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Liberty and Freedom: A Visual History of America's Founding Ideas (America: a cultural history) Hardcover – November 15, 2004

16 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

English-speaking people have distinct words for the concepts of freedom and liberty. But that doesn't mean everyone agrees on what they mean, as Fischer (author of the bestselling Washington's Crossing) reveals in this exhaustive study of how the two have been defined in words and images from colonial times to the present. Short chapters supply the backstories of familiar symbols like the Liberty Bell, the Statue of Liberty and Uncle Sam, and also reintroduce forgotten figures like Brother Jonathan, an early 19th-century representation of America as a country bumpkin that was popular in Europe. In a precursor to today's "salad bowl" image of cultural diversity, artists of the Revolutionary era portrayed America as "a flight of birds, a flock of sheep, even a kettle of fish." As the modern age approaches, photography becomes increasingly important, as seen in a triptych of riveting images from the Civil Rights movement. But the record also becomes somewhat muddled, Fischer finds, with Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix appearing as images on nearly equal footing with Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King. In the end, the oversize, beautifully illustrated book shifts subtly from a rich graphic survey, incorporating painting, flags and sculpture, to a broader chronicle of the many ways Americans have articulated their most cherished ideals. Over 400 illus., 250 in color.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Fischer, author of Washington’s Crossing (**** May/June 2004) and Albion’s Seed, offers Liberty and Freedom as part of a four-volume history of American culture. Focusing on material culture rather than philosophical texts, he argues that we pass down ideas about liberty and freedom from one generation to the next, altering them as some groups simultaneously struggle against forms of repression. Fischer’s stories span well-known anecdotes about Betsy Ross, Frederick Douglass, and Jimi Hendrix to near-forgotten tales about the meaning of the Alabama flag’s rattlesnake banner of liberty. Although interesting, the sprawling narrative often fails to coalesce into a broader argument. In addition, while Fischer exhaustively explores older symbols, he doesn’t delve as deeply into present-day icons (such as the gay liberation rainbow). Nonetheless, Liberty and Freedom is an important visual survey of where we’ve been—and possibly where we’re headed.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Series: America: a cultural history (Book 3)
  • Hardcover: 864 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (November 15, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195162536
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195162530
  • Product Dimensions: 10.1 x 1.9 x 7.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #822,886 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

David Hackett Fischer is University Professor and Warren Professor of History at Brandeis University in Massachusetts. The recipient of many prizes and awards for his teaching and writing, he is the author of numerous books, including Washington's Crossing, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in history.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

64 of 67 people found the following review helpful By S. Pactor VINE VOICE on January 3, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This is the third book in the four book (projected) that Fischer began with the seminal "Albion's Seed".

Liberty and Freedom is devoted to those two concepts, which Fischer holds are key to understanding the culture of America. Fischer uses quilts, flags, photos, paintings, sculpture and pretty much anything else under the sun(toilet decorated with a bald eagle, anyone?) to illustrate this thesis.

Clearly, Fischer is concerned with the idea of America. What is most novel about this book is the way that Fischer tries to assimilate some of the newer teachings of social history with the the method of traditional history(focus on military events/political leaders).

Never one to shy away from histiographical concerns, Fischer illustrates these varying approaches in a short appendix.

This book is of high quality, copiously illustrated and is published in conjunction with a touring museum exhibition that is travelling as far west as St. Louis (as a Californian, I am a little upset that it isn't coming out farther).

The chapters of the book are short to the point of being anecdotal: two pages on Emerson, four pages on Thoreau, three pages on Martin Luther King. However, that is in line with Fischer's central concern which is to document the imagery of the ideas of liberty and freedom in American history.

The heavier intellectual lifting is towards the front of the book. In the first hundred pages, Fischer produces a nifty chart that documents the differing origins of the concepts of liberty and freedom (Did you know that liberty derives from the Roman republic/empire whereas Freedom comes from Germanic/Anglo tribal roots?).
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43 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Odysseus on December 11, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
David Hackett Fischer's Albion's Seed established him as one of the finest historians writing for a general audience. Since the publication of that landmark history, Fischer has produced a number of outstanding books, including among them Paul Revere's Ride, and Washington's Crossing, each of which skillfully demonstrates how cultural forces, reflected in individual decisions and actions, affected the course of events at a critical fork in the historical road.

This latest work from Fischer compares favorably to his greatest works, and is a plausible candidate for his finest effort yet.

To be great history, a work must succeed on several levels. One is that it must be interesting -- the reader must feel compelled to press on. Another is that it must be informative; it should educate, ideally in a fair way, conveying what is most important, and minimizing the influence of author bias. But the acid test of what makes for a great history may be whether it enables the reader to understand his world in a fundamentally new, insightful way. Albion's Seed and Fischer's other great works accomplish this. So too does Liberty and Freedom, in spades.

Fischer aims to trace the development of the concepts and values of Liberty and Freedom throughout American history. To lay the foundation, he studies the terms themselves. Liberty, Fischer finds, derives from the classical Latin world, with connotations relating to the release from bondage. Consequently, in later history, it carries overtones of meaning the ability to move and to act without interference or constraint by others.

Freedom, on the other hand, relates to the Germanic "Freiheit," and has different connotations, specifically the possession of the full rights of citizenship, of belonging to a society.
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29 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Whitney Smith on December 1, 2004
Format: Hardcover
If you're interested in American symbols of all kinds and/or in the varied and changing attitudes Americans have had toward liberty and freedom, this is a must-have book. Well-organized, easy to read but profound, with over 500 illustrations, this book again marks David Hackett Fischer as an author with a unique understanding of how the country's present has developed out of a past few Americans understand. Bravo, David!
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12 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Uitlander on December 25, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I read this big book because David Hackett Fischer is a historian I greatly admire and if he finds a theme worthwhile, I consider it a mandatory assignment. Liberty and Freedom eschews philosophy; it studys the symbols that arouse and sustain the national spirit: flags, liberty poles, anthems, medals, seals, catch words, documents and statues.

I admit this was not an easy read for me. I have always found parades tedious. I am tone deaf to martial music. Flags are a piece of cloth flapping in the wind. My love of country is expressed in different ways. In my youth, that included military service in our most (or perhaps second-most) misguided war. I feel repelled by gatherings of still delirious veterans. As years passed, I came to distrust politicians who cheered for flags or other symbols. It was usually a sign that they had scant understanding of their country's history and were feigning patriotism to garner votes. I appreciate symbols as necessary to the human condition, but for me they're tools of the hornswoggler.

The best part of this book is the post WWII history that I lived through. Fischer treats all the prime cultural/political movements as symbols that changed our conception of liberty/freedom. McCarthyism, the Civil Rights Movement, the 60s hippie counterculture, the women's movement, the return of conservatism, and more get chapters. His encapsulations of these events are quite precise. I think this book will grow in importance as years go by. It is truly important, and for a huge hunk of the country, this is the extract of Americana. And I do love it.
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