American Revelation: Ten Ideals That Shaped Our Country from the Puritans to the Cold War / Edition 1

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In The American Revelation, Neil Baldwin, one of our most exciting and provocative intellectual historians, applies his formidable energies to the story of how the American Spirit developed over four centuries, through an inspiring--and unsparing--examination of selected ideals that have helped inform our culture through the vivid personalities who set the course.

Figures both familiar and forgotten illuminate this timely narrative of popular history that enlivens the current debate about America's proper role in a turbulent post-9/11 world. Though an ideal may have been forgotten, that does not mean it no longer has the power to move us and shape our future.

Exuberant and lively, The American Revelation will inspire all readers, regardless of their politics, to revisit and revalue our country's high-minded heritage.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Neil Baldwin enriches our understanding of America, and the part we might — indeed must — play in living its animating ideals. He identifies ten ideals that we think of as quintessentially American, and traces their origination in ten compelling individuals. He endows political bloviation, rhetoric and common slogans with the beating heart of human aspiration beset by doubt, challenged by circumstance, and withal renewed, by the people in trials beyond the imagination of the founders." — Sir Harold Evans, author of They Made America

"At a time when there is a lot of uninformed talk about American values, it's important to reach back and understand what those values truly are. Neil Baldwin does it in this smart and thoughtful narrative by looking at ten examples, ranging from John Winthrop's great sermon invoking a city on a hill, to the Marshall Plan, which saved the prospect of free-market democracy in Europe."—Walter Isaacson, author of Benjamin Franklin: An American Life

"In his new book, Neil Baldwin focuses on individuals who developed and promulgated ideas that helped shape the American ideal. These profiles… illuminate the galvanizing beliefs that unify Americans — even as red and blue states battle over their interpretation."— The Chicago Tribune - Best of 2005

"In The American Revelation, Neil Baldwin gives us ten short, often eloquent profiles rather than a broad narrative... compelling."— The Wall Street Journal - Editor's Choice

Publishers Weekly
Given the polarization of contemporary America, says historian and former National Book Foundation executive director Baldwin, "we need to turn to galvanizing beliefs that will provide a unifying focus...." To this end, Baldwin ably investigates 10 key precepts of what might be called "fundamental Americanism," while at the same time highlighting iconic Americans who helped to define and articulate those precepts. Here we have biographical sketches of early Massachusetts governor John Winthrop, who offered the idea of a "city on a hill"; Thomas Paine's Common Sense; Pierre Du Simitiere's notion of "E pluribus unum"; Emerson's vision of self-reliance; John L. O'Sullivan's concept of manifest destiny and, of more recent vintage, the enlightened generosity embodied in the post-WWII Marshall Plan. But in whittling these down to the arbitrary number of 10, Baldwin necessarily leaves out a great deal. Any collection such as this desperately needs Abraham Lincoln's soaring poetry regarding government "of the people, by the people, for the people," and a nod to the Declaration of Independence and JFK's inaugural speech, among other key rhetorical pillars of the American experiment. Agent, Trident Media Group. (June) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Baldwin, a well-regarded biographer (Henry Ford and the Jews: The Mass Production of Hate) and former executive director of the National Book Foundation, here writes about ten important, if not necessarily well-known, individuals who promoted enduring ideals that became part of America's national identity. The author links these ideals and their endorsers to form a rich tapestry of the nation's highest principles, often strived for but imperfectly attained. Included are mini-biographies and gracefully written summaries of the forging of the national motto E pluribus unum by Pierre-Eugene du Simitiere; newspaper editor John O'Sullivan's call for America to fulfill its manifest destiny; Jane Addams's pioneering advocacy of women's rights and her tireless work in behalf of the poor; Israel Zangwill's popular 1908 play, The Melting Plot, which portrays America as the land of opportunity for immigrants; and Carter Woodson's scholarly investigations, which forged the academic discipline of African American history. This illuminating work shows that America has a great deal of which to be proud but much to do to complete the agendas set forth by these ten remarkable people. Highly recommended for public libraries.-Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Does America have a set of shared values? Perhaps not, writes pop historian Baldwin, in a time when "the pulse of the nation often sounds as if it is emanating from two separate heartbeats."Hearts in red state and blue will probably be quickened by at least a couple of the ten tropes that Baldwin identifies as shared, galvanizing, unifying beliefs-but which of them? Emersonian self-reliance? The dissenters' city on a hill? A neoconservative might decry as impossibly Bolshevik Thomas Paine's repudiation of monarchy as the most dispensable of all the world's political institutions. A liberal might recoil from John L. O'Sullivan's notion of manifest destiny, even though its original formulation was benign and even progressive on its face. Historians might take umbrage at Carter Woodson's charge that African-Americans, though central to the history of the nation, have been systematically ignored, even if the work "of such Progressive historians as Frederick Jackson Turner, V. L. Parrington, and Charles and Mary Beard." And garden-variety isolationists will hop up and down over Baldwin's inclusion of George C. Marshall and the plan that bears his name as expressive of any particular American ideal, particularly if it boils down to helping the French. All that said, Baldwin conjures up a neat trick: in identifying ten ideas that contain certain contradictory aspects and even pointed dilemmas, he emphasizes the very point that Americans have forged a delicate union even when they do not necessarily agree with each other on every matter of discussion-an idea that could stand sturdier legs in a time of division and exclusion. One of Baldwin's exemplary Americans, the playwright Israel Zangwill,coiner of the image of America as melting pot, did a nice job, after all, of urging that the nation was "the promised land in which the best human ideals shall ultimately find solution." And who could disagree? Well . . . A readable exercise in civics, and surely more inclusive than, say, William Bennett's or Lynne Cheney's published views on what those best ideals might be.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312325442
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 7/11/2006
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.61 (d)

Meet the Author

Neil Baldwin is the author of many works of biography and nonfiction, including most recently Henry Ford and the Jews: The Mass-Production of Hate and Edison: Inventing the Century. He is co-Chair of the NYU Biography Seminar and (as of September 2006) Distinguished Visiting Professor of History at Montclair State University. He lives in Glen Ridge, New Jersey.

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Table of Contents

1 City on a hill : John Winthrop, 1630 7
2 Common sense : Thomas Paine, 1776 23
3 E Pluribus Unum : Pierre Eugene Du Simitiere, 1776 43
4 Self-reliance : Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1841 61
5 Manifest destiny : John L. O'Sullivan, 1845 79
6 Progress and poverty : Henry George, 1879 99
7 The sphere of action : Jane Addams, 1902 121
8 The melting-pot : Israel Zangwill, 1908 143
9 The negro in our history : Carter G. Woodson, 1922 163
10 The Marshall plan : George C. Marshall, 1947 183
Afterword : a sense of history 205
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  • Posted December 9, 2008

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    a reviewer

    The premise of these ten biographical essays is to concentrate on individuals who brought 'fundamental Americanism', values at a time in which our leaders prefer polarizing the people to consolidate power via the money mechanism needed for reelections. Readers may disagree on the choices (no presidents), which is part of the fun of this tome. For instance, this reviewer expected Lincoln as the influence of changing from state-centric to national-conscience, but instead he failed to make the cut and some that were selected I never heard of before. Historical buffs will enjoy reading about values of this country from the seventeenth century: John Winthrop eighteenth century: Thomas Paine and Pierre Eugene Du Simitiere nineteenth century: Ralph Waldo Emerson, John L. O'Sullivan, and Henry George twentieth century: Jane Addams, Israel Zangwill, Carter G. Woodson, and George C. Marshall. Written somewhat like the required reading of an American History 101 course, Neil Baldwin presents a fascinating concept supported by his chosen ones who he argues lived the American ideal of individual freedom and rights.------------- Harriet Klausner

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