- Hardcover: 384 pages
- Publisher: Harvard University Press; First Edition edition (January 30, 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 067401510X
- ISBN-13: 978-0674015104
- Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.2 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 15 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,349,850 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Born Losers: A History of Failure in America First Edition Edition
Use the Amazon App to scan ISBNs and compare prices.
Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) is a service we offer sellers that lets them store their products in Amazon's fulfillment centers, and we directly pack, ship, and provide customer service for these products. Something we hope you'll especially enjoy: FBA items qualify for FREE Shipping and Amazon Prime.
If you're a seller, Fulfillment by Amazon can help you increase your sales. We invite you to learn more about Fulfillment by Amazon .
"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
Customers who bought this item also bought
Customers who viewed this item also viewed
What other items do customers buy after viewing this item?
From Publishers Weekly
It's a most familiar refrain of American life: work hard and prosper. That the dream of triumphant prosperity so consistently and perplexingly eludes so many, despite heroic effort and toil, is, alas, also familiar. Hardly surprising, argues Carnegie Mellon historian Sandage: it turns out that Americans are much less Andrew Carnegie and more Willy Loman. Why? In the early days of the republic, Protestant predestination and the uniquely democratic promise of reward based on a meritocracy of effort and talent unleashed the dynamic but often unfocused energies of untold numbers of self-styled frontier entrepreneurs. By the 19th century, the myth of the self-made man had become a test of identity and self-worth. A few succeeded beyond their wildest expectations but, says Sandage, most Americans faced unexpected and heartbreaking ruin. Sandage has done an admirable job of culling diaries and letters to tell their stories. Most compelling are the "begging letters" written by women to outstanding capitalists on behalf of their ruined husbands. Regrettably, these individual snapshots fail to cohere into a fully comprehensive portrait of the personal and social psychology of failure. That failure diminished a man is hardly revelatory, nor does it constitute the level of specific historical analysis one expects. 30 b&w photos; 30 b&w illus.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Americans do not like to talk about failure. It is the underside of an American dream that stresses winning over losing, succeeding over succumbing. But not everyone makes it and the story of failure has a history that Scott Sandage probes with subtlety and grace in this impressive work of cultural history. Born Losers is deeply researched, carefully argued, and well written. His examination of commercial failure and the problems of identity goes a long way toward reconfiguring our understanding of the American dream.
--Louis P. Masur, author of 1831: Year of Eclipse
Born Losers is a beautiful piece of writing. Scott Sandage is history's Dickens; his bleak house, the late nineteenth century world of almost anonymous American men who failed. With wit and sympathy, Sandage illuminates the grey world of credit evaluation, a little studied smothering arm of capitalism. This is history as it should be, a work of art exploring the social cost of our past.
--William S. McFeely, author of Grant: a Biography
Here is a feast of historical insight, personal narrative, and literary panache. With his focus on the making of economic failure, Sandage enables us to see and understand 19th century America in an entirely new, provocatively sober way... A fascinating book.
--Michael Kazin, author of The Populist Persuasion: An American History
I found Born Losers a confirmation of an old belief that in American history there is a crash in every generation sufficient to mark us with a kind of congenital fear of failure. This is a bright light on a buried strain in the evolution of the United States.
In this book about the cultural ramifications of economic failure in nineteenth-century America, Sandage has taken on an important and underexamined subject and scrutinized it in inventive ways, using unexpected and largely unmined sources.
--Benjamin Schwarz (The Atlantic 2005-01-01)
Born Losers, admirably concise and formidably researched, is the history of America's reverse Horatio Algers. Scott A. Sandage, an associate professor of history at Carnegie Mellon University, logged a decade in the library to produce what amounts to an authoritative chronicle of the risks of lending and borrowing in 19th century America (although the book ranges well into the 20th).
--James Grant (Wall Street Journal 2005-01-21)
By examining the lives and careers of a number of businessmen who failed during the 19th century, [Sandage] portrays what we reflexively think of as the darker side of the American dream but what is, in reality, an only slightly exaggerated mirror of the reality with which ordinary people--i.e., thee and me--are fated to contend...For the most part Born Losers is readable, interesting and thoroughly researched...We understand the human side of failure far more keenly than we did a couple of centuries ago, but we still fear it and still believe--against all the evidence--that somehow we can and will escape it.
--Jonathan Yardley (Washington Post 2005-01-30)
In Scott Sandage's provocative new study, Born Losers, the Carnegie Mellon University professor notes that not long ago, 'loser' meant only that a person had lost money or a house. It described an event; it didn't declare a person completely worthless. His study examines how we came to make that change, how we internalized it and enshrined it in our culture...Sandage has mined a dark, rich vein, and, as in his deeply felt epilogue, he can write with great compassion.
--Jerome Weeks (Dallas Morning News 2005-03-14)
The book presents a convincing argument and is winningly alive to literary parallels--success may be the grand theme of American history, but failures, from Bartleby through Gatsby to Willy Loman, dominate its literature.
--Robert Hanks (Daily Telegraph 2005-03-19)
[A] densely packed history of capitalism's dark side...Sandage's history of another America that paved the way for this one is instructive and fascinating.
--Bob Hoover (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 2005-02-06)
Top customer reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
Sandage collections numerous historical accounts that demonstrate how every generation of Americans has experienced the same feeling of being caught in a game they can't win. The enormous number of lives wasted and destroyed chasing after "success" is quite depressing. One would hope we could learn something from the past. This book can be a start.
But this is a colorful, even rollicking at times book, anything but programmatic or dry. One chapter, for example, deals with the literary genre of begging letters sent to John D. Rockefeller. I was stimulated and entertained. This may be a book I'll want to reread at some point.
Sandage's greatest strength lies in his usage of primary source documents and the many stories and examples they provide his book. They, large in number, not only give creditability to the story, but they raise interest so that the book is enjoyable to read. It is an illuminating and fun look at something that is normally depressing in nature--failure and stigma placed on personal identity. It is obvious by the number of sources used and documented that Sandage has put a great deal of research into the book. In the sense that it is well researched and documented, it is a reputable piece of scholarship for something paid little attention to. Sandage also suitably links the identity of failure to today by tracing how ideas and perceptions formed into what modern people think and feel. There is a clear connection between past and present, which gives the book modern day relevancy.
I would have liked, though, a section to provide a less narrow focus. Perhaps not for the whole book, because the subject itself makes it necessary to focus on specifics, but a chapter to help place failure within the larger scheme of things. While Sandage provides a great number of failure stories, his success stories are few and far between such that it is hard to get a grasp of whether failure was as prevalent and powerful as made to seem suggested by primary source evidence and first hand accounts. It is impossible to tell from the book if failure, while still being a serious issue of self identity and crisis, was a small percentage as compared to relative successes. The evidence given begs the question: would the government have acted faster to aid those in need if failure was truly so prevalent? The answer is: I don't know. Nevertheless, the question and answer could have been addressed to further illuminate the culture of failure and its political ramifications. It would have also helped to frame the larger scope of American life and identity to pay more attention to the successes and contributions of women, the poor, and laborers. While not as numerous or as devastating as riches to rags middle class male business failure/success stories, as culture defined these things, it would still serve to paint a more complete image of the situation experienced by all of America, not just business men. This would also include black men and a more in depth look at how failure and success came to define them during the Antebellum and Reconstruction years.
Sandage does not try to define, "what is failure?" That is not the point of the book or his reasons for writing it. The book is about how failure was perceived and how it came to define people and their worth. Failure is simply what it is: a lack of success. Born Losers was written to tell the other side of America in an age of trumped success and unlimited possibility.
Sandage is not only a great historian, but an excellent storyteller. There is no droning of dry, fact-by fact history here. Sandage paints a picture that reads as easily and fun as a novel, even more entertaining because he is speaking of something real and relevant. There is a lot of humor in the story, but none done out of disrespect. The book, while funny and fun, stays respectful to the people involved. You will definitely feel like you got something out of this book by the time you put it down, whether it be from the vast knowledge or the pure entertainment value. We all love to laugh at tragedy, after all, especially when it is not our own.