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The Imperial Season: America's Capital in the Time of the First Ambassadors, 1893-1918 Hardcover – November 12, 2013

4.4 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

KIRKUS REVIEWS

White House History editor Seale (The Garden Club of America's One Hundred Years of a Growing Legacy, 2013, etc.) takes the reader on a tour through the nation's corridors of power during the decades when Washington, D.C., emerged as a truly world capital.

The author has written extensively about the White House and many other historical American buildings. Here, he weaves together separate narrative threads about international affairs, diplomatic and political history, culture, architecture and city building. His starting point is April 11, 1893, the day that British ambassador Sir Julian Pauncefote presented his credentials to President Grover Cleveland. The upgrade from minister plenipotentiary to ambassador meant the U.S. president would henceforth be recognized as a head of state like others. “Quietly, symbolically,” writes Seale, “the White House ceremony marked the beginning of a new age for the mighty North American democracy.” The author traces the changes that flowed from such a development, while introducing the people who made it all possible. The U.S. moved to assert its new position and prepared to establish its global power in partnership and competition with the U.K. and against the Spanish. Men like Alvey Adee, a long-serving official in the State Department, John Hay, Lincoln's former private secretary, and historian and journalist Henry Adams formed a circle of friendship, which helped the change. Meanwhile, the nation's architects believed America's new global position merited the reassessment of questions of the design of the capitol building and the kinds of architectural themes that would dominate public building. Officials dusted off Pierre Charles L'Enfant's original designs and had marble from Vermont and elsewhere shipped into the capital to build Union Station, the Smithsonian Institution and many other iconic structures. The capital's social life and fashions were transformed accordingly.

A well-polished, lustrous piece of American history.

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

"In "The Imperial Season: America's Capital in the Time of the First Ambassadors, 1893-1918," William Seale takes us on an urban safari into Washington's first gilded age, from the 1890s to World War I, when "world power, if yet untested, presented a wholly new context for the United States," turning the poky, dusty city into an aspiring rival to the capitals of Europe. Mr. Seale's wise and witty exploration of an earlier era's intersection of power and pretension comes at an apt time, as surging wealth, breakneck gentrification and cultural renascence are today once again transforming the nation's capital. "  Fergus M. Bordewich

About the Author

WILLIAM SEALE is a historian and the author of The White House: History of an American Idea and several other books on state capitals, courthouses, and historic restoration. He is the editor of White House History, the journal of the White House Historical Association.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Smithsonian Books (November 12, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 158834391X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1588343918
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #650,349 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This well written book focuses on the personalities in Washington DC at the time the United States was becoming a world power. The story starts when Britain opened an embassy, sending an ambassador to Washington in 1893; previously there was only a legation. It goes through the first world war. While the key events and key players of the time are covered, such as McKinley and Roosevelt and the Spanish American War, the book also focuses on what the lesser known players, such as Ohioan Mark Hanna, the man behind the scenes for President McKinley, were up to, which gives it an unusual flavor in a history book. Evolving architecture, including the creation of the Capital Mall, is also addressed. If you are already generally familiar with the history of this period, reading this book will add to your knowledge.
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Seale is the recognized authority on the history of the White House (see his two-volume history in its second edition from Johns Hopkins University Press). Here, he broadens his approach to cover the period from the naming of Britain's ambassador (the first with that rank to be assigned to Washington) in 1893 to the end of World War I. Melding social and diplomatic history with the physical development and redesign of the city after 1901, this is a fascinating and delightful read offering considerable insight and cogent analysis of the foibles of the rich and [self] important, not all of them politicians, either.
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Format: Hardcover
"The Imperial Season" is a diplomatic, architectural, social history of Washington DC in the period of 1893-1918. Seale skillfully weaves a number of separate stories into a coherent account that seeks to capture the spirit of a bygone age. The rise of Washington as a city of international significance serves as the backdrop for the book's focus on the state department's handling of the United States' first ambassadors. The increasing presence of foreign dignitaries in the capital spawned an elaborate social scene in the parlors of newly built mansions along Massachusetts Avenue. Seale describes this culture in detail based on his review of participants' diaries and writings.

I highly recommend this book to those interested in early diplomatic history. Seale provides an intriguing account of international relations during the Spanish-American War and World War I. The book will also appeal to readers interested in the history of Washington DC. The city underwent lasting changes during this period and the drivers of that change are profiled here. All in all, Seale covers so many topics in just 221 pages that most readers will not be equally engaged throughout, but the book as a whole is nonetheless an impressive achievement and well worth a read.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A nice social, architectural, and diplomatic history covering an often overlooked period of time in our nation's capital, the quarter century from 1893 to the entry of the United States into the first world war.

Readers interested in the development of Washington and why somethings are as they are today, such as Union Station, will enjoy this book by the knowledgeable William Seale.

Many fascinating characters populate Mr. Seale's story. For further reading on one, John Hay, I recommend John Taliaferro's 2013 book entitled "All the Great Prizes."
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
An announcement placed in the society pages that "Mrs. X will be at home Thursdays from 2 to 4". Adult daughters (after their debut but before their marriage) dressing up and calling on the lady of the house for fifteen minutes of polite conversation. Calling cards dog-eared if the lady was not at home when you called, or delivered by a coachman if you knew in advance she would not be home. Either one being logged and counted as a call. (Reminds me of the old Facebook poke!) If you like this kind of detail, you will love this book. The architecture of the city of Washington, D.C. during this period is also covered in depth, and there is a fair amount of geopolitical history told through the stories of the politicians and diplomats.
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This book is really two in one. The social world in Washington from the late 19th century to the end of World War I is one story. The second story, less interesting, is the battle waged by varying forces for the updating and reconstruction of Washington. The story of the wealthy who move into the city for the "season" along with the diplomats they encounter makes this book an interesting read.
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The book captures both the architecture and Washington society at a time when America became a world power. It was an interesting period. The book is well researched and well written.
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