From Publishers Weekly
Anyone aspiring to write a multivolume history of the U.S. reckons with illustrious predecessors, especially the histories of Daniel Boorstin and Richard Hofstadter (the latter never completed). But those histories were interpretive; they had a particular slant on the past. McDougall's is more explanatory. It provides up-to-date understanding of much that happened in our early history but without a sharply etched point of view. It's thus a bit like a textbook, struggling to keep readers' attention on all it packs in. Fortunately, in this regard it succeeds wonderfully well. Briskly written, deeply researched, fact-filled and satisfyingly wide in its coverage, it's mainly a history of the public attributes of the colonies and early nationthe ethnic and racial groups (including Native Americans), its states, religious denominations, political parties, wars and institutions. There's little social history here or the history of ideas and culture, little about subjects like women, gays, historical myths and memory. But no single history, not even in a projected three volumes, can cover everything. McDougall's particular strength is that he keeps individuals front and center: the work is alive with humans and their struggles and achievements. Pulitzer Prizewinner McDougall (for The Heavens and the Earth: A Political History of the Space Age) says at the start that his theme will be the conditions that made for Americans' world-known "hustling" behavior and mentality. Fortunately, he quickly drops this line. There's a better and more fitting word for people's desire to better their lot: ambition. That's what this book has in full measure. Maps not seen by PW.
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It might be unfashionable these days to embrace “American exceptionalism.” Yet that’s exactly what McDougall, a history professor at the University of Pennsylvania and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Heavens and the Earth: A Political History of the Space Age
, has done, to great acclaim. In revealing “who and why we are what we are,” he has written an imaginative, evenhanded, and masterful history that shows the freedoms—and high costs—of our hustling nation. His impressive research covers all the major events of our first 200 years, plus some; he entertains with humorous, passionate writing. Only historian Foner—competitive, perhaps?—criticizes Freedom’s
top-heavy approach and inadequate interpretations. The general consensus: Freedom is an important contribution not only to its field, but to all Americans.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.