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. (The book was published in 2001 and a lot has happened since then, but recent trends seem to confirm that idea.) In a final section he discusses possible alternatives to chasing one idealistic conception after another.
I recommend this book on every level. Karabell's writing style is clear, concise and straightforward and his ideas strike me as original, well-reasoned and extensively researched. In my humble opinion the subject is important and helps to explain our collective schizophrenia.