America, Empire of Liberty: A New History of the United States

America, Empire of Liberty: A New History of the United States

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by David Reynolds
     
 

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It was Thomas Jefferson who envisioned the United States as a great “empire of liberty.” This paradoxical phrase may be the key to the American saga: How could the anti-empire of 1776 became the world’s greatest superpower? And how did the country that offered unmatched liberty nevertheless found its prosperity on slavery and the dispossession of

Overview

It was Thomas Jefferson who envisioned the United States as a great “empire of liberty.” This paradoxical phrase may be the key to the American saga: How could the anti-empire of 1776 became the world’s greatest superpower? And how did the country that offered unmatched liberty nevertheless found its prosperity on slavery and the dispossession of Native Americans?

In this new single-volume history spanning the entire course of US history—from 1776 through the election of Barack Obama—prize-winning historian David Reynolds explains how tensions between empire and liberty have often been resolved by faith—both the evangelical Protestantism that has energized American politics for centuries and the larger faith in American righteousness that has driven the country’s expansion.

Written with verve and insight, Empire of Liberty brilliantly depicts America in all of its many contradictions.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In an animated overview up to the present time, Cambridge historian Reynolds (In Command of History) captures the sprawling chronicle of a nation forged from the fires of revolution, populated by immigrants and constantly evolving politically and culturally. Reynolds constructs his story around the “richly, sometimes fatally ambiguous” themes of empire, liberty and faith in the nation's development. The American colonists who overthrew an imperial government themselves created an empire based on manifest destiny and removal of Native Americans to reservations. As for liberty, Reynolds reminds us that it was built on the backs of black slaves, but white Americans were free from the intrusion of the federal government in their personal lives until the New Deal, which dramatically changed the nature of American liberty. The development of religious denominations in America contributed moral fervor to many progressive causes, such as temperance, and animated America in the cold war and George W. Bush's “war on terror.” Reynolds draws on letters and other documents from ordinary Americans to show the uneasy relationship among empire, liberty and faith. Most readers will find Reynolds's epic overview provocative and enjoyable. 3 maps. (Nov.)
Kirkus Reviews
A concise and still-inclusive history of America-from Cahokia to the 2008 presidential election-by accomplished British historian Reynolds (International History/Cambridge Univ.; Summits: Six Meetings that Shaped the Twentieth Century, 2007, etc.). The author, an evident admirer of the cohesiveness of America's vast, multicultural experiment, shapes this teeming history around three themes: empire, liberty and faith. He uses empire not in terms of possessing an empire-in the sense of Old World imperialist powers Britain and France battling for supremacy while the United States prided itself from its founding as an "anti-empire"-but based on Thomas Jefferson's use of "empire of liberty," wherein the opening up of the American continent invited a free movement of peoples under a strong federal government. Jefferson's detailed "template" for Western acquisitions allowed territories to be gradually incorporated into the union, essentially creating an empire, but neutralized under the strictures of the Founding Fathers and protected by what became known as the Monroe Doctrine. The migration west invited economic opportunity, a melting pot of religious and cultural heritages and a "new style of mass politics" that tested the strength of the federal government, especially in terms of slave-holding versus free states. Reynolds looks at the enduring "redemptive impulse" of evangelical Protestantism throughout America's history, and how this crusader mentality infiltrated politics, for better (Martin Luther King Jr.'s mission) or worse (Reagan's "evil empire"). Within this complex history-"rarely simple, often messy, and sometimes appalling; yet also full of surprises, frequently epic, and onoccasion wonderfully uplifting"-the author inserts human-interest stories, diary entries and speech excerpts. Though the final portion of the narrative feels rushed, Reynolds does as fine, fair job of covering the civil-rights struggles of blacks, women and Native Americans. An evenhanded distillation of America's story from a singular outside observer.
From the Publisher

Publishers Weekly
“In an animated overview up to the present time, Cambridge historian Reynolds (In Command of History) captures the sprawling chronicle of a nation forged from the fires of revolution, populated by immigrants and constantly evolving politically and culturally.... Most readers will find Reynolds’s epic overview provocative and enjoyable.”

American History Magazine
“Dazzlingly sweeping yet stippled with detail, this one-volume narrative runs from 1776 to Obama’s election, serving up fresh insights along the way.”

Kirkus
“Concise and still-inclusive...teeming...an evenhanded distillation of America's story from a singular outside observer.”

The National Interest
“Let us not mince words...this is the best one-volume history of the United States ever written.... At least on the face of it, no single mind can master this mountain of material, avoid the almost-inevitable factual blunders, negotiate the long-standing scholarly controversies, and control the narrative in clear and at-times-lyrical prose. But that is precisely what Reynolds has done.... [A] remarkable tour of the American past.”

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780465020058
Publisher:
Basic Books
Publication date:
10/06/2009
Sold by:
Hachette Digital, Inc.
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
592
Sales rank:
756,879
File size:
1 MB
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

David Reynolds is a professor of international history at Cambridge University. He has held visiting positions at Harvard and at Nihon University in Tokyo and is the author of eight books, including Summits and In Command of History, which was awarded the Wolfson Prize, Britain’s highest honor for the writing of history, and selected as a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. He lives in Cambridge, England.

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