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The Americas: A Hemispheric History (Modern Library Chronicles) Reprint Edition

9 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0812975543
ISBN-10: 0812975545
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

For generations after European explorers discovered the New World, the Americas were seen as "one big place"; to speak about America was to speak about the whole hemisphere, says Fernández-Armesto. It wasn't until the Revolutionary War that today's North, South and Central America became separate, unequal regions in the eyes of history and the world. Historian Fernández-Armesto (Millenium: A History of the Last Thousand Years) makes a case here for a revival of the "unitary vision," arguing that only with a Pan-American perspective can we understand why the paths of the American states have diverged (with the Latin states struggling while the U.S. and Canada enjoy prosperity and political stability), and what there is to be done about it. In seven concise chapters, he moves from the first humans in the region to the present day, contending that the Americas changed "the world's image, evolutionary trajectory, revolutionary course, and the self-perception of humankind," as well as shifted the world's economic balance. He explodes stereotypes about the first and third worlds, proffering strong arguments that common colonial and revolutionary experiences made the Americas more similar than different for centuries. The writing is sprightly and erudite, not overly concerned with explaining established historical theories (Fernández-Armesto assumes that readers' knowledge of the nuances of history has grown since reading school textbooks). It is not until the end of the work, when he takes on an anti-U.S. tone (the country's citizens are "cloyingly gregarious...boringly conformist"; rather than being champions of the individual they are cogs in the community wheel) that the work starts to lose its power. But the author's final urging of a mutually respectful, balanced hemisphere justifies the book's fast-paced journey through time in consideration of our shared history.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

North and South America have in common their discovery by Europeans as one of the most significant events in human history as well as being the stage for the rise of the world's most powerful nation-state. Succinctly developing such embracing theses, historian Fernandez-Armesto ranges over a vast expanse of territory and time to touch on seemingly everything conjured by the phrases Anglo- or Hispano-America. A rigorous generalizing is necessarily involved, but the author successfully notes and often pronounces on debates and fashions among historians that seep into popular or media discourse. Indian rights, the course of slavery, political volatility, and the economic distance Canada and the U.S. put between themselves and the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries are a few of the subjects addressed. Libraries would do well to add this title as well as the author's other characteristically readable histories, such as Civilizations (2001). Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Series: Modern Library Chronicles (Book 13)
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Modern Library; Reprint edition (January 17, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812975545
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812975543
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #693,429 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Ricky Hunter on May 18, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Pop history has few better writers than Felipe Fernandez-Armesto and he proves it again with the new addition to the always wonderful Modern Library Chronicles series, The Americas (A Hemispheric History). It is, in essence, a comparative essay showing how the idea of one America became the concept, through time, of two Americas. He does not use any trite triumphalist thinking in writing about America and one of the most fascinating aspects of the book is the author's demonstration that the similarities between the two continents, as opposed to their usually endlessly discussed differences, are numerous and essential in understanding their histories. This book is a refreshing look at the "New World" in a more global perspective. His examples, particularly from South America, are refreshing and insightful. The writing is a pure pleasure. A wonderful new book from a great series.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By P. Berard on March 10, 2006
Format: Hardcover
As the author says at the end of the book, this study of the full hemisphere - what is has in common and what trends set North and South apart - is quite new.

It is a refreshing read, one which gives a good perspective and questions rightfully the current cliche about North ever-lasting superiority vs South. The first half of the book is quite educating in its history of the South domination over the North and its causes. You get to look at the whole American continent from a brand new perspective.

The author also thinks that North domination will not last and that the Americas may someday be a more homogeneous group of countries.

Overall, I found all the theories in the book interesting and the historical background extremely educating. And the book is very short, so that's a profitable reading.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Mani Tadayon on February 10, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book presents the history of the Americas in an interesting perspective, but it lacks depth and refinement. All in all, it would have been far better as a long article than as a short book. The reader should already be familiar with US and European history, or else this book will be very confusing.

My knowledge of the Americas was typically unbalanced. I knew much about US history but next to nothing about Canadian or Latin American history. Therefore, this book's approach was very thought-provoking, putting the familiar story of America's rise in broader context.

This book attempts to look at the big picture, and in my view, fails. The interesting details are what made this book valuable. The author excels in collecting a diverse assortment of interesting knowledge: architecture in Brazil, genocide in Tierra del Fuego, Catholicism in Latin America, etc. He does little with this assortment besides debunking various straw-man arguments.

To understand the big picture in history is no easy feat. Fernand Braudel was the master of this. Indeed, I suspect "The Americas" was inspired by Braudel's chapter on "America" in his masterly (though somewhat dated) A History of Civilizations. Braudel's genius was not in amassing detailed lists, but in making sense of civilizations in their entirety. Fernandez-Armesto is smart enough to collect a vast, eclectic storehouse of knowledge, but has not succeeded here in digesting that knowledge into wise insight.

Anyone interested in big-picture history done right should look to OUP's
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Format: Paperback
This little gem of a book purports to be a history of the whole Western Hemisphere and I think it succeeds admirably. It looks at the differences and similarities within the Americas as a whole.There are many interesting bits in this book not least of which is the shift of power, from south to north during the colonial era. It is something very interesting if you look at it, as Mexico for instance, has been occupied by Europeans since 1519 and the U.S. since 1607, yet the U.S. gained independence a lot earlier (1776) and Mexico (1810) way later. In the last chapter of the book, Fernandez- Armesto runs through some of the common (wrong) reasons for Latin American stagnation in the face of U.S. economic growth and political stability. Needless to say, I really enjoyed this book and recommend it to those interested in U.S., hemispheric, and world history.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By hmf22 on December 22, 2010
Format: Paperback
In a short, lively, engaging book, historian Felipe Fernandez-Armesto raises two important questions: Why do we now conceive of the Americas as two distinct cultural and political regions, "America" (meaning the United States and Canada) and "Latin America," when for centuries most people envisioned "America" as a single entity? And why did Latin America, the more prominent American region throughout the colonial era, slip into the background as the United States rose to the status of world power in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries? Inevitably, in a book that runs just over 200 pages, Fernandez-Armesto addresses these questions in bold and impressionistic strokes. I agree with another reviewer who noted that the book is most accessible to readers who already know a good deal about the topic.

While I find Fernandez-Armesto's telegraphic style excusable, the personal digressions and eccentric theories of the later chapters are somewhat jarring. Some passages are amusing: "I am a Catholic, so . . . It would comfort me to believe that capitalism and imperialism are peculiarly Protestant vices" (193). Others lead one to wonder where Fernandez-Armesto got his information: "Mainstream America lives in small towns, where almost everyone knows almost everyone else" (196)--in fact, the United States has been predominantly urban since c. 1920. Still other passages made me wonder if Fernandez-Armesto fully realized what he was implying. For example, he praises Uruguay for being "more progressive than Switzerland, for most of the twentieth century, in women's rights, labor laws, welfare provision, and economic regulation" (184-185).
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