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Making the American Self: Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln Paperback – September 22, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

In this intellectual history, Howe (American history, Oxford Univ.) explores how Americans have developed their individualism or, as Jefferson phrased it, their "pursuit of happiness." Howe covers the entire 18th century and the first half of the 19th. In addition to Jefferson, he discusses figures like Jonathan Edwards, Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, and Margaret Fuller. Howe demonstrates that all these individuals agreed that human passions must be controlled by reason and that individualism should retain a sense of virtue and a respect for the community. In the early 19th century, the quest for dignity and self-fulfillment expanded slowly to include blacks and women. An erudite study; recommended for academic and large public libraries.?Thomas J. Schaeper, St. Bonaventure Univ., N.Y.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review


"An erudite, original, and often eloquent reconstruction of, and tribute to, a vital and protean tradition in American liberal culture."--Charles Capper, Boston University


"By reinvigorating a vanished past...Howe provides also much to ponder for the present. We have no better historian on broad questions at the intersection of mind and culture in the American past than Howe."--Mark A. Noll, University of Notre Dame


"Howe succeeds triumphantly in linking the cultural gestures of politicos like Madison and Lincoln with the formal systems of thinkers like Edwards, and middle-brow culture brokers like Mann, Emerson, and Fuller. His skill in dovetailing these otherwise angular and resistant minds illuminates landscapes of the American intellect...long closed off to view."--Allen C. Guelzo, Books & Culture


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (September 22, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195387899
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195387896
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 0.7 x 6.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #282,366 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By R. Albin TOP 1000 REVIEWER on October 4, 2009
Format: Paperback
Another very interesting book by Daniel Walker Howe situating American intellectual history in broader context. Walker Howe's theme is the self-realization of identity by a series of important and representative Americans. Walker Howe begins with Jonathan Edwards and concludes with Abraham Lincoln, and includes a variety of figures, some well known, like Thoreau, others less known like Catherine Bushnell. Two crucial themes bind together these disparate figures. One is individual capacity to shape identity as Americans. The second this is 18th century idea of faculty psychology; the idea that the psyche is composed of specific components (faculties), notably the passions and reason, and that successful personhood consists of an appropriate balance of the different faculties. Walker Howe argues well that while the different individuals he discusses stressed different components and had different ideas about what constituted the faculties, the structural view of the faculties and the idea of self-construction runs through about 150 years of American history.

Walker Howe shows how the idea of faculty psychology influenced and reflected important currents in American life. The idea of separation of powers in the period of constitutional formation paralleled the idea of balanced faculties in individuals. The general democratization that occurred in the early 19th century saw the widespread dissemination and diversification of faculty psychology. Individuals from humble backgrounds like Lincoln and Douglass would draw on faculty psychology in their quests of distinctive and self-consciously American identities. Like all of Walker Howe's work, this book is written very well and exhibits Walker Howe's comprehensive knowledge of American history.
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Format: Paperback
Reading Daniel Howe's "The Making of the American Self" is like hearing a unique and genuine voice amidst a crowd of disingenuous and typical voices. Where the crowd often sees history as deterministic and controlled, Howe suggests that history is instead a compilation of free will driven social interactions where men and women mold their own identities.

The book begins by comparing and contrasting Benjamin Franklin with Jonathan Edwards in the earliest part of the American narrative. Benjamin Franklin fashioned himself to fit neatly with his social situations, sometimes with and sometimes without moral constraints. To be thrifty, he starved himself to get the books he used to gain the knowledge that proved useful for his entire life. Later in life, he tried to appear to be an honest and plain Quaker to increase his diplomatic agenda with the French. Essentially, he altered his identity as a means to a utilitarian end. Jonathan Edwards, however, wanted the activity of molding the self to be spiritually provoked. For Edwards, self improvement was deemed a requirement for salvation not just for the person but for the community as well. Although one individual could achieve self enlightenment, salvation was seen as community oriented. In this way, construction of the self was a very selfless act because of the corporate outcome. The selfish versus selfless attributes given to the each man is the main difference Howe presents between Franklin and Edwards. The authors jabs at the notion of a socially constructed character implicitly by presenting these two paths of active self molding.

Despite this difference, similar qualities were both ingredients in Franklin's and Edward's personal development.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I bought this book to prepare for my comprehensive exams. I was very pleased with the content. Daniel Walker Howe presents clear, well-researched, and articulate arguments and interpretations of historical figures. However, I was very disappointed to discover many typos in the text. I ordered the kindle edition. I understand (and expect) typos in a free book that I "buy" from the kindle store, but I didn't expect such poor quality from a book that I actually paid for. I recommend buying the print version instead.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Howe puts it all together. The significance of the religious background and the Enlightenment all contributed to making the American self.
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