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Waking Giant: America in the Age of Jackson (American History) Hardcover – September 30, 2008

4.2 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Bancroft Prize–winning historian Reynolds (Walt Whitman's America) offers a fine addition to the literature on pre–Civil War American history in this account of the years 1815–1848. Exhilarated after defying Britain in the War of 1812, Americans redirected their energy into moving west, making money and wiping out every trace of elitism in their leaders. This resulted, after four aristocratic Virginians and two scholarly Adamses as president, in the election in 1828 of the uneducated frontiersman Andrew Jackson, who launched the unique American tradition of leaders who boast that they are no smarter than the electorate. While the politics of the era are familiar to many, even knowledgeable readers will relish the chapters on social history, in which Reynolds explains how a rapidly growing economy spurred both prudishness and prostitution, and the enormous consumption of alcohol that spawned the temperance movement. Most, according to Reynolds, took for granted that anyone not like them (blacks, Indians, perhaps even Canadians) belonged to subhuman races. Although less opinionated than Sean Wilentz and Daniel Walker Howe on this period, Reynolds delivers a straightforward, insightful history of America during its bumptious adolescence. 44 b&w illus. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


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Shelf Awareness , Top Picks of the Year

“It’s Reynolds’s depiction of an exploding popular culture that makes Waking Giant an unmitigated delight. . . . An intellectual history and group portrait of America turning from a republic to a popular democracy during the Age of Jackson.” (Douglas Brinkley, The Washington Post Book World )

“Excellent. . . . Outstanding. . . . Expansive. . . . Jackson and his presidency figure large in Mr. Reynolds’ account.” (The Dallas Morning News )

“Offers a fine addition to the literature on pre-Civil War American history in this account of the years 1815-1848. . . Even knowledgable readers will relish the chapters on social history. . . . Reynolds delivers a straightforward, insightful history of America during its bumptious adolescence.” (Publishers Weekly )

“A remarkable synthesis, impressive on many levels. . . . Reynolds applies his vast erudition to a period too often treated as mere prelude to the country’s most destructive war. . . . Reynolds is most adept handling the period’s art and literature. . . .” (Kirkus Reviews (starred review) )

“Bancroft Prize winner Reynolds has produced a thorough chronicle of America from 1815 to 1848. . . . His book will appeal to general history buffs and American studies students. Highly recommended.” (Library Journal )

“Reynolds asks us to more carefully consider the brawling, chaotic, boisterous years from 1815 to 1848 as a fascinating age in its own right. In this he succeeds handsomely. . . . Engaging and insightful.” (Jay Winik, The New York Times Book Review )

“As David Reynolds shows in his astute and concise history of the period, Waking Giant, the times defined Jackson as much as he defined the times.” (Slate )

“Kaleidoscopic. . . . The result of Reynolds’ research is a happy mosaic of an era that may well be, just as the author suggests, the ‘richest’ in American history.” (The Wall Street Journal )

“An engaging new book. . . . Waking Giant is at its most entertaining when Reynolds sifts through the nonpolitical world, tracking the rise of abolitionists, feminists, utopians, union leaders, and more than a few crackpots.” (The Christian Science Monitor )

“A lively account. . . . Reynolds devotes close to half the text to an illuminating appreciation of the Jacksonian influence on literature and art, with shorter discussions on religion and popular fads.” (The Boston Globe )

“Excellent. . . . Outstanding. . . . Expansive. . . . Jackson and his presidency figure large in Reynolds’ account.” (The Philadelphia Inquirer )

“Reynolds writes history as entertainingly as anyone out there and Waking Giant is no exception.” (The Providence Journal )

“Mr. Reynolds brings this remarkable man to life. . . . A terrific introduction of succinct length to a period in our history that was once ignored, a period increasingly recognized as a time when the foundations of much of modern America were laid.” (John Steele Gordon, The New York Times )

“A really good volume of history provides the reader with a keen sense of perspective and a genuine appreciation of the past. This is exactly what David S. Reynolds does in Waking Giant: America in the Age of Jackson.” (BookPage )

Product Details

  • Series: American History
  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1 edition (September 30, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060826568
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060826567
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,127,145 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

David S. Reynolds, a Distinguished Professor at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, is the author or editor of 15 books, including "Mightier than the Sword: Uncle Tom's Cabin and the Battle for America," "Walt Whitman's America," "John Brown, Abolitionist," "Waking Giant: America in the Age of Jackson," "George Lippard," "Faith in Fiction," and "Beneath the American Renaissance." He is the winner of the Bancroft Prize, the Christian Gauss Award, the Ambassador Book Award, the Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award, and finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. He has been interviewed on shows including NPR's "Fresh Air," "Weekend Edition," and "The Diane Rehm Show," ABC's "The John Batchelor Show," and C-SPAN's "After Words," Brian Lamb's "Book Notes," and "Book TV." He is a regular contributor to "The New York Times Book Review" and is included in "Who's Who in America." David Reynolds was born in Providence, Rhode Island. He received the B.A. magna cum laude from Amherst College and the Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley. He has taught American literature and American Studies at Northwestern University, Barnard College, New York University, Rutgers University, Baruch College, the Sorbonne-Paris III, and, since 2006, at the CUNY Graduate Center. His wife, Suzanne Nalbantian, is a professor of comparative literature and is the author or editor of six books, including "Memory in Literature: From Rousseau to Neuroscience" and "The Memory Process: Neuroscientific and Humanistic Perspectives."

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By pj on October 12, 2008
Format: Hardcover
David Reynolds, whose "Beneath the American Renaissance" gave us a cultural tour of antebellum America, now gives us a wider look at the Jacksonian era. While his book provides a decent overview for the casual reader, it lacks much of a new argument for the dedicated student of the period.

The introduction offers the potentially interesting, although hardly groundbreaking thesis, that the Jacksonian era was one of the most culturally rich in American history, and that much of this richness can be found along the margins, among the promoters of fads, the crank preachers, the utopians, and the radical reformers. In the book, however, Reynolds shies away from exploring this line of thinking too fully. Instead we get a largely traditional history of the period, even in its assessment of Jacksonian Democracy as a largely unproblematic democratic movement. His chapters on politics contain little or no new information or interpretation.

Reynolds is not, by training, a historian, but rather a literary scholar. So it should come as no surprise that the strongest chapter in the book, not to mention the longest, is the one which deals with the literary and artistic accomplishments of the period. Glossing over some of his more complex arguments from "Beneath the American Renaissance" Reynolds gives us a good, concise, and informative, view of the works of the major literary figures of this period, and how they fit into the politics of the day. Overall, this is a good book for someone who knows little about the period, but a well informed reader would do better with works such as Sean Wilentz "Rise of American Democracy" or David Walker Howe's "What Hath God Wrought!"
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Format: Hardcover
David S. Reynolds provides a broad survey of the United States of America between 1815 and 1848, commonly referred to as the "Age of Jackson". After reaffirming its independence from England in the War of 1812, the United States emerged as a world power brimming with a cast of first-generation American politicians, soldiers, scientists, writers and artists. No hagiography, this book explores both triumphs and failures, both accomplishments and limitations of scores of both American legends and lesser-known significant figures.
In the beginning and end of the book, Reynolds covers the Presidential administrations of James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, and James Polk; he closes with the 1849 inauguration of Zachary Taylor. With the demise of the Federalists, the Democrat Monroe enjoyed the "Era Of Good Feelings", but national politics soon disintegrated into bitter partisanship between the Democrats and Whigs. Such enmity existed that Congress refused to provide appropriations for the 1840's White House, making President John Tyler pay his own heating bill. Modern parallels abound: Reynolds describes Senators "in the odd position of opposing the war (with Mexico) for political reasons while voting to fund it so as not to appear unpatriotic."
A key cultural flashpoint is the amplifying clash between abolitionists and slave-owners that would soon thereafter erupt into the Civil War. Another theme involves the young nation's embrace or rejection of mother country England through disparate arenas like political science, literature or theater. In the middle chapters, Reynolds also explores religion, medicine, scientific inventions, fine art, entertainment and fads of the era.
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Format: Hardcover
There have been many fine books on the era between the War of 1812 and the Civil War that was dominated by Andrew Jackson. From the Pulitzer Prize winning "The Age of Jackson" by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. (1945) to Robert Remini's three volume biography of Jackson (1977, 1981, 1984), the field have been dominant with political histories. Mr. Reynolds takes a different approach with politics taking a backseat to the cultural times of America. The literary, spiritual, theaterical, etc. are all covered in this history of how Americans lived. The political aspect is covered in a basic approach of an introduction while the celebrities, quacks, writers, and preachers take center stage. The writing is lively and interesting.
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Format: Hardcover
The author claims that "the years from 1815 through 1848 were arguably the richest in American life," in terms of "society, politics, and culture." Perhaps, but that notion is not especially defended, as the book is a sweeping overview of the era covering both politics and culture. It makes sense to choose those endpoints for an era. The War of 1812 finally extricated the US from the always looming presence of England and 1848 marks the culmination of the incessant drive to obtain all land to the west coast from CA to Oregon (now Washington).

Andrew Jackson was certainly the most significant and polarizing individual of the era, certainly among politicians. Though a man of means, it was his democratizing instincts, most notably his battles against the US Bank and his inclination towards states' rights, and his willingness to assert presidential powers, including no reluctance to issue vetoes, his Indian removal policies, and his terse put-down of South Carolina's Nullification Act, that generated vigorous opposition. The Whigs formed the other part of what is called the Second Party System starting in 1832. Somewhat aristocratic, they appealed to high-minded types who had a nationalistic agenda of tariffs, internal improvements, and a centralized banking system. They eschewed labels as a political party and abhorred what they considered to be the dictatorial nature of Jackson. Politics became far more a mass participation event in these times. It's doubtful whether the sloganeering of the 1840 presidential campaign involving Harrison versus Van Buren with the "Tippecanoe and Tyler too" theme has ever been surpassed.

Completely intertwined with the politics and culture of the era was the huge increase in the numbers of religious sects.
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