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Tocqueville: Democracy in America (Library of America) Hardcover – February 9, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

It's hard to think of a work that has so influenced our understanding of the United States as this—still the most authoritative, reflective set of observations about American institutions and the American character ever written. That its author was a Frenchman, and an aristocrat at that, and that he was balanced and penetrating has often occasioned rueful surprise. However, de Tocqueville's distance from his subject is precisely what lends his observations such continuing currency. A few decades ago, for instance, we read Tocqueville for his prediction that Russia and the United States would one day contest for pre-eminence. Now, we ought to read him (Iraqis and Afghans should, too) for his classic analyses of the link between political parties and free associations and for his reflections on such matters as religion and public life, and "self-interest properly understood." But many solid translations exist. Why another? Because the Library of America would be incomplete without this canonical work of history and sociology. And this translation by Goldhammer, the dean of American translators from the French, accomplishes what it's hard to believe possible: it lends to this unalterably grave work some zest. Never slipping into slang, it gives a colloquial cast, fitting for our time, to a work normally rendered only with high solemnity. The Library of America claims that its editions will stay in print forever. This one's likely to stand that test.
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About the Author

Arthur Goldhammer is the award-winning translator of more than eighty French works in history, literature, art history, classical studies, philosophy, psychology, and social science. Olivier Zunz is Commonwealth Professor of History at the University of Virginia, and the author of numerous books including Why the American Century? He has also co-edited The Tocqueville Reader (Blackwell) and is president of the Tocqueville Society.

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Product Details

  • Series: Library of America (Book 147)
  • Hardcover: 928 pages
  • Publisher: Library of America; 1st edition (February 9, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1931082545
  • ISBN-13: 978-1931082549
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.2 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #36,828 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

152 of 158 people found the following review helpful By Jerry Saperstein HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 5, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Arthur Goldhammer's translation of Alexis de Tocqueville's classic study of the young United States is - if you'll forgive the word - gorgeous.
To read this is to feel that Tocqueville sits in the room with you. The language is modern and vibrant.
More importantly, the depth of his perception, his understanding of the changes wrought upon his world have never been rendered so clearly. There is no feeling of antiquity to these words: you sense the author's awe and admiration for the American experiment.
It would be a better nation if more thinking people read Tocqueville and I can think of no better translation than this one.
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56 of 57 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on April 4, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Deftly edited by Olivier Zunz (Commonwealth Professor of History, University of Virginia), Democracy In America 1835-40 presents the classic text written by Alexis de Tocqueville in a new English translation by Arthur Goldhammer that smoothly captures the sheen of Tocqueville's literary style while faithfully rendering the depth and scope of his ideas. Tocqueville was a Frenchman who visited the United States in 1831 for nine months, conducting interviews with more than 200 people on American politics, law, and social practices. His reflections on the "great democratic revolution" transforming the Western world are insightful, inspirational, and continue to offer a timeless depth from a seasoned perspective which has been appreciated by generations of historians, academics and scholars for almost 175 years now.
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40 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Nathan G. on August 3, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Tocqueville needs no introduction. Democracy in America is simply the best work American polity ever. Goldhammer's translation makes it better that it ever has been. The translation is eloquent and flowing, as Tocqueville's original French was.

This version is worth the extra money.
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48 of 50 people found the following review helpful By JMB1014 on July 15, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Tocqueville's classic study of America has become such a staple of the western canon that it is hard to believe it was written by a man in his late twenties and early thirties after only one visit of approximately nine months to the United States, from 1831-1832. The greatest part of that time was spent in three large eastern cities - on a mission that was to some extent pretextual, namely, examining American penal institutions. (Interestingly, it was also in 1831 that another youthful and well-born European, Charles Darwin, took to the sea and made of his observations from that journey the basis for a life's work, also attended by substantial renown.)

Tocqueville had a particularly useful background for such an undertaking: his father was a government official and an aristocrat. Tocqueville himself was trained as a lawyer. He also had a splendid intellect, a sensitive disposition, a knack for finding and interviewing people who would become important later on, and an aptitude for listening carefully and recording his impressions in detail. Moreover, he was - like Darwin - profoundly thoughtful when it came to analyzing and distilling the materials he collected, a process he underwent twice - once for each of the two volumes that comprise this work. It bears mention that he was highly ambitious, as befitted his lineage, and yearned for fame, which he obtained largely because of this book, as opposed to fortune, which he already had.

During a trip that led them to Ohio, Niagara Falls, Canada and New Orleans, Baltimore, New York, Philadelphia and Boston, as well as the nation's capital, Tocqueville and his friend Gustav de Beaumont encountered the travails of travel by wagon, stagecoach, canoe and steamboat, sometimes with hair-raising results.
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30 of 33 people found the following review helpful By James R. Maclean on September 10, 2006
Format: Hardcover
While I was delighted with Tocqueville's masterpiece per se, it's necessary to emphasize that this particular edition is superb. First, the translation is in good, fluid style; second, it is unabridged, which is essential; and third, because it included the notes and map. I have read abridged editions and found them uninteresting because the analytical digressions were cut off. Please don't be daunted by the great length of this edition; I found it a surprisingly fast read.

It's not terribly original to rave about the excellence of Tocqueville's work; even those who disagree with his worldview find his way of expressing it both stimulating and very useful for solidifying their own opinions. Tocqueville, moreover, is very good at using classical methods of dialectical philosophy to explain why one would expect certain conditions to prevail in the United States, given other circumstances that obtain.

Having just read much of the political philosophy of Plato, plus Bertrand Russell's criticism of it, I would say that a commonly-overlooked merit of Tocqueville's work--particularly Book I--is that it serves as a dialectic alternative to the Platonic tradition of political philosophy. Plato used an ingenious approach of leading questions and deductive responses to argue that society required a firm structure with permanent, ergo ultraconservative, institutions. The object was to preserve high-mindedness and public spiritedness, which for Plato and the great majority of Western political philosophers since him, meant a caste society with equality within each class. Both features, plus the absolute devotion to warfare and martial glory (on the part of the guardians) naturally militated against liberty.
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