutions, politics and diplomacy than in his earlier books yet proves himself a master of these topics, too. He offers no newfangled approaches, no strongly stated positions, no contests with other historians. Instead, we get the distillation of a lifetime's study and reflection about the era between Washington's presidency and the end of the War of 1812. A triumph of the historian's art, Wood's book will not soon be supplanted. No one interested in the era should miss it. 40 b&w illus., maps. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Series: Oxford History of the United States
  • Paperback: 800 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; Reprint edition (October 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199832463
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199832460
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 2.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (117 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #21,893 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Gordon S. Wood is Alva O. Way Professor of History Emeritus at Brown University. His books include the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Radicalism of the American Revolution, the Bancroft Prize-winning The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787, The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin, and The Purpose of the Past: Reflections on the Uses of History. He writes frequently for The New York Review of Books and The New Republic.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
239 of 252 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unreservedly recommended August 10, 2009
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Other reviewers have provided thoughtful and comprehensive reviews of the content of this excellent book. I'll focus my own on the book as a Good Read. It's perhaps the best on U.S. history that I've read since Daniel Howe's What God Hath Wrought, the next one in the Oxford series, which has the same virtues. It is beautifully written and flows well; the style is precise and compact rather than elegant, but a model of measured exposition. The examples mesh beautifully into its superbly modulated flow of argument. Just about every paragraph has a point to make that is convincing and clear. This slows it down in some ways, all good ones. First, it's long and it will take months rather than days to go through and it needs active engagement and reflection by the reader. It's not skimming material. Second, it builds its picture in a way that precludes fast skipping.

It doesn't have an axe to grind. It's a fairly centrist analysis that has no debunking and takes the leading political figures as essentially honorable individuals - almost all male, of course - working their way honestly to make the transition from the society and social hierarchies they were brought up in to the creation of a unique republic that fused the many interests and differences of American diversity. He places less emphasis than Howe on the economic and social dynamics underlying the cancerous issue of slavery, though his chapter, Between Slavery and Freedom, is a fine summary of how and why the Revolutionary leaders were so misguided in their conviction that it would just fade away. The last paragraph of the over 700 pages concludes that "The Civil War was the climax of a tragedy that was preordained from the time of the Revolution.
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323 of 350 people found the following review helpful
By Paul L
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Thesis and Summary:

In this, the 8th volume of Oxford's History of the United States, Gordon Wood weighs in on the Washington through Madison administrations, and gives a broad perspective analysis of the burgeoning American and American culture. Indeed, Wood's thesis can be summed up to say that by 1815 America was a thoroughly transformed nation from the one that initiated the revolution in 1776: a nation that had gone from gentleman leaders to a far more inclusive- albeit brutish- democracy.

Woods begins his journey to American Democracy by explaining the "middling" class of Americans that emerged with the ratification of the Constitution. This new class of Americans did not personify the classical notion of virtue that Federalists found necessary to lead. They were a people possessed of a native congeniality for the sake of prosperity. They were fond of money making (and good at it), they weren't Harvard or Princeton educated, and they voted. It is this middling class that is the protagonist (for lack of better word) of Wood's work. He sees their growth as the Federalists' death and he sees Jefferson as their chief advocate and the man responsible for their ascendance to power. Herein one finds Wood's bias. He simply adores Thomas Jefferson and makes bare faced obeisance to him at every turn of the page it seems while looking to traduce Federalists as much as possible. As I read this substantial work, I couldn't help but to constantly contrast it with Elkins and McKitrick's The Age of Federalism: The Early American Republic, 1788-1800. Both works are monumental in scope, but one is sympathetic to Federalists and the other to Republicans.
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104 of 114 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Love Letter to Thomas Jefferson April 2, 2010
What an odd, brilliant, and maddening book. Wood is a very distinguished historian: his The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787 (Published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, Virginia) is required reading for any student of the revolution, and after several years' hiatus, he has come back with several outstanding works, most notably The Radicalism of the American Revolution and The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin. But like many great scholars, he has become infatuated with his own thesis, namely, that the revolution represented the beginning of a radical cultural transformation of America based on liberty and equality.. And because of this, in Empire of Liberty he makes several judgments of both coverage and assessment that are blinkered and often grotesquely unfair. The bottom line, as other reviewers have suggested, is that in order to adequately appreciate the politics of the early national period, you really should read Wood's work together with Elkins and Mckitrick's The Age of Federalism: The Early American Republic, 1788-1800 or Joseph Ellis' Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation and/or American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson. Read more ›
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Highly enjoyable -- if you can make it through
Gordon Wood's Empire of Liberty is an enjoyable read and a worthy entry in the Oxford History of the United States. Read more
Published 12 days ago by Ryan S.
5.0 out of 5 stars Very good book
This book covers the material that the title suggests. Well written, comprehensive. It even inspired me to write an essay which was published in my state's largest newspaper.
Published 17 days ago by Tony
5.0 out of 5 stars Ograbme
The Empire of Liberty by Gordon S. Wood is an inclusive and detailed history of the early American Republic. Read more
Published 18 days ago by Scrapple8
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read
Thoroughly enjoyable, well written narrative history that helps understand the actual US culture and its political movements. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Thomas J. E. Schwarz
5.0 out of 5 stars Very, very timely, well-written book.
Civic Republicanism is resurging, thanks largely to Sandra O'Conner. And this book merits a re-read. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Cisco
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable and great historical info
I teach American history and love using these books for supplemental research. I have used this book multiple times in my presentation of information.
Published 5 months ago by aluma
5.0 out of 5 stars This Is Really Wonderful!
I recommend this to anyone interesting in American history; particularly in interesting and obscure stories of the founding of the country. Read more
Published 6 months ago by PGP
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Study of The Early Republic -- Key Reading for...
This book provides a close look at a critical period in U.S. history, from 1789 to the 1815. The growth of the institutions of American government, and the disagreements around... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Anne Mills
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and Informative
I like it overall. I think all of these Oxford histories tend to be wordy. Usually I skip sections I am not interested in. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Dominic Conner
5.0 out of 5 stars Gordon Wood's Empife of Liberty
This work complements his other writings on the period, a masterful coverage of the period with insights that should be given consideration by all thinking Americans.
Published 8 months ago by Earl H. Elam
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