Customer Review

Reviewed in the United States on May 19, 2018
Brands has written another very readable book. American Colossus is an overview of the industrialization and "capitalization" of America between the Civil War and Teddy Roosevelt's term in office.

By design a sketch book, Brands does a good job of introducing major personalities like Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, Morgan, Carnegie, Gould and Fisk and their economic dynamism that built and defined the industrial age. In addition to the industries the above represented, Brands discusses the growth of the cattle ranching and other economic sectors that changed our lifestyles and continue to inform the American way of living. This book examines the age within which industrial capitalism grew and flourished and Brand delves into the South and its oppression of freedmen, the Indian Wars, immigration, foreign adventurism, and the Chicago World's fair. Federal politics also are covered with a focus on the intersection of government and economics.

Brands seems to present the era as a struggle between capitalism and democracy, which is the William Jennings Bryan view of the period. I think that's too simplistic. The period saw what had been a libertarian polity struggling with how to legislate and regulate a new era in which most people ceased to be small owners (farmers) and instead were hirelings without productive assets to call their own (save their labor). It could also be presented as an era in which government began to accommodate the demands of large numbers of voters who favored the practical (intervention to protect their wage rates as a class, regulation of common carriers) over the ideal (constitutionally protected property rights). This struggle continues to this day and it's birth is witnessed in Brand's work.

This big book is a lively series of sketches that are tied together by the economic transformation that swept our country during the Gilded Age. While of necessity not a detailed study of any one topic covered, it defines and weaves together the chapters into a satisfying whole.
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