- Series: Oxford History of the United States (Book 4)
- Hardcover: 800 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (October 28, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0195039149
- ISBN-13: 978-0195039146
- Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 2.4 x 6.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 166 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #123,017 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815 (Oxford History of the United States) Hardcover – October 28, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. A new addition to the Oxford History of the United States, Wood's superb book brings together much of what historians now know about the first quarter-century of the nation's history under the Constitution. Acknowledged as the leading historian of the period, Wood brings authority and easy style to a tough task—wrestling into order a period of unusual anxiety, confusion, crisis and unbridled growth in the nation's affairs. The emergence of democracy and individualism is his overarching theme. No surprise there, for he's the author of a celebrated work (The Radicalism of the American Revolution) on just that topic. In this new work, he concentrates more on events, institutions, politics and diplomacy than in his earlier books yet proves himself a master of these topics, too. He offers no newfangled approaches, no strongly stated positions, no contests with other historians. Instead, we get the distillation of a lifetime's study and reflection about the era between Washington's presidency and the end of the War of 1812. A triumph of the historian's art, Wood's book will not soon be supplanted. No one interested in the era should miss it. 40 b&w illus., maps. (Oct.)
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"An important book that needs to be read. Take the time."--Washington Times
"A bold, intelligent, and thoroughly engaging interpretation of the period from the birth of the republic to the emergence of a mass democratic society in the early part of the 19th century... Gordon Wood has written an immensely important book that deserves a wide readership among scholars and anyone interested in American history. The book will certainly influence how future historians write about the triumphs and tragedies of the early republic."--The Providence Journal-Bulletin
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That said, there are several reasons I would only give this volume 3 stars.
The book is structured as a series of essays on topics. So for instance, a chapter (essay) on the evolution of Amerian law is followed by a chapter (essay) on Chief Justice Marshall. A reader can't help wondering if the two topics could be covered at once. Because of this structure, almost every chapter until the last few is constantly reviewing the entire period. Over and over again, the book swings through a period of 50 years or more. The essay structure is further exacerbated since many of the chapters are structured as multiple essays. The chapter on religion for instance has a separate essay on millenial beliefs.
Overall while the essay structure might be interesting for many readers on particular topics, it leads the book to be a tough read. And it also makes it difficult to get a feel of the overall chronology of the period. Even more distracting for me, this essay structure leads the book to often be a list of examples. Take the millenial essay, it is essentially a list of millenial proponents and statements during the period. OK, but this doesn't place these people in context or give one a feel for how they fit overall in the period.
EoL is a great book. (It probably is warranted 5 stars compared to the mass of history books.) But as part of the Oxford series, I would expect it to be better written.
Lastly, I have mourned before the move away from bibliographical notes and essays that we see in many of today's historical writing. Notes and citations at the bottom of each page and the back of the book can be helpful but are often distracting; they break up the flow of the narrative for me. For people who enjoy a book like this and want to read more about any of the main ideas discussed in the book, a bibliographical essay is of great use. Professor Wood's bibliography is outstanding. It is a treasure trove of significant works that amateur historians like me can use to seek more writing on specific subjects that happen to be well-regarded by historians like Professor Wood (up to 2009). It was one of my favorite parts of the work.