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Tocqueville: Democracy in America (Library of America) Hardcover – February 9, 2004

4.6 out of 5 stars 228 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

It's hard to think of a work that has so influenced our understanding of the United States as this—still the most authoritative, reflective set of observations about American institutions and the American character ever written. That its author was a Frenchman, and an aristocrat at that, and that he was balanced and penetrating has often occasioned rueful surprise. However, de Tocqueville's distance from his subject is precisely what lends his observations such continuing currency. A few decades ago, for instance, we read Tocqueville for his prediction that Russia and the United States would one day contest for pre-eminence. Now, we ought to read him (Iraqis and Afghans should, too) for his classic analyses of the link between political parties and free associations and for his reflections on such matters as religion and public life, and "self-interest properly understood." But many solid translations exist. Why another? Because the Library of America would be incomplete without this canonical work of history and sociology. And this translation by Goldhammer, the dean of American translators from the French, accomplishes what it's hard to believe possible: it lends to this unalterably grave work some zest. Never slipping into slang, it gives a colloquial cast, fitting for our time, to a work normally rendered only with high solemnity. The Library of America claims that its editions will stay in print forever. This one's likely to stand that test.
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Review

"Tocqueville enjoys a unique position in the history of literature and thought: a philosopher also notable as a literary stylist, he is the only Frenchman who can claim to be part of the American canon as well as the French."

Tocqueville enjoys a unique position in the history of literature and thought: a philosopher also notable as a literary stylist, he is the only Frenchman who can claim to be part of the American canon as well as the French. (Arthur Goldhammer, translator)

aTocqueville enjoys a unique position in the history of literature and thought: a philosopher also notable as a literary stylist, he is the only Frenchman who can claim to be part of the American canon as well as the French.a (Arthur Goldhammer, translator)

?Tocqueville enjoys a unique position in the history of literature and thought: a philosopher also notable as a literary stylist, he is the only Frenchman who can claim to be part of the American canon as well as the French.? (Arthur Goldhammer, translator)
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Product Details

  • Series: Library of America (Book 147)
  • Hardcover: 928 pages
  • Publisher: Library of America; 1st edition (February 9, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1931082545
  • ISBN-13: 978-1931082549
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 1.2 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (228 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #30,146 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jerry Saperstein HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 5, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Arthur Goldhammer's translation of Alexis de Tocqueville's classic study of the young United States is - if you'll forgive the word - gorgeous.
To read this is to feel that Tocqueville sits in the room with you. The language is modern and vibrant.
More importantly, the depth of his perception, his understanding of the changes wrought upon his world have never been rendered so clearly. There is no feeling of antiquity to these words: you sense the author's awe and admiration for the American experiment.
It would be a better nation if more thinking people read Tocqueville and I can think of no better translation than this one.
Jerry
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It has been said that this is the best book about the US and the best book about democracy. Having just read it, I can say it is even more. Tocqueville reflects not only on the US or on democracy, but his comparative approach sheds light on the Europe of his times and before, on the nature of aristocracy and the inevitable democratic revolution which was on its way across the civilized world. Tocqueville was a realistic aristocrat, sometimes nostalgic for the "greatness" of yesterday, but bearing no illusions whatsoever about the feasibility of stopping democratic change. So, he sets to find out what is it about democracy that can work, and what its inherent risks are. And he decides to tour the grandest democratic experiment ever attempted by Man: the United States.
What Tocqueville finds is a unique nation. Unlike most other nascent states in history, the English who moved to America found a huge land, practically devoid of people (and in those cases where it was inhabited, they were easily killed), where everybody could be a landowner. This, plus the particular ethics of the Puritans, the glorifiaction of hard work, thrift and virtuosity, provided for a prosperous, practical people (not necessarily tolerant, especially in religious affairs). Far away from kings and emperors, Americans developed a communal democracy. So far so good, Tocquevill really admires the basic qualities of the US.
But this book is not a long eulogy of democracy. Tocqueville admits democracy is the best way to govern a modern society, but that does not mean he thinks it's perfect or endlessly beneficial. Democracy DOES poses risks: among others, the tyranny of the majority, the mediocrity towards which it impels mores; the loneliness of the individual, lost amidst an endless, faceless crowd.
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Format: Hardcover
Deftly edited by Olivier Zunz (Commonwealth Professor of History, University of Virginia), Democracy In America 1835-40 presents the classic text written by Alexis de Tocqueville in a new English translation by Arthur Goldhammer that smoothly captures the sheen of Tocqueville's literary style while faithfully rendering the depth and scope of his ideas. Tocqueville was a Frenchman who visited the United States in 1831 for nine months, conducting interviews with more than 200 people on American politics, law, and social practices. His reflections on the "great democratic revolution" transforming the Western world are insightful, inspirational, and continue to offer a timeless depth from a seasoned perspective which has been appreciated by generations of historians, academics and scholars for almost 175 years now.
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Format: Hardcover
Tocqueville needs no introduction. Democracy in America is simply the best work American polity ever. Goldhammer's translation makes it better that it ever has been. The translation is eloquent and flowing, as Tocqueville's original French was.

This version is worth the extra money.
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Format: Hardcover
Tocqueville's classic study of America has become such a staple of the western canon that it is hard to believe it was written by a man in his late twenties and early thirties after only one visit of approximately nine months to the United States, from 1831-1832. The greatest part of that time was spent in three large eastern cities - on a mission that was to some extent pretextual, namely, examining American penal institutions. (Interestingly, it was also in 1831 that another youthful and well-born European, Charles Darwin, took to the sea and made of his observations from that journey the basis for a life's work, also attended by substantial renown.)

Tocqueville had a particularly useful background for such an undertaking: his father was a government official and an aristocrat. Tocqueville himself was trained as a lawyer. He also had a splendid intellect, a sensitive disposition, a knack for finding and interviewing people who would become important later on, and an aptitude for listening carefully and recording his impressions in detail. Moreover, he was - like Darwin - profoundly thoughtful when it came to analyzing and distilling the materials he collected, a process he underwent twice - once for each of the two volumes that comprise this work. It bears mention that he was highly ambitious, as befitted his lineage, and yearned for fame, which he obtained largely because of this book, as opposed to fortune, which he already had.

During a trip that led them to Ohio, Niagara Falls, Canada and New Orleans, Baltimore, New York, Philadelphia and Boston, as well as the nation's capital, Tocqueville and his friend Gustav de Beaumont encountered the travails of travel by wagon, stagecoach, canoe and steamboat, sometimes with hair-raising results.
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