From Publishers Weekly
In the latest installment in the Oxford History of the United States series, historian Howe, professor emeritus at Oxford University and UCLA (The Political Culture of the American Whigs
), stylishly narrates a crucial period in U.S. history—a time of territorial growth, religious revival, booming industrialization, a recalibrating of American democracy and the rise of nationalist sentiment. Smaller but no less important stories run through the account: New York's gradual emancipation of slaves; the growth of higher education; the rise of the temperance movement (all classes, even ministers, imbibed heavily, Howe says). Howe also charts developments in literature, focusing not just on Thoreau and Poe but on such forgotten writers as William Gilmore Simms of South Carolina, who helped create the romantic image of the Old South, but whose proslavery views eventually brought his work into disrepute. Howe dodges some of the shibboleths of historical literature, for example, refusing to describe these decades as representing a market revolution because a market economy already existed in 18th-century America. Supported by engaging prose, Howe's achievement will surely be seen as one of the most outstanding syntheses of U.S. history published this decade. 30 photos, 6 maps. (Sept.)
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Both academics and lay readers praised What Hath God Wrought
, but they appreciated it for different reasons. It is certainly an exhaustively researched and well-written historical surveyexactly what a volume in the Oxford History Series ought to be. American historians admired its elegant synthesis but also understood that Howe is attempting to lead his readers and colleagues away from the strictly economic explanations that have often dominated writing on this period. Historian Jill Lepore, for example, thought that the change in perspective helps Howe subtly explain many aspects of the period, such as the womens rights movement. Only historian Glenn C. Altschuler believed that Howe has some "axioms to grind" in his reworking of so-called Jacksonian Democracy. Howes approach also brings nonacademic readers back into the conversation, though at over 900 pages, the book is probably best suited for history buffs.Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.