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Freedom Just Around the Corner: A New American History: 1585-1828 Hardcover – March 28, 2004

4.3 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Anyone aspiring to write a multivolume history of the U.S. reckons with illustrious predecessors, especially the histories of Daniel Boorstin and Richard Hofstadter (the latter never completed). But those histories were interpretive; they had a particular slant on the past. McDougall's is more explanatory. It provides up-to-date understanding of much that happened in our early history but without a sharply etched point of view. It's thus a bit like a textbook, struggling to keep readers' attention on all it packs in. Fortunately, in this regard it succeeds wonderfully well. Briskly written, deeply researched, fact-filled and satisfyingly wide in its coverage, it's mainly a history of the public attributes of the colonies and early nation—the ethnic and racial groups (including Native Americans), its states, religious denominations, political parties, wars and institutions. There's little social history here or the history of ideas and culture, little about subjects like women, gays, historical myths and memory. But no single history, not even in a projected three volumes, can cover everything. McDougall's particular strength is that he keeps individuals front and center: the work is alive with humans and their struggles and achievements. Pulitzer Prize–winner McDougall (for The Heavens and the Earth: A Political History of the Space Age) says at the start that his theme will be the conditions that made for Americans' world-known "hustling" behavior and mentality. Fortunately, he quickly drops this line. There's a better and more fitting word for people's desire to better their lot: ambition. That's what this book has in full measure. Maps not seen by PW.
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From Bookmarks Magazine

It might be unfashionable these days to embrace “American exceptionalism.” Yet that’s exactly what McDougall, a history professor at the University of Pennsylvania and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Heavens and the Earth: A Political History of the Space Age, has done, to great acclaim. In revealing “who and why we are what we are,” he has written an imaginative, evenhanded, and masterful history that shows the freedoms—and high costs—of our hustling nation. His impressive research covers all the major events of our first 200 years, plus some; he entertains with humorous, passionate writing. Only historian Foner—competitive, perhaps?—criticizes Freedom’s top-heavy approach and inadequate interpretations. The general consensus: Freedom is an important contribution not only to its field, but to all Americans.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 656 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1st edition (March 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060197897
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060197896
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #972,174 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Peter A. Greene VINE VOICE on June 26, 2005
Format: Paperback
Did we need one more history of the US? Even McDougall isn't so sure about that. But he manages to find a path that hasn't been beaten down.

Where the tendency of American historians has been to find One Big Peg on which to hang their histories, McDougall pitches a big tent and tries hard to fit everybody under it. He works hard to tell the whole story without trying to shape it to lead to a particular moral.

For example, McDougall's approach to America's Christian roots. He doesn't try to minimize them and pretend that they weren't really there or didn't really matter, but neither does he try to elevate them into a thesis about Americans being God's Chosen People. He acknowledges them and presents them thoroughly without trying to shape them to prove something.

If McDougall has a point of view, it is that of a mild cynic. His one thesis is that Americans have always been hustlers in both senses of the word-- hard workers and scammers. This gives the work a tendency to shy away from Big Deep Ideas and philosophical cant. Where many historians have tried to layer American history in fancy clothes (This cigar is really a symbol of the repressed oppression of growing economic anti-humanistic struggling), this book leaves the impression of a more direct view (This is a cigar).

Beyond that, most of his organizational tools are about analysis rather than interpretation. His language is relaxed, cleasr and sometimes even colloquial, and his reach is considerable. There's a great deal of information here, but explained and organized so that the reader comes away with a clear view of a large picture.

If I were a high school history teacher, I'd be begging for sets of this book to teach from. A great and clear read.
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Format: Hardcover
In his foreword, McDougall is candid about his own doubts about whether America needs yet another multi-volume set of tomes chronicling its history. As the existnece of this book indicates, McDougall answered his own doubts.
The book is built around the central thesis that "America is a nation of hustlers". McDougall's central insight proves to be fresh and interesting enough to carry subject matter that has (as the author admits) been covered many times before.
His sythesis of recent scholarship in the field of American History is top notch, and the notes alone make the book worth the cover price. Interested readers will find hundreds of jumping off points for further exploration in the field of merican history.
McDougall is cognizant of the diversity of "histories" which have multiplied in recent years. He includes citations to and summaries of gender and ethnic histories that demonstrate his familiarity with recent scholarship.
At the same time, he drops footnotes lauding Huntington (a historian favored by conservatives) and certainly doesn't shy away from the "great man" school of scholarship.
I especially enjoyed the treatment of the links between intellectual history in Britain in the pre-revolutinary era with the developments in America leading up to the revolution.
On the whole, this is a balanced, nuanced reading of American history and I anticipate the next chapter(this is projected to be a three volume set).
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Format: Hardcover
McDougall's new spin on Americans as a nation of hustlers is an interesting one. For some time I myself have struggled to find a definition of just what it is that makes Americans "American" and makes them so distinctive as a culture. Perhaps hustling is a large part of that recipe. Some may view it as cynical, but if it is true, it has clearly been a liberating characteristic that has served us well. Nowhere in the world is their such a large capacity for innovation and such a vitality.

Not that America doesn't have its fair share of contradictions and hypocrisies, as McDougall generously points out. No, this is no gilded history, with perfect Founding Fathers and benevolent leaders. It is a very honest history, that makes the reader reflect upon themselves and ask "Am I a hustler?"

It is a fun and entertaining read, but it assumes that the reader knows a little something about American and world history. Therefore, it is not a "History for Dummies". The only minor annoyance I have with the book is McDougall's liberal sprinkling throughout the text of Latin and French phrases with no translation. It is assumed that the reader can decipher these phrases, and they present themselves at critical times in the discussion, especially when McDougall is seeking to make a clinching or final point about an event or issue. Some of his most important points, therefore, might be "lost in translation" as the reader trys to figure out what the phrase means, but instead gives up and moves on. Personally, I've always thought that writers who use unfamiliar phrases and words are just showing off and acting superior (George F. Will comes to mind).
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Format: Hardcover
McDougall offers an account of the American experience distilled to its essance, our irresistable enterprising nature. Though we are a nation comprised of immigrants, he asserts that the prior legacies of new arrivals are quickly supplanted by the unleashing of human nature...to pursue that which is in our own self interest. That is what powers our drive for innovation, for progress, and above all profit.
It is refreshing to find a bold central thesis to such a sweeping historical account. This is not a textbook regurgitation of well worn historical fact. In this book you will enjoy an articuate perspective of the unique character of American ingenuity woven through a narrative of the major figures and milestones of our nation's history.
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