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The Story of American Freedom Paperback

ISBN-13: 978-0393319620 ISBN-10: 0393319628

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (September 17, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393319628
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393319620
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.4 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #170,327 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Freedom, Eric Foner writes, is "the oldest of clichés and the most modern of aspirations." But what does it mean to be free? For the people of the United States, the concept of "freedom"--and its counterpart, "liberty"--have had widely differing meanings over the centuries. The Story of American Freedom, therefore, "is not a mythic saga with a predetermined beginning and conclusion, but an open-ended history of accomplishment and failure, a record of a people forever contending about the crucial ideas of their political culture."

Foner begins with the colonial era, when the Puritans believed that liberty was rooted in voluntary submission to God and civil authorities, and consisted only in the right to do good. John Locke, too, would argue that liberty did not consist of the lack of restraint, but of "a standing rule to live by, common to every one of that society, and made by the legislative power." Foner reveals the ideological conflicts that lay at the heart of the American Revolution and the Civil War, the shifts in thought about what freedom is and to whom it should apply. Adeptly charting the major trends of 20th-century American politics--including the invocation of freedom as a call to arms in both world wars--Foner concludes by contrasting the two prevalent movements of the 1990s: the liberal articulation of freedom, grounded in Johnson's Great Society and the rhetoric of the New Left, as the provision of civil rights and economic opportunity for all citizens, and the conservative vision, perhaps most fully realized during the presidency of Ronald Reagan, of a free-market economy and decentralized political power. The Story of American Freedom is a sweeping synthesis, delivered in clearheaded language that makes the ongoing nature of the American dream accessible to all readers. --Ron Hogan --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Distinguished Columbia historian Foner frames American history as a continuing fight for freedom.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Eric Foner is DeWitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University, where he earned his B.A. and Ph.D. In his teaching and scholarship, Foner focuses on the Civil War and Reconstruction, slavery, and nineteenth-century America. His "Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877," won the Bancroft, Parkman, and Los Angeles Times Book prizes and remains the standard history of the period. In 2006 Foner received the Presidential Award for Outstanding Teaching at Columbia University. He has served as president of the Organization of American Historians, the American Historical Association, and the Society of American Historians. He is currently writing a book on Lincoln and slavery.

Customer Reviews

A must read for all history enthusiasts.
jlnl@usa.hsanet.net
As Americans we have a tendancy to think of this country as the birthplace of freedom and enlightenment, that is just came to us naturally from the very beginning.
Reviewer X
The sections that cover the Civil War and the period of Reconstruction are, as to be expected, excellent summaries of those times.
S Wood

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 33 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 15, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I first became acquainted with Eric Foner through his masterful "Reconstruction," a book of history that illuminated modern problems and prospects through a detailed look at their historical roots perhaps better than any other I have read. Taken in and of itself I have not found another book on the Reconstruction period that is as good, or as deep, or as well written. "Freedom" seems to be a different kind of work, an intellectual history that tested my abilities in a way that "factual" history does not. Even as he describes the shifts, subtle and overt, that have either dragged, or been dragged, by concepts of freedom, he never seems to lose the sense of the impelling force of that concept. This is a great book for students of history, and of America, since it is a superb inquiry into our commitment to an ideal so powerful that it has been a driving force throughout the world in this latter half of the century. It is also a great book for those interested in political life generally. It entertains and challenges, and teaches even amateurs like me.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By "duprestars" on October 25, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Ever wonder why so many people disagree about what freedom means? Foner explains that freedom means social freedom to some, freedom from governmental interference to many, and economic freedom to yet others. Better yet he explains where these sometimes complementary and sometimes conflicting ideas come from in the American experience. Very readable, Foner is gifted and secure enough to write a scholarly book that can be enjoyed by those of us who are not history professors.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Joe Brown on March 16, 2000
Format: Hardcover
The idea of freedom in American history seems to have gone through a series of cycles and metamorphic changes to suit a variety of social, political, and economic changes. These changes constitute a history in and of itself which goes far to define what freedom means to America's diverse population. Eric Foner's book "The Story of American Freedom" seeks to narrate that interesting history. Foner basically breaks down the meaning of freedom into two distinct spheres. Freedom of the individual to do as he/she pleases without government interference and, second, freedom that is supported by government intervention. Foner makes interesting points when he reveals that our nation's idea of freedom started out as socially narrow and then expanded to include other races and women as well. Economically, as demonstrated during the Gilded Age, freedom was to be enjoyed by those who fit the Darwinian ideal and denied to those who fell short of it. During the Progressive era, Foner illustrates that freedom was defined as government regulations on labor, food safety, and child labor laws meant to ensure the right to a better lifestyle. Throughout the book, Foner brilliantly narrates how the idea of freedom was tailored for political purposes for both the Left and the Right. I really enjoyed this book. Both a critique and a narrative of the idea of freedom, Foner's book provides a comprehensive overview of this all-pervasive concept. While I found it to be a little biased in its treatement of the 1960's (which prevents a 5-star rating) I nevertheless found it to be a well organized and well documented book (the pages of footnotes being very detailed). A must for an understanding of such an over-generalized concept.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 11, 2003
Format: Paperback
Eric Foner's title - The Story of American Freedom - is well chosen. The word freedom is so central to our national creed and discourse that it is seldom examined closely. Freedom for who? Freedom for what? Freedom from what?
Foner shows that far from being a fixed concept, the story of freedom is an ever-changing one. In our nation's founding, freedom was only truly enjoyed by property-holding white males. The story ever since then has been the expansion of the meaning in two broad historical senses. One is the struggle of broad classes of people to gain freedom. The freeing of slaves is the most famous narrative in this sense, but it is only one of many. For example, before that was the broadening of the right for democratic participation to wage earners as well as property-holders
The other is the expansion of what freedom itself means. Foner is especially good at exploring this with respect to womens' movements to not only gain the right to vote, but also to exercise more control over their own bodies.
One star is deducted in this review for the last chapter, which shows the peril of historians writing "today's history." As other reviews have alluded, this is the most politicized part of the book. Foner's strong left bias shows a lttle too baldly. I say this as one who basically agrees with his politics.
Still, essential reading for anyone interested in who we are as a people.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Larry Pahl on December 28, 2006
Format: Hardcover
American's military forces are currently being placed in harm's way in Iraq, we are told, "to defend our freedoms." It is good at such times to place in perspective the freedoms for which Americans are dying. The burden of Eric Foner in this work is to chronicle the changing face of the words "liberty" and "freedom" in various periods of American history.

Foner's work is a largely dispassionate chronicle of the meaning of liberty from the nation's founding to the present. His work sketches not only the idealistic glory, but also the self-serving and even chicanery associated with the concept throughout the unfolding of America's story. The framework of organization which Foner has chosen to house his story is chronological, using a chapter to cover each major epoch of American history. The choice of eras is traditional, beginning with the founding and moving through the Jacksonian development, the Civil War, Reconstruction, the Gilded and Progressive eras, World War I, the New Deal, World War II, the Cold War, the Sixties developments and the rebirth of conservativism a generation later. Within each chapter he uses three themes to guide his examination. First is that of how Americans have understood the idea of freedom. He looks at responses from political, economic, personal and Christian perspectives. Secondly he looks at the social conditions of freedom. Is it delimited by governmental authority, social pressure, or economic power? Under what conditions does it seem to prosper or suffer restriction? Thirdly he looks at who the people are who are entitled to enjoy the blessings of American freedom. Or, as he says, "Who is an American?"

In my mind, the work suffers from one massive exception. Foner has no treatment of the period preceding the Revolutionary era.
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