Beyond the Revolution: A History of American Thought from Paine to Pragmatism

Beyond the Revolution: A History of American Thought from Paine to Pragmatism

by William H. Goetzmann
     
 

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From 1776, when Citizen Tom Paine declared, “The birthday of a new world is at hand,” America was unique in world history. A nation suffused with the spirit of explorers, constantly replenished by immigrants, and informed by a continual influx of foreign ideas, it was the world’s first truly cosmopolitan civilization.

In Beyond the Revolution

Overview

From 1776, when Citizen Tom Paine declared, “The birthday of a new world is at hand,” America was unique in world history. A nation suffused with the spirit of explorers, constantly replenished by immigrants, and informed by a continual influx of foreign ideas, it was the world’s first truly cosmopolitan civilization.

In Beyond the Revolution, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian William H. Goetzmann tells the story of America’s greatest thinkers and creators, from Paine and Jefferson to Melville and William James, showing how they built upon and battled one another’s ideas in the critical years between 1776 and 1900. An unprecedented work of intellectual history by a master historian, this book will be essential reading for anyone interested in the origins of our national culture.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

This lively work makes a case not often advanced these days: that the United States owes much to thinking men and women from the days of the Puritans until after the Civil War. Goetzmann, winner of the Pulitzer and Francis Parkman prizes for Explorations and Empires, robustly challenges those who scorn the role of thinkers and contend that the nation was built only by "doers." He provides a history of lines of thought owing much to Europe but rooted firmly in native ground. Although he tries to knit together his story with a theme of growing American cosmopolitanism and openness to new knowledge, what gives coherence to Goetzmann's survey is the seriousness with which he treats every figure. John Winthrop, James Madison, Margaret Fuller, Frederick Douglass: they and countless others, many scarcely known (including scientists, often omitted from studies of American thought) tread these pages. The result is an authoritative, readable survey of what from others' pens has proved heavy going. Unfortunately, despite his subtitle Goetzmann fails to cover the Pragmatists, arguably the nation's most distinctive thinkers. (Mar.)

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Library Journal

Goetzmann's sweeping survey views American thought as cosmopolitan and utopian. He points out that American thought was not isolated from politics, and the American republic lionized military heroes like George Washington and Andrew Jackson. American imperial ventures often had defensive motivations: Americans saw themselves under threat from the European powers. In contrast to Frederick Jackson Turner (The Frontier in American History), Goetzmann maintains that American thought did not depend uniquely on an open frontier. To the contrary, Americans synthesized European ideas, developing them in new ways. An excellent chapter shows how Ralph Waldo Emerson developed from German idealist philosophy a new metaphysics for democracy and a religion of art. More generally, literature has often proved the principal vehicle of new ideas. Though most American thought has stressed progress, antebellum Southerners looked backward; and Goetzmann expertly presents the views of John C. Calhoun. In another chapter, "The Black Man as Intellectual," Goetzmann maintains black thinkers shared much of the worldview of the white majority. Goetzmann's wide coverage and arresting judgments make this essential for all collections.
—David Gordon

Kirkus Reviews
Generally brisk but occasionally dense summary of American intellectual history from the Founding Fathers to the eve of the 20th century. Proceeding chronologically from Thomas Paine, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Goetzmann (History and American Studies/Univ. of Texas; Explorations and Empire: The Explorer and the Scientist in the Winning of the West, 1965, etc.) covers both the familiar and the arcane. Into the former category fall analyses of the Stamp Act, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, Lewis and Clark, Andrew Jackson, and Lincoln and the Civil War, among many other well-known events and personalities. These are supplemented by, for example, illuminating commentary on The Impending Crisis in the South (1857), a now-obscure tract by North Carolinian Hinton Rowan Helper that attacked the plantation class and sold more than 150,000 copies, though it was banned in the South. Goetzmann does not slight literary history either, offering substantial sections on Irving, Cooper, Emerson, Hawthorne, Melville and other giants. The lack of endnotes can be frustrating, as when he contends that the teenaged Poe seduced a school friend's mother, who became the subject of his lovely poem, "To Helen." Readers cannot evaluate the plausibility of this encounter, which is not noted in standard biographies, since Goetzmann does not specify the source for his version. He does highlight some significant movements and moments in American cultural history, including the utopian efforts of the Shakers and the much lesser-known Modern Times settlement on Long Island. He also discusses the emergence of black intellectuals-Frederick Douglass, no surprise, receives major treatment-the rise ofthe women's-rights movement, abolition and the post-Civil War realists in American fiction, with Twain and James representing the movement's poles. Goetzmann ends with the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, noting that "America had reached a plateau of self-definition."Chockablock with fact and figure, an intelligent, informed treatment showing the United States as a great laboratory of cultural innovation.
From the Publisher

New York Observer
“In Beyond the Revolution, intellectual historian William Goetzmann reminds us that the most brazen utopian ambition of them all had nothing to do with sex or rapture, but was rather founded in the radical provisions of ‘we the people’ and those ‘certain inalienable rights.’”

New York Times Book Review
“[Goetzmann’s] strange and valuable book…is richly populated with radicals and utopians who, with one eye on the innermost soul and the other on world history, created a tradition of open-ended experiment.”

Howard R. Lamar, Sterling Professor Emeritus of History, Yale University
Beyond the Revolution is one of the most complete, wide-ranging, readable, and insightful accounts of American intellectuals we have ever had. It deserves to be recognized as a major classic history of American intellectuals to be read by every thinking American.”

Virginia Quarterly
“An excellent summary of American thought before the Civil War. It is sure to engage readers interested not only in the history of ideas but also in the history of the early nation.”

Texas Observer
“We now have Goetzmann's life of learning distilled into what may be the capstone of his career to help us understand who we were.”

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780786744237
Publisher:
Basic Books
Publication date:
02/24/2009
Sold by:
Hachette Digital, Inc.
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
480
File size:
592 KB

Meet the Author

William H. Goetzmann is Jack S. Blanton, Sr. Professor in History and American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. He taught American Intellectual History for fifty years at Yale and the University of Texas. His Explorations and Empire won both the Pulitzer Prize and Francis Parkman Award. He lives in Austin, Texas.

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