From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. The more America changes, the more it stays the same, according to this engrossing historical survey. Drawing on everything from economic data and mortality statistics to studies of colonial portraiture, University of California–Berkeley sociologist Fischer assesses broad trends across four centuries of American life. His measured but upbeat view of the evolving American experience will disappoint the hell-in-a-handbasket crowd: he finds that Americans have grown more religious and charitable over time, and markedly less violent and nomadic, while remaining roughly unchanged in their propensity toward greed and consumerism. Through it all, he discerns a benignly Tocquevillian trait that he calls voluntarism, an individualism softened by unforced solidarity that fulfills itself by freely building communities, be they frontier villages, dissenting churches, egalitarian families, or Internet chat groups. While vast gains in health, wealth, and political freedoms have transformed our lives, they have, he contends, made Americans more voluntaristic and thus more characteristically 'American'... insistently independent but still sociable, striving, and sentimental. Fischer's lively prose argues these propositions with a wealth of hard evidence and illustrates them with piquant vignettes of people of all eras muddling through. The result is a shrewd, generous, convincing interpretation of American life. (May)
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“The wants, needs, hopes, and aspirations of generations of Americans—‘all sorts and conditions’ of them—are given careful and circumspect attention in this arresting portrait of a nation ever, it seems, changing, growing. Here is a book that will tell its readers much about how and why a people once struggling to find and define themselves—the very terrain of their country, and too, its values and ideas—became the members of a United States of America whose many variations and sometime contradictions are brought tellingly alive in pages of clear, illuminating, and well-informed prose.”
(Robert Coles)“Made in America
is a book rich in its findings and judicious in its interpretations. Fischer has uncovered a lot of things that even those of us who have long studied the United States didn't know, and he has also expertly shown that many of the things we thought we knew are simply wrong. The book will make any reader wiser and more careful in thinking about this strange country in which we live.”
"[A] vastly ambitious project. . . . [R]eadable and entertaining .. . . [A] formidable achievement. . . . brought to life by the stories of ordinary people.”
"Fischer has done scholars and lay readers alike an enormous service. . . . Made in America is exactly the sort of grand and controversial narrative, exactly the sort of bold test of old assumptions, that is needed to keep the study of American history alive and honest."—New Republic
"A thoughtful assessment of the patterns of American life over the course of the past several centuries. . . . Challenges a number of myths. . . . Has a wealth of important insights and reads well from beginning to tend. All in all, it is a lively and intriguing effort to understand the most important elements of American life."—Times Higher Education
(Times Higher Education
"Brave and ambitious. . . . [Fischer's] book will take its place in a distinguished scholarly tradition that historians have all but abandoned for nearly half a century."