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A Visionary Nation: Four Centuries of American Dreams and What Lies Ahead Paperback – June 18, 2002

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Amazon.com Review

By writing A Visionary Nation, Zachary Karabell has moved from the modestly narrow to the breathtakingly broad. His previous book, The Last Campaign, focused on the 1948 presidential election; this new one offers a grand, unified theory of all American history. Karabell proposes that the United States has experienced five complete historical cycles, all of them linked by varying forms of utopian dreaming. "Running through the currents of our history is a presumption that it is possible to have it all. And not just that a few people can have it all, but that all of us can have it all." The current manifestation of this pattern--the sixth cycle--is the New Economy of technological transformation, and it won't last forever. It will pass away like all the other cycles before it, from the Puritan vision for a City on a Hill (the first cycle) to the New Deal and Great Society eras of government activism in the 20th century (the fifth cycle). "Heady images of a perfect future quickly turn to dark pictures of a society going down the drain," writes Karabell. "A new stage forms, and the pattern begins again."

This is, to say the least, an ambitious thesis--and yet Karabell is a good enough writer to make it worthwhile for history buffs intrigued by his notion, even if they are not ready to endorse it. (In many ways, A Visionary Nation is a competent history of what America thinks of itself.) The book takes an interesting turn toward speculation when Karabell proposes his own vision for what the inevitably forthcoming seventh cycle will hold: "The utopian vision of connectedness will dream of a society in which people focus on their own emotional growth with the same fervor, sophistication, and intensity that they now focus on enhancing the New Economy." In fundamental ways, the spirituality and communitarianism Karabell foresees in the seventh stage will be a direct response to the materialism he sees in the sixth one. If this all sounds zany, don't bother with A Visionary Nation. But readers attracted to this idea--plus fans of Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.'s The Cycles of American History and William Strauss and Neil Howe's Generations--ought to find it fascinating. --John Miller --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

"The magical fusion of the Web, the computer, and the stock market is a unique product of our cultural moment; the presence of visionaries who believe that they are fundamentally transforming culture is not," writes Zachary Karabell (The Last Campaign: How Harry Truman Won the 1948 Election) in A Visionary Nation: Four Centuries of American Dreams and What Lies Ahead. He traces the visionary drive behind U.S. evolution from the Puritans' city on a hill to, to westward expansion and Carnegie's "Gospel of Wealth"; governmental growth precipitated by Teddy Roosevelt and realized under the New Deal; and the 1990s New Economy. Lastly, Karabell predicts three possible global scenarios: more people will make more money until "the rewards will be diffused throughout society"; the stock market will collapse, with all the attendant losses; or "the New Economy doesn't collapse but also doesn't fulfill its incredible promise." Perceptive, edgy and articulate, Karabell embodies the voice and perspective (tempered by considerable historical research) of millions of 20- and 30-something intellectuals and professionals.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Perennial ed. edition (June 15, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060084421
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060084424
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,938,394 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By G. Andrews on October 14, 2009
I bought A VISIONARY NATION after hearing Mr. Karabell express investment opinions on tv. His was a world view, not a narrow Wall Street trader's view and when I googled him I found that he had written several books on history & political science.

From the preface:
"The United States is a visionary nation. Americans believe in the promise of a better world. Unlike other societies, the United States has no shared ethnicity, no common religion, no sense of historical heritage. Instead, there is an idea. Running through the currents of our history is a presumption that it is possible to have it all...."

The book summarizes Karabell's interpretation of the succession of utopian visions we have followed and then abandoned when they failed to provide us with all the contradictory things we desired, e.g. money AND happiness, independence AND community, etc. The Religion of the early Puritans gave way to Individualism and freedom in the Revolutionary period. After separation from England a vision of national Unity took hold, solidified by the Civil War. But that didn't provide everyone with everything and so the idea of economic and geographical Expansion evolved to provide opportunity for all. This was the era of the robber barons and opportunity went mainly to the few. It was also a messy period and led to the vision of Government as regulator of industry and protector of the people.

We have entered the stage of disenchantment with the ability of government to solve all problems and are presently looking to the Market and the Internet to bring us wealth and happiness. This also is unlikely to bring us spiritual fulfillment or to improve the lot of the majority, so another idea will eventually evolve. Karabell theorizes that this will be Connectedness.
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