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Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States Hardcover – April 17, 2012

4.2 out of 5 stars 49 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


The book is rich with details…among the joys of Lind’s book are small, little-known stories like the one about the Wright brothers that have clear relevance today. (New York Times Book Review)

“[An] illuminating new book…” (David Brooks, New York Times)

From the Back Cover

From one of America’s leading intellectuals comes a sweeping and original work of economic history, recounting the epic story of America’s rise to become the world’s dominant economy.

In Land of Promise, bestselling author Michael Lind provides a groundbreaking account of how a weak collection of former British colonies became an industrial, financial, and military colossus. From the eighteenth to the twenty-first centuries, the American economy has been transformed by wave after wave of emerging technology: the steam engine, electricity, the internal combustion engine, computer technology. Yet technology-driven change leads to growing misalignment between an innovative economy and anachronistic legal and political structures until the gap is closed by the modernization of America's institutions—often amid upheavals such as the Civil War and Reconstruction and the Great Depression and World War II.

Against the dramatic backdrop of shattering tides of change, Land of Promise portrays the struggles and achievements of inventors like Thomas Edison and Samuel Morse; entrepreneurs like Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs; financiers like J. P. Morgan; visionary political leaders like Henry Clay and Franklin Roosevelt; and dynamic policy makers like Alexander Hamilton and Vannevar Bush. Larger-than-life figures such as these share the stage with the ordinary Americans who built a superpower, from midwestern farmers, southern slaves, and the immigrants who created canals and railroads to the sisters of Rosie the Riveter, whose labor in factories during World War II helped to end Hitler's dream of world domination.

When the U.S. economy has flourished, Lind argues, government and business, labor and universities, have worked together as partners in a never-ending project of economic nation building. As the United States struggles to emerge from the Great Recession, Land of Promise demonstrates that Americans, since the earliest days of the republic, have reinvented the American economy—and have the power to do so again.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; First Edition edition (April 17, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061834807
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061834806
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #758,433 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Hans G. Despain on May 10, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Overall I very much enjoyed reading Lind's book. My main complaint is he is overly technologically deterministic. Thus, I do have a squabble with what Lind believes drives history, but I do not have any squabble with his primary argument, i.e. the historical emergence of contradictions and inconsistencies between social institutions, on one the hand, and regulations, laws and legislations of social protection on the other.

The book sets out to demonstrate that Henry Ford was wrong to declare: "History is more or less bunk" (p. 17). Lind argues that history is crucial for understanding United States today. Lind follows Joseph Schumpeter in arguing that there have been three major technological transformations in U.S. history (p. 5). According to Lind each technological transformation has changed the republic itself. The initial American republic was preindustrial, but quickly gave way to the first industrial revolution founded on water and steam power, fueled by cotton production (pp. 81 - 186). The second industrial revolution ushered in the third American "republic" and was driven by the automobile, electricity and mass communication (pp. 187 - 392). The third industrial revolution occurred with the emergence of information technology (pp. 393ff), and seems to be ushering in a transformation toward a fourth republic.

The essence of Lind's book is that eras of technological change correspond to eras of political change with respect to regulations, laws and political institutions. However, whereas Schumpeter argued that technological change happens abruptly, Lind emphasizes changes in regulations, laws, and institutions do not! Instead, regulations, laws, and institutions lag behind the technological change for several decades, manifesting social crises (p. 453).
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Format: Hardcover
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, which I received as a fathers' day present. Lind's narrative style is compact and muscular-- a fortunate thing for a review of 200 years of historical dvelopment.

I was mystified by the reviews on this site. According to the third review, it would appear that the book is a disjointed series of "facts" and "historical anecdote" without any connective tissue of philosophical argument or overarching theme. This could not be further from the truth. The first reviewer, although appreciating, misses the significance of the larger theme: the real divide in American history is not between liberals and conservatives, business and government, but between Hamiltonians and Jeffersonians. The second reviewer identifies this crucial element but doesn't give a potential reader a good idea of the context of Lind's work.

Lind's book is an extended argument against the tea party, and against such "conservative" histories of American economic development that downplay the role of government and ingore the role of the ideology of national development that animated both statesmen and entrepreneurs in the 19th century. It is also a spirited defense of the New Deal against such critics as Amity Schlaes.

Lind's heros are Alexander Hamilton, Henry Clay, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. His villains are the heirs of the Jeffersonian agrarian critique of Hamilton's strategy for national economic development. These include Andrew Jackson, the leaders of the Southern Confederacy and much of the "Conservative" movement since the 1960s. This last group he blames for the "Great Dismantling" (of the post-New Deal industrial state) that has occurred over the last thirty years.
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8 Comments 52 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Cochran's & Miller's THE AGE OF ENTERPRISE: A SOCIAL HISTORY OF INDUSTRIAL AMERICA is good. Bruchey's ENTERPRISE: THE DYNAMIC ECONOMY OF A FREE PEOPLE is even better. Michael Lind's LAND OF PROMISES: AN ECONOMIC HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES is the best I have ever read. Mr. Lind, a prolific writer on history and politics, has crafted a multi-tiered, boldly opinionated account of America's economic progression that flows with uncommon cohesion.

He frames his history with a Jeffersonian-Hamiltonian counterpoint and the three stages of American republics: 1) the American revolution and its aftermath, shaped by the industrial revolution, and the steam engine; 2)the Civil War and Reconstruction, strongly impacted by electricity, automobiles, and science-based chemical industries; and 3)the Third American Republic, marking the impact of computers and globalization. He speculates whether the global economic crisis of 2008 might lead to the evolution of a fourth American Republic in the coming generation.

Mr. Lind's broad economic canvas is enriched by a Pointillism that includes illustrative sidebars reminiscent of Daniel Boorstein's THE DISCOVERERS. These weave the achievements of individuals into an overarching narrative that feels effortless and convincing. His extraordinary research produces many gems including the fact that John Pierpont Morgan was "an adulterer who supported Anthony Comstock's Society for the Suppression of Vice" and Samuel Clemens' letter in which he explains why he doesn't want anyone to know that he was using a Remington typewriter.

Mr. Lind repeatedly contrasts what is occurring in America during diverse periods with what is transpiring in other countries as well as in current-day America.
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