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People of Plenty: Economic Abundance and the American Character (Walgreen Foundation Lectures) [Paperback]

David M. Potter
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

October 15, 1958 0226676331 978-0226676333 3rd Impression 1958
America has long been famous as a land of plenty, but we seldom realize how much the American people are a people of plenty—a people whose distinctive character has been shaped by economic abundance. In this important book, David M. Potter breaks new ground both in the study of this phenomenon and in his approach to the question of national character. He brings a fresh historical perspective to bear on the vital work done in this field by anthropologists, social psychologists, and psychoanalysts.

"The rejection of hindsight, with the insistence on trying to see events from the point of view of the participants, was a governing theme with Potter. . . . This sounds like a truism. Watching him apply it however, is a revelation."—Walter Clemons, Newsweek

"The best short book on national character I have seen . . . broadly based, closely reasoned, and lucidly written."—Karl W. Deutsch, Yale Review

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People of Plenty: Economic Abundance and the American Character (Walgreen Foundation Lectures) + The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society (Revised and Enlarged Edition) + The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl
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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

David M. Potter (1910-1971) was a professor of history at Yale University and, at the time of his death, Coe Professor of American History at Stanford University.

Product Details

  • Series: Walgreen Foundation Lectures
  • Paperback: 248 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 3rd Impression 1958 edition (October 15, 1958)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226676331
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226676333
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.5 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #567,785 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
"The People of Plenty" is one of the most interesting books I have read in the past two years: informative, instructive, entertaining, challenging, provocative. The book deals with the effects of economic abundance on the American national character as a relationship between history and the behavioral sciences. It is organized in two major parts. Part I outlines the concept of national character from the viewpoints of the historian and behavioral scientist. Part II is about how economic abundance has shaped the American character.

To begin with, if Arthur Schlesinger Jr. is correct that "History is to a Nation what Memory is to an individual", national character is the changing memory of a nation. This is no new assertion, but the author argues that popular generalizations of national character are incorrect. They weave traits and habits in there descriptions, and so they "show how badly the true analysis of national character will be hindered if historians, like the blindmen who examined the elephant, mistake the part for the whole" (p. 13). The problem is that nations are made up of people, and people's characteristics are cultural, political, economic, historical, and so on. Rather than nation units defining character, national character may be conceived as a national culture expressed as a political unit called a nation.

Previous explanations of national character, and here the author sweeps the canvas as only a historian can do, have been flawed. Many paid little attention to what character actually is, or "how they would define the `nation' as the unit to which the character is attributed" (p.20).
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant��as in, truly illuminating February 3, 1999
By A Customer
This is one of the seminal books on understanding what it means to be an American, and on what makes our character distinctive, if not utterly unique. Potter was a remarkable professor of American History at Stanford, where his final lecture in my Junior year taught me what the phrase " the crowd lept to its feet" meant. Among other remarkable traits, Potter never once uttered that or any other cliche in those lectures or in this extraordinary book. The work of a giant, engaging and accessible to almost anyone.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A small gem from a major historian May 12, 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This short book eloquently describes the American national character as determined by the culture of material plenty. A truly insightful study that informs our national politics to this day,
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