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Ark of the Liberties: America and the World Hardcover – June 24, 2008

3.1 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

From the colonial period through our current age, Widmer traces the legacy of American liberty with all its respect, contradictions and misapplications. His narrative explains the significance of the U.S.'s fall from international popularity in the last decade. Widmer's admiration for his country doesn't prevent him from recognizing its faults and, at times, the country's inability to hold true to the ark of liberty set forth in the national narrative. Widmer's writing is wonderfully nuanced, extrapolating large ideas and themes from the smallest of actions and symbols. William Hughes's narration doesn't do the book justice. His delivery lacks that subtlety, specificity and energy that Widmer's impressive and witty text needs. A Hill & Wang hardcover (reviewed online). (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.


“In this exploration of the United States’ promotion of liberty across the globe, Ted Widmer offers an examination of our history that should influence the way we think about our place in the twenti-first-century world. At a time when we need to restore America’s standing in so many places, Ark of the Liberties shows us how we can do it if we remain true to our historic ideals.” —Bill Clinton
“Ted Widmer wants to restore idealism’s good name. In the spirit of an old-fashioned jeremiad, he summons his countrymen to return to their own highest standards and properly play their anointed role in the world.” —David M. Kennedy, The Washington Post
“Widmer has written an ambitious account of the enduring global reach of America, whose uniqueness he attributes to the millennial outlook of the Europeans who first settled here.” —The New York Times Book Review, Editors’ Choice
“Widmer’s book is both a primer and a call to faith of sorts—a historically cast reminder.” —Art Winslow, The Los Angeles Times
“[A] valuable history of the ideas that have shaped American foreign policy.” —Chris Tucker, The Dallas Morning News
“A bold, sweeping, critical, ultimately admiring and optimistic (but cautionary) birthday card to America.” —Doug Riggs, The Providence Journal
“Fed up with a never-ending war and the state of the union? This fascinating story of America’s epic rise to freedom and world power might renew your patriotism.” —The Chicago Tribune
“A sweeping, elegant history of the ideas that shape American foreign policy. And no idea has influenced America’s understanding of its role in the world as decisively as the concept of liberty. Widmer meticulously traces the contradictions, triumphs, and betrayals of liberty that have unfolded across the centuries of the American experience.”—Evan R. Goldstein, The Chronicle of Higher Education
“This is a wonderful and much-needed book. It will give even the most hardened cynic reason for renewed hope in America’s future.” —Nathaniel Philbrick, author of Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War
“A taut and timely account of America’s search for its place in the world. Ted Widmer probes both our exalted national rhetoric and our occasionally odd international behavior; the result is a wise analysis of America’s evolution from the nation where liberty dwells to the one that shows up—sometimes—where it does not.” —Stacy Schiff
Ark of the Liberties should be read by all who want to understand why the United States behaves as it does in the world.” —Gordon Wood, Brown University
“With great skill, eloquence, and frequent humor, Widmer has written the history of America for all of us who care about our country and the direction we must take in the years ahead to be true to our ideals and regain the respect we have lost in today’s world.” —Ted Kennedy

“Finally, someone has sent out a brilliant team called Ted Widmer—an historian, a cartographer, a rocker-poet composer, a White House speechwriter, and one damn good storyteller—to capture the many ways that we Americans have franchised our new nation: as idea, ideal, and pure product of a land where liberty can be hard to come by. What an affectionate, optimistic, and irreverent WPA Guide to every era of an astonishingly global America.” —David Michaelis, author of Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography

“In Ark of the Liberties, Ted Widmer retrieves the history of our country’s profound contributions to human freedom, without once falling prey to pieties or bromides. Widmer’s ark actually describes a great moral arc that, despite its manifest failures and contradictions, has finally, in Theodore Parker’s phrase, bent toward justice. Effortlessly combining grand interpretation with reappraisals of key figures and events, Widmer’s account is unfailingly fascinating—and could not be more timely.” —Sean Wilentz, Princeton University, author of The Age of Reagan: A History, 1974-2008

“With boldness and humor, Widmer grapples with an idea central to our nation’s history, while providing a number of fresh insights into U.S. foreign policy and presidencies along the way. While the philosophical problem of universals is probably irresolvable, Widmer asks the right question at each stage of his history: What, exactly, do we mean by liberty?” —The Innocent Smith Journal


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Hill and Wang; First edition/First Printing edition (June 24, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809027356
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809027354
  • Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 1.3 x 8.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,516,784 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This book is a delicious series of essays documenting America's relation to and impact on the concept of liberty, beginning with the earliest days of colonialization. Widmer has assembled an unprecedented collection of material, selecting the most provocative and telling events in the history of our self-assigned role as liberty's hero. A treat for those prone to despair in these benighted - but, as Widmer shows, not unprecedented - times.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The text is interesting and well written but very uneven in subject matter. The last chapter on the Clinton administration was unnecessary.
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Format: Hardcover
Let's face it. We Americans have a pretty sad track record when it comes to
knowing much about our nation's history, and understanding how our history
shapes our current lives and futures. With the United States now having more
interaction than ever with the rest of the world, it is even more critical
for each of us to gain knowledge of our past, and especially in the area of
foreign relations.

This book offers a timely and highly readable portrait of a fascinating part
of America's story: how the country was shaped from earliest moments to
become "the world's guarantor of liberty," and how it has variously grappled
with and cultivated that role in different eras.

The author is informed and entertaining. He sweeps readers through five
centuries of colorful, often uplifting, sometimes disturbing aspects of
America's unique qualities, beginning well before colonization and moving
through to the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I'm one of those Americans who is sheepishly ignorant of a lot of the
standard US history we're meant to have learned in high school or college. I
was worried that this book would assume that I already knew the basics, and
that it would contain too much about specialized foreign policy matters to
hold my interest. But I enjoyed Ark of the Liberties as an overview of
American history through the framing subject of liberty. It turns out that
even pre-colonial aspects of America are shaped by ancient ideas and images,
such as the Garden of Eden, are associated with freedom from rules. The book
explains how freedom became part of America's identity even before it
existed as a nation.
Read more ›
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By JRB on December 4, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Many authors have looked at America, liberty and her relationship with the world, but Widmer does it with a unique intensity and wealth of knowledge and references. Not to mention that it is beautifully written. Even if you are steeped in American history, there is something to be learned on every page.
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