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Simon Schama's The American Future: A History

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Simon Schama's The American Future - A History (DbL DVD)


The election of Barack Obama serves as both touchstone and framework for The American Future: A History, a four-hour, four-part documentary hosted by historian Simon Schama. In fact, title notwithstanding, Schama actually doesn’t say a lot about the our nation’s future, other than the obvious (noting that water shortages will increasingly be an issue, particularly in the western states, is hardly stop-the-presses stuff); his main point here is that Obama represents the country’s best chance to regain its stature in the world and reverse what he calls "the nationwide loss of faith in government" that festered throughout the George W. Bush years. Not a very original thesis, but what Schama, a Brit who has lived half his life in the States, has in spades is a flair for providing information in a manner that’s engaging and entertaining but rarely pedantic or excessively scholarly. Each of the program’s four segments--entitled "American Plenty," which addresses the water issue in the context of the history of Western expansion; "American War"; "American Fervour" (sic), in which Schama discusses on the nature of religious freedom; and "What is an American?", which deals with race and immigration--provides not only a great deal of history but a revealing focus on individuals, both celebrated and otherwise. Thus we learn about the deeds of Montgomery Meigs, an engineer and Union Army officer who was a Civil War hero, or about the opposite stances taken by the pacifist Mark Twain and the gung-ho Theodore Roosevelt at the time of the Spanish-American War. We all know about Martin Luther King, Jr., but who has even heard of Fannie Lou Hamer, a cotton picker and folk singer who became a mid-'60s civil rights leader? And while the black mark of slavery informs so much of our country’s history, how many know about the plight of the Chinese workers who helped build the first transcontinental railroad in the 1800s? Schama’s ability to find the small, personal components of the big picture helps make The American Future both worthwhile and compelling. Bonus material includes an intro recorded by Schama on November 5, 2008, and a photo gallery. --Sam Graham

Special Features

  • The original U.K. series with 40 minutes of unseen footage
  • Includes a special introduction by Simon Schama filmed on November 5, 2008
  • Due to contractual reasons, certain music edits have been made

Product Details

  • Actors: Simon Schama
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Color, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: BBC Home Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: January 20, 2009
  • Run Time: 240 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B001L67A7S
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #114,567 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Customer Reviews

Schama looks down on America from Fortress Colombia in Manhattan.
Mark bennett
This unique moment in history, symbolized by the election of Barack Obama as President, is a profound shift in the American landscape.
Michael Birman
Neither do I discourage someone from watching the TV series as well.
Robert Moore

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Verified Purchase
Simon Schama has repeatedly proven himself a profound student of history, offering clear-eyed looks at the past in his books and on television programs such as this one. Citizens, his history of the French Revolution, is one of the finest ever written on the subject. His books on Rembrandt and the 17th Century Dutch golden age wear their analytical depth lightly: Schama is always sensitive to the human story that is often obscured behind the marmoreal nature of most art history. It is the unabashedly emotional aspect Schama often exhibits in his personal views of history that is most attractive. History devoid of humanity lacks dimension and Schama knows this instinctively. He brings that humanity to this video gloss of the American past, present and future, its contradictions and its hopes, its broken promises and its deferred dreams, and reveals the underlying American truths that constitute the marrow of its greatness as a nation.

His view of the American past - especially its treatment of its Asian, African and Latino minorities - is clear-eyed and often heartbreaking with its carefully researched and simply elucidated tales of cruelty, abuse and neglect. But with every new sorrow he balances his sadness with tales of brilliance, courage, honesty and truth from the likes of Thomas Jefferson, Montgomery Meigs (Quartermaster General under Lincoln) and John Wesley Powell, the geologist-explorer of the Colorado River and Grand Canyon. It is through these tales of moral courage and intellectual honesty that the true greatness of the unfinished American experiment reveals itself and in which its future hopes reside. Schama examines the difficult immigrant experience and as an immigrant himself he embodies all of its poignant dreams for a better future.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Ray TOP 500 REVIEWER on April 29, 2010
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This short, four episode look at America is an insightful reflection done by historian Simon Schama, a British man who has spent more than half his life in America. If one is familiar with Schama's other works, including his excellent written texts (e.g., his volume on the French Revolution and his critically acclaimed text on The Netherlands during its wealthy period of the 17th century), this series will remond one of the similarities in thinking which make Schama such an insightful and reflective reviewer of history. While I cannot say this series, made by the BBC during the 2008 American election cycle which saw the rise of the Obama presidency, rises to the level of Schama's previous series (e.g., Simon Schama: A History of Britain (Special Edition)), it nevertheless is a window on Schama's thoughts as he watched this historic election and reflected on what it might portent for America's future. And if one approaches this series with that in mind - that this is a reflection on a historic election and what it might mean for the future of America - then one should not be disappointed.

The four episodes are a bit uneven, with the stronger episodes being the last. Where the show may falter a bit is in the attempt to pull together what is an extensive and multi-faceted history of a large country into a short episode of only about an hour. This is essentially an impossible task, and when the series attempts to do so in one of the earlier episodes, anyone familiar with some of the details of American history will immediately see the issues in attempting to do so.
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The central idea in this series -- as in his book, which I actually read first -- is that if you want to gain insight into America's future, look at its past.

We today are struggling with division on religious matters, on racial issues, on the notion of what it means to be an American, on the use of our national resources, and when and why we go to war as a nation. On each of these matters, Schama examines our past, sees that we have struggles with these things before, and suggests the national resources that we've employed to deal with them in the past.

Schama shows how we have deeply ingrained national suspicions of other races, not merely blacks and Hispanics, but the Chinese and others. He also shows our amazing resilience in assimilating new ethnic and racial groups, and how this has perpetually enriched us and empowered us as a nation.

Schama examines the roles that religion has played in American life both as a liberalizing and reactionary force. I was especially happy about this, because as a religious person who is also very liberal in my politics, I'm proud of the way that evangelical religion has historically been at the forefront of progressive, liberal causes, only moving to the right in the past generation. Religion played a major role in denouncing and eliminating slavery, and later in promoting civil rights and racial equality. (Schama could have likewise have explored the role of religion in the furthering of public health, women's rights, public education, and ethnic tolerance.)

The role of the military and the militarization of national policy has been one of the most disturbing changes in American life since WW II and it remains the one area of American culture that I remain most concerned about.
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Simon Schama's The American Future: A History
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