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Letters from America Hardcover – November 30, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Lately a historian of the first decades of the Third Republic (For the Soul of France, 2009), Brown here translates Tocqueville. A 2007 biography (Alexis de Tocqueville, by Hugh Brogan) and a 2010 narrative of his famous 1831–32 journey through the U.S. (Tocqueville’s Discovery of America, by Leo Damrosch) evidence the enduring contemporary curiosity about the French traveler. The latter title tapped the source of Brown’s present work, letters Tocqueville and his traveling companion, Gustave de Beaumont, mailed back to France. Even 180 years later, they are eminently readable as their authors’ initial impressions of Americans and of American landscapes, as missives to entertain or commiserate with their recipients, and, in Tocqueville’s case, as Brown notes, as a reflection of his fretting about French politics. Tocqueville was connected to the Bourbon dynasty overthrown in 1830, and his trip was, in effect, a temporary self-exile. If the letters exude homesickness, their bounty of acute aperçus of America’s social and political conditions, for which Tocqueville became famous, should ensure interest wherever the above titles or Toqueville’s classic Democracy in America circulate. --Gilbert Taylor


"[Letters from America] provide[s] significant insights--above all, into [Tocqueville's] mental habit of 'making comparisons.' . . . But beyond their value in understanding Democracy in America, the letters are often simply delightful."--Daniel E. Ritchie, Books & Culture

(Daniel E. Ritchie Books & Culture)

"Ably translated. . . . Illumines the great work Democracy in America."—Daniel J. Mahoney, The New Criterion
(Daniel J. Mahoney The New Criterion)

"How welcome!  How charming! Tocqueville’s letters from the U.S. and Canada are now presented in workmanlike American English for the first time. Everyone can enjoy them and learn from them. I do."—Hugh Brogan, author of Alexis de Tocqueville
(Hugh Brogan)

"These magnificent letters, splendidly edited and audaciously translated, not only convey Tocqueville's immediate impressions and reflective wisdom about 'the happiest people' and their materialist mode, about Indians and slaves, but beautifully express the beguiling character of the young writer. A treasure."—Fritz Stern, author of Five Germanys I Have Known
(Fritz Stern)

"These candid letters illuminate the purposes and perceptions of America's most famous foreign interpreter.  Reading them, Tocqueville becomes an engaging personality, not simply the name of a revered text."—Daniel Walker Howe, author of What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848
(Daniel Walker Howe)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; 1st THUS edition (November 30, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300153821
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300153828
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,391,885 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Guillermo Maynez on November 29, 2010
Format: Hardcover
During their nine-month journey through the United States in 1831, Tocqueville and his companion-friend Gustave de Beaumont wrote several letters which illustrate thier opinions on the new and exciting phenomena they were encountering. Perhaps the most interesting part is the two-week trip they undertook, with the aim of finding "the last frontier", the remotest corner colonized to that date by Europeans within the US territory. They travelled by land to Buffalo, from which they sailed through the Eerie lake to Detroit, from where they rode to Saginaw, in the Michigan peninsula. As it was to be expected, Tocqueville mixes his travel observations with intelligent reflections on the possible future of the civilization that was beginning to take shape in those cold lands. One of the things that shocked them was that the colonizers were amazed and amused by the travellers' interest in finding virgin lands and seeing the indigenous populations. "Why look for forests? Come see our new town and the bridge!" Tocquevile sadly feels and anticipated nostalgia for those forests and those tribes which, he knows, will soon disappear, trampled underfoot by the rapid advance of the Western civilization. One of the most intriguing passages concerns an Indian who seems to be following them on foot. Whenever they speed in their horses, the Indian speeds too, marching at the same pace. When they pause, he pauses too. The situation becomes uncomfortable and even frightening, until at some point it stops in a funny way. Althouhg only a footnote to Tocqueville's masterpiece, "Democracy in America", his letters are also a very good and entertaining source on information on this great observer of politics.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Gderf on March 12, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Each book on democracy in America has an obligatory reference to deToqueville. It's about time someone gave a comprehensive popular easily readable insight into the man and his writing. This is an opportunity to observer the great observer. It's a quick read about T's trip to America in 1831-2. The book is a compilation of letters to his friends and relatives in France. It starts with his family background and how his relatives managed to survive the period of Robespierre's terror.

His observations of American statesmen limited to Jackson, JQA , Webster and Joel Poinsett
Colonel Fish a friend of Hamilton and a daughter of Robert Fulton. The loquacious, hyperactive writing style is strangely very readable, somewhat like a stream of conscience mixed with very prescient observations. He generally shows concern for European politics as well as for the USA. He fears another terror after the upheavals of 1830. In citing a mercantile nationalism, he makes the curious observation that it's easy to get rich in the USA. He poses interesting and prescient questions about banking and judicial systems in America. He observes that we don't need either a standing army or an intelligent foreign policy. I wish it was still true.

Besides observing the American penal system, the object of T's voyage, he made observations on society, religion, Indians, travel, geography, and politics and especially the court system. In a study of American banking, he noted that paper is replacing coin. That before the demise of the second BUS. I would have been interested in a similar observation after 1836. In America there is no lower class nor upper. It's still true, but now we deplore income disparity. Treaties are interpreted by the mightier. Indians practiced foot binding, making women pigeon toed.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Cathleen Ortolani on November 15, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I enjoyed reading this book so much that it led me to purchase, & attempt to read, his 'Democracy in America' which I'm still struggling through. However, the letters are fascinating & thoroughly enjoyable to read of 1830's America, especially of the Courting rituals!
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Format: Hardcover
I made the mistake of leaving this on my shelf for months. Turns out it is one of the best reads I've encountered in ages. Tocqueville and his companion Beaumont are invariably smart, perspicacious, warm, and witty. What wonderful bloggers they would be. Tocqueville doesn't always hit the mark, but his accuracy percentage is remarkably high. There was little of merit that escaped his attention, and his interpretative ability continues to astound. He's also a fair enough wit to have me laughing out loud from time to time. His letters to his sister are particularly interesting and amusing. The book is a worthy companion to his famous book, and it stands well on its own. Sometimes the translation seems almost too good to be true.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By MVWmom1 on December 15, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Tedious reading but it made for a terrific discussion in our book group. The book is deceivingly small and repetitive. What a different country he found in America as opposed to his France which seemed always to be in turmoil.
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