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Seizing Destiny: How America Grew from Sea to Shining Sea
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From Publishers Weekly
In an admirable and important addition to his distinguished oeuvre, Pulitzer Prize–winner Kluger (Ashes to Ashes, a history of the tobacco wars) focuses on the darker side of America's rapid expansion westward. He begins with European settlement of the so-called New World, explaining that Britain's successful colonization depended not so much on conquest of or friendship with the Indians, but on encouraging emigration. Kluger then fruitfully situates the American Revolution as part of the story of expansion: the Founding Fathers based their bid for independence on assertions about the expanse of American virgin earth and after the war that very land became the new country's main economic resource. The heart of the book, not surprisingly, covers the 19th century, lingering in detail over such well-known episodes as the Louisiana Purchase and William Seward's acquisition of Alaska. The final chapter looks at expansion in the 20th century. Kluger provocatively suggests that, compared with western European powers, the United States engaged in relatively little global colonization, because the closing of the western frontier sated America's expansionist hunger. Each chapter of this long, absorbing book is rewarding as Kluger meets the high standard set by his earlier work. 10 maps. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From Bookmarks Magazine
In Seizing Destiny, Richard Kluger, author of the Supreme Court study Simple Justice (1977) and Ashes to Ashes (1997), a Pulitzer Prize-winning look at the tobacco industry, takes as his subject America's expansion "from sea to shining sea." Critics are generally positive in their assessment of the book, and applaud Kluger's willingness to deal with the less-heroic details of American expansion. Some, however, question the author's thesis and its execution. That the motives for land acquisition were not as pure as earlier generations were led to believe is now orthodoxy, and Kluger's argument tends to reiterate this once-revisionist history. Still, the author's voluminous research and intricate analysis of the important events are sound, and his presentation is engaging.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.
Top customer reviews
A word about the Kindle edition: It fails to search-and-find across chapters, or even within chapters. The maps do not show. And there's no index. So if you own the hardcopy, you may want to keep it for the sake of the maps and index.
Best of all, his perspective is that of a disinterested party - not the chauvinistic pap that we all had to endure in public school text books. This is not to say that he has written a preachy screed from the Howard Zinn school of victim-history. His assessments are witty and yet balanced. There are no cartoonish heros or villains here, just complex people working for their own ends.
Do yourself a favor and expand the "All editorial reviews". You will find therein not only very favorable comments from Joseph Ellis, David Kennedy, Dan Carter and others, but also a brief snippet from the book.
If you are a jingoistic "super-patriot" of the Lynne Cheney/William Bennett school, beware! This book may let too much light in.
Most schoolchildren can name the defining moments in establishing our national borders; the Revolutionary War, the Louisiana Purchase, the Seminole Wars, Texas Independence, the Mexican War, the Gadsden Purchase, the Alaska Purchase, and the Spanish-American War of 1898. Kluger assessed these milestone events with his own overview of each, plus a few others that don't necessarily roll off the tongue: the Anglo-American Treaties of 1818 and 1846, and the Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819.
There were some really good stories about the 18th century United States that you don't hear often, particularly three about how the earliest states - aside from the original thirteen colonies - .were formed: 1) Vermont statehood, from the Wentworth Grants to the Green Mountain Boys, 2) Tennessee statehood, featuring the first governor John Sevier, and 3) the Yazoo Plungers, who opened up the Mississippi Territory.
There are also some good stories about the men who negotiated treaties for America. Over the years, I've walked into John Jay College on 10th Avenue (and 58th Street) and seen the big picture of the school's namesake in the lobby. Never had I realized his role in negotiating the Treaty of Paris that concluded the Revolutionary War. Robert Livingston, Nicholas Trist, and James Gadsden were three others who made significant contributions in negotiating the Louisiana Purchase, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, and the Gadsden Purchase, respectively.
Some other reviewers have discussed the author's penchant for making modern Americans feel guilty and remorseful for the faults of past generations. I also have no desire to feel guilty about the past misdeeds of our forefathers. Yet, the warnings helped prepare me for the way the author told his story, and thus, mitigated the impact of these admonitions.
For example, our nation's treatment toward Native Americans (who weren't actually natives, but migrants from Asia) was more of a knee-jerk reaction than anything else. They are self-described warrior cultures, who use `mourning wars' to replenish their members, and torture as a way of life. Their history of picking allies rivals that of Cub fans: Indians sided with the French in the Seven Years War, and sided with the British in the Revolutionary War and War of 1812. Their atrocities, and their wars, inspired our reaction.
Nor did I feel too badly about The Mexican War, which Lincoln and Grant both called unjust. Spain didn't have more than a foot in the door in California and New Mexico, with little inclination to use the land. Mexico chose to do little with these lands as well, and they lost Texas through their own negligence.
Overall, his opinions are a small part of the book, which is a wonderful account of the expansion of America. It really is a top notch educational piece that was as fun to read as its author's views were to curse.
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