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The American Future: A History Hardcover – May 19, 2009


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Iowa Waltz
Read the prologue to The American Future by Simon Schama [PDF].

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; 1ST edition (May 19, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060539232
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060539238
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.2 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #294,396 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Past performance may not guarantee future returns, but it's the best we have to go on, contends this lively meditation on American history. Looking back from the tumultuous 2008 election campaign, historian Schama (NBCC-award winner for Rough Crossings) ponders four themes in American history as they played out in the lives of historical figures: the tension between militarism and liberty in the careers of Civil War general Montgomery Meigs and his family; the progressive influence of evangelical Protestantism on abolitionist and civil rights crusaders; America's conflicted attitudes toward immigrants as seen through the adventures of 18th-century French émigré J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur; and Americans' profligate exploitation of the land and water in an elegy for the Cherokee tribe. Schama's wide-ranging narratives wander between contemporary reportage (For a minute or two after the photo op, George Bush was left to his own devices and came my way) and fluent, richly literate history. He's alive to irony and hypocrisy in the American story—Mexicans of the 1820s, he notes, shuddered at the uncouth Yankee immigrants flooding into Texas—but Schama is optimistic that the nation's perennial openness and complexity can see it through the storm clouds ahead. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

As the adaptation of a television series, The American Future treads a fine line between history and a kind of quick-cut shorthand that tries to neatly define the virtues of America and Americans (the Miami Herald deemed the genre the "Earnest Television Spinoff"). Simon Schama, a shrewd and experienced scholar, writer, and commentator, makes his points clearly (the biographical sketches, particularly of lesser-known figures such as the Meigses, an 18th- and 19th-century military family, can be affecting) and chooses his examples well. Still, some readers may be put off by the author's apparent lack of objectivity and a tendency to underdeliver in making any substantive predictions based on his reading of history.

More About the Author

Simon Schama is a professor of art history and history at Columbia University, and is the author of numerous award-winning books; his most recent history, Rough Crossings, won the National Book Critics Circle Award for nonfiction. He is a cultural essayist for the New Yorker and has written and presented more than thirty documentaries for the BBC, PBS, and the History Channel, including The Power of Art, which won the 2007 International Emmy for Best Arts Programming.

Customer Reviews

I felt for the first few pages I was going to be reading a "bash the right wings" book.
The Straw Man
Dashing from subject to subject and back-and-forth in time is not really the best way to write a history book.
mrliteral
Schama packs an absolute ton of information and thoughts into each chapter, yet the book reads very easily.
To Be Simple

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

45 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Scott Bunnell on March 19, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Writing a history of the future may seem provocative, or worse, downright nonsensical. What Schama has in fact done is to provide us with a strong indication of where America is likely to head in the future, based on the history of America's responses to its' challenges, now in our past.

The acknowledgement page in this edition is dated August 2008, shortly before the historic outcome of the presidential election in November was known. But the book opens in Des Moines, Iowa at 7:15 p.m. on January 3 with the caucus of Precinct 53 held at Theodore Roosevelt High. This was the exact time that Schama says he knew that "democracy came back from the dead."

A Professor of Art History and History at Columbia University, Schama is a British expatriot who has lived and taught in the United States for over thirty years. As a result of his origin and experience, combined with his masterful writing skills and insight, he might very well be described as a modern-day de Tocqueville. And, similar to Democracy in America, it is my distinct impression that this work was written first and foremost for Europeans, who may not be so well informed in American history. Although, even for an American and an American history buff such as myself, I found plenty that was new, or that was elucidated in a way that was completely new, to me.

The book is a collaborative effort with BBC television, which aired a four hour series in the UK in Autumn of 2008. And, actually, the DVD version was released in the U. S. on January 20. That series is well worth watching (and the subject of a separate review), but the book offers so much more.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Sirin on April 7, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Like the rest of the brilliant academics who have made a name through dazzling scholarship and cashed it in for big money TV series, Schama loses some of his intellectual synoptic brilliance by writing not, as implied by the title, a history of the USA that gives some indication as to how the future of the country might pan out, but a collection of stories that illuminate some of the ways in which the founding ideas of America have panned out over the past 3 centuries.

Schama pulled off the trick of combining book with TV series in his magesterial History of Britain. But Britain is a different type of historical beast - a deep, but relatively cohesive history with core substantive concepts - church, monarchy, parliament, around which the key shaping themes of British identity have developed. America has a much shorter, yet far more expansive history that encompasses a raft of themes. To name merely some: capitalism, power, clash of civilizations, a secular constitution in a Christian country, militarism without the corresponding desire for a global empire. It is impossible to do all these themes justice in a single volume that tells the history of America by drawing on stories from some of its architypal sons and daugthers - such as the steadfast General Montgomery Meigs, and, more recently, an Islamic American called Chuck who struggles with faith and identity in the post September 11 years.

The ideas in this book are clearly slung around the shooting schedule for the corresponding TV series. And the problem with this is what makes compelling TV doesn't necessarily yield crisp, rigorous historical analysis. Especially given the weight and range of themes Schama wrestles with here, like a 19th Century cowboy trying to marshall a stampede out on the long drive.
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22 of 28 people found the following review helpful By korova on May 30, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The 2008 Presidential election, despite all the hype about new themes and ideas, was really just a continuation of a few time-tested American themes. At least it was according to Simon Schama.

In The American Future, Schama examines what he views as the four main issues of the campaign: war, religion, immigration, and the environment. What makes this book different from most coverage of the election is that Schama attempts to embed these issues into the grand arc of American history. Schama does not use the outcome of the election as a starting point for extrapolating into the future. Instead, he places each of the four debates into its respective historical context.

To do this, Schama frequently moves between past and present, mixing stories about people he met throughout the US during 2008 (this book is a companion to a BBC television series that was shown on a few PBS stations recently) with research on historical figures, many of whom are somewhat obscure. So, in the section about war, for example, the history of a distinguished American military family, the Meigs, which spans close to 400 years, is interspersed with an exploration of how veterans in Texas view the current US campaign in Iraq.

What, then, is the point of all this? It's actually quite simple, even though the message is slightly hidden by the book's complicated structure. Schama, like most people in the US, has been affected by the national feelings of anxiety that began after the 9/11 attacks and reached new heights during the financial market implosion in 2008. He seeks to show that many of the things Americans are worried about, especially the big issues of the election, are really nothing new. The United States has faced these problems before.
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