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Rebirth of a Nation: The Making of Modern America, 1877-1920 (American History) Hardcover – June 9, 2009
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From Bookmarks Magazine
As he does in all of his acclaimed writings, Lears culls numerous sources to give a compelling, humane portrait of a cultural epoch. Rather than rehashing familiar tales, he brings acute judgment to the motivations of well-known figures like J. P. Morgan and William Jennings Bryan, while using their individual stories to illustrate the larger milieu. The Los Angeles Times saw Rebirth of a Nation as building directly upon Lears's previous books on antimodernism and advertising, in an ever-deepening examination of American culture. In fact, most critics appreciated that the author draws firm parallels between the time period in question and our own. There are a few nitpicks -- a fact-checking error here; a head-scratch about the relevance of an anecdote there -- but the reviews are resoundingly positive, and even a touch awestruck, at Lears's accomplishment.
“A remarkable book. . . . As Jackson Lears demonstrates again, he is one of the best of his (and my) generation of historians.” (David Nasaw, The American Prospect)
“Jackson Lears is one of the few pre-eminent historians of our time. As we dream for a rebirth of America in the age of Obama, this magnificent and magisterial book on the making of modern America could not be more timely. Don’t miss it!” (Cornel West)
“In Rebirth of a Nation, Jackson Lears, our most stimulating historian of American culture, outdoes himself, offering a stunning interpretive synthesis on politics, culture, and social upheaval in the pivotal half-century when ideals of regeneration assumed their modern shape, sometimes as imperial bombast, sometimes as designs for reform.” (Todd Gitlin)
“High-concept cultural history at its provocative best. Lears is a polymath and Big Thinker.” (American History)
“A fascinating cultural history. . . .A major work by a leading historian at the top of his game—at once engaging and tightly argued. Like the best histories, it is also a book that speaks to our own time.” (The New York Times Book Review)
“Jackson Lears is a formidable, compellingly original cultural and intellectual historian. . . . Rebirth of a Nation is Lears’ most ambitious work yet, and it builds brilliantly on his earlier projects. . . . Lears’ convincing new narrative of this pivotal half century never falters.” (Tim Rutten, The Los Angeles Times)
“Jackson Lears, America’s premier cultural historian, has written the smartest and most illuminating survey of this roaring, perplexing era since Richard Hofstadter’s The Age of Reform.” (Michael Kazin, author of A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan and professor of history, Georgetown University)
“Jackson Lears has become the historian of American yearning. . . . He excels at the miniature portrait, and his richly associative imagination enables him to make telling use of the Cecil B. De Mille-sized case he assembled for Rebirth of a Nation.” (Patricia O'Toole, The American Scholar)
“In this sweeping and charged history, Jackson Lears brilliantly evokes a defining era in American history. He recasts what we have blandly called the ‘Gilded Age,’ revealing a time of profound change, sharp conflict, and enduring consequence.” (Edward L. Ayers, University of Richmond)
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Top customer reviews
I do not recommend the Kindle edition due to several decisions of the publisher and the author.
The first problem is the author's decision to not enumerate his footnotes but simply to throw them all in a great lump at the end of the book.
To find any one reference, it is necessary to go throw that lump looking for the first and last word of the passage and hope that you see it.
Even divided up by chapter, this makes the footnotes tedious in any format but especially so on the Kindle.
Secondly, there is the decision by the publisher not to format the index for the Kindle but to suggest instead that you just use the Kindle's search function to look up the "searchable terms". Doesn't really work for phrases like "disenfranchisement of African-Americans".
The Kindle version is paginated except, for some reason, the conclusion.
Finally, this book has some nice illustrations which are hard to see on the paperwhite.
Overall, if this is a book you want to learn from and put to scholarly use, by all means buy the paperback.
As for the book itself, I found it oddly disappointing. I am a big fan of Lear's previous book, No Place of Grace, and was looking forward to this one. I agree with many of his interpretations of the period but I found the book to be repetitive, over-reaching and idiosyncratic. Careful perusal of the footnotes indicates that much of his interpretation is based on secondary sources instead of original research. I am okay with that but I think that Lears is capable of really good original research and is good at locating quite useful original sources.
For example, toward the end of this book, he discusses a novel of Colonel House's, Phillip Dru, which Lear discusses to good effect. I also find many of his insights (even if drawn from the secondary literature) to be illuminating. For example, Lear's various discussions of the tensions with the Progressive movement between its local versus it national manifestations or between "populism vs. expertise, producerism vs. consumerism, statutory vs. administrative regulation" (p. 309).
Lear is also careful to keep before us the various peoples who paid the price for standing between us and our manifest destiny, e.g., the Plains tribes, African-Americans, Cubans, Mexicans and all the 'dark Others' (Lear's phrase) that we climbed over on our way to civilizing the world.
I guess my complaint has to do with what I see as Lear's over emphasis on the cultural aspects of the period and an under-development of the economic aspects.
Finally, his Bibliographical Note is worth a deep dive for Lear's appreciative discussion of his sources.
Overall, a pretty good book but not one that should be read in conjunction with others on the period.
This is history that has not been glossed over. The research that was done is admirable and business leaders, politicians and day to day life of
the everyday citizens come to life as "real humanity" rather than the usual pumped up super heroes.
There's no disputing the vices of American society Lears explores and ridicules, but to focus on them so exclusively distorts history. Its hard for me to sympathize with the kind of thinking that leads Lears to praise 'profound' poetry by Henry Adams which equates dynamos with self worship and infertility (The Dynamo and the Virgin).
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However, I am finding the writing to be inaccessible.Read more