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Understanding America: The Anatomy of an Exceptional Nation Hardcover – April 8, 2008

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"New York Times," June 1, 2008"If the candidates want an authoritative up-to-date portrait of the vast, complex and endlessly fascinating country they hope to lead, this is the book for them."

About the Author

Peter H. Schuck is the Simeon E. Baldwin Professor of Law at Yale Law School. He is the author of many books, including Targeting in Social Problems.
James Q.Wilson, a former president of the American Political Science Association, was for twenty-six years the Shattuck Professor of Government at Harvard and then for twelve years the Collins Professor of Management and Public Policy at UCLA.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 704 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs; 1 edition (April 8, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 158648561X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586485610
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.5 x 2.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,213,654 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Sutirtha Bagchi on June 15, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I recently finished reading "Understanding America: The Anatomy of an Exceptional Nation" and I liked it immensely. Let me mention the few aspects of the book that I enjoyed:

1) It is very comprehensive covering a wide plethora of issues which any serious student of America would be interested in. In total there are 21 different chapters, with each of the first 20 chapters dealing with different facets of life such as immigration, demographics, religion, the economy, etc. For someone wanting to read a single book to get a better and deeper understanding of America as a country, this is it.

2) I am glad that Dr. Wilson and Dr. Wilson, the editors of the book, stayed away from the urge of trying to author such a work on their own. By not doing so and having eminent scholars contribute their perspectives, we, as readers, have been able to glean insights from the leading experts in their fields and get glimpses of research across a variety of academic disciplines which no individual person could have possibly reviewed on his/ her own.

3) In part because of this (though not exclusively), the essays are generally extremely balanced and present both sides of the same issue.

4) Last but not the least, I am glad to note that neither Dr. Wilson nor Dr. Schuck abdicated their editorial responsibilities. Reading through the book, I get the distinct feeling that someone had actually taken the pains of reading through the entire manuscript and ensuring that facts and stats repeated in different sections of the text were consistent with each other.
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22 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Myles Kesten on July 5, 2009
Format: Paperback
I am just finishing Understanding America. I found the essays uneven and strangely out of date. Let me start off with a few quibbles.

For one thing, there is no essay on communications and the Internet. How can one possibly understand America over the past 30 years without talking about Silicon Valley, the Internet, or mobile communications? Do all these guys come from Princeton, or something?

For another, the essay on the economy makes little mention of business, of the catastrophic de-industrialization of America, and the importance of WAL-MART. Benjamin Friedman puts me to sleep at the best of times, but his essay in this collection is truly one for the ages...or the ageless, take your choice. He rambled through the various Federal agencies that were supposed to protect investors, consumers, and the public, but didn't seem to find fault with any of them. For a good discussion of just how crappy these agencies are I highly recommend "The Trillion Dollar Meltdown: Easy Money, High Rollers, and the Great Credit Crash," by Charles R. Morris.

There is a splendid discussion of the drug culture, but nothing mentioned about America's gambling culture, Las Vegas, and the obsession with Wall Street.

No inclusive book about America today, I think, should omit the frequent abuses of executive power I have seen in my lifetime. Whether Nixon's abuses, or Dick Cheney's complicity in the policy of torturing "detainees" at Guantanamo Bay, or Clinton's behaviour with subordinates. Not to mention the litany of sexual scandals by members of Congress, Governors, you name it. Without this stuff, Meet the Press" just doesn't make any sense at all.

The first half of the book barely kept me awake.
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20 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Roger Peter Marec on May 10, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Super book... a collaborative undertaking by a brilliant panel... not to offer policy... but to assign a condition to America in different areas... and then compare these areas to the European nations and other democracies. Basically all domestic areas are covered, but not foreign affairs.
This is a refreshing look at our country. It will rekindle the hope we all share for this countries future. Hopefully it will also help reshape America's image in the world. There are only two countries where the image of America has increased: India and Russia.
The results of this huge study show that America is indeed quite unique amongst its democratic brethren. 75% of us have pride in our country, vs. 33% of the French, German, Italian or Japanese. 66% of us believe that success is of our own effort, vs. only 1/3 of Europeans. Over 50% of us believe that economic competition is good, vs. 1/3 of the French and Spaniards. 60% of us believe that children should be taught the value of hard work, while only 20% of Germans feel that way. There are many fascinating comparisons to ponder in this large book.
There are seven themes that are offered that show the areas where America is exceptional.
First is our culture of patriotism, religiosity, individualism and enterprise.
Second is our constitutionalism, with our emphasis on decentralization, individual rights over social rights, and suspicion of government.
Third is our economy which is very competitive, decentralized, and one that offers a higher standard of living.
Fourth is our diversity through immigration since our nation's inception. An interesting fact is that in New York City during 1790, there were more languages spoken than there are today.
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