The Idea of America: Reflections on the Birth of the United States

The Idea of America: Reflections on the Birth of the United States

3.4 7
by Gordon S. Wood
     
 

View All Available Formats & Editions

The preeminent historian of the Founding Era reflects on the birth of American nationhood and explains why the American Revolution remains so essential.

For Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Gordon S. Wood, the American Revolution is the most important event in our history, bar none. Since American identity is so fluid, we have had to continually return to our

See more details below

  • Checkmark Nonfiction Paperbacks: 2 for $20  Shop Now

Overview

The preeminent historian of the Founding Era reflects on the birth of American nationhood and explains why the American Revolution remains so essential.

For Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Gordon S. Wood, the American Revolution is the most important event in our history, bar none. Since American identity is so fluid, we have had to continually return to our nation’s founding to understand who we are. In a series of illuminating essays, he explores the ideological origins of the Revolution—from Ancient Rome to the European Enlightenment—and the founders’ attempts to forge a democracy. He reflects on the origins of American exceptionalism, the radicalism and failed hopes of the founding generation, and the “terrifying gap” between us and the men who created the democratic state we take for granted. This is a profoundly revealing look at the event that forged the United States and its enduring power to define us. 

 

Read More

Editorial Reviews

The Wall Street Journal
"Mr. Wood is our premier student of the Founding Era. He has been writing history for about a half-century, roughly a fifth of the days since the origin of the republic. He has scrupulously avoided appropriating his subject for modern-day political purposes and instead tried to understand it on its own terms and as a whole. Historians will of course bring to their study certain questions and concerns of their own time—no one can or should avoid this—but the greatest historians are those, like Mr. Wood, who do not make our criteria of importance the main theme. …It is Mr. Wood's most ‘personal’ work, providing us, along with much fine history, glimpses into the thinker and the man."
The Providence Journal
"Wood’s lucid writing style and ability to take complex ideas and spell them out for the layman allows him to detail the fascinating story of how the emphasis of historians treating the Revolution has shifted over time."
The Washington Independent Review of Books
"His purpose is nothing less than to make sense of the United States and its place in the world...an intellectual autobiography of the most distinguished and influential early American historian of his generation." 
The Daily
"[The Idea of America] give[s] broad insight into some of the most important moments in American history."
Louisville Courier-Journal
"Wood, one of our most eminent historians, has devoted his long career to illuminating how American government evolved and how the events of that period continue to define government and politics today-often in reliving the controversies that divided thinkers and politicians then." 
Celebrated Living
"The insightful essays explore the ideological origins of the Revolution and the founders’ attempts at forging an American democracy, and they provide food for thought on whether America has become the country our founders hoped it would be."
American Heritage Publishing Staff
"Nuanced, elegant essays…it’s hard to imagine a historian better trained to write on this subject"
Booklist
"Wood…has long been recognized as one of the preeminent historians of the era of the American Revolution. In this series of cogent, beautifully written essays, Wood repeats some of his familiar themes, but they are well worth revisiting."
David Hackett Fischer
…a collection of 11 essays, along with an introduction and conclusion, that encompass [Wood's] entire career. It reveals more of the author than any of his other work and creates the opportunity for an overall assessment of his achievement.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Wood challenges the popular view that the war for American independence was fought for practical and economic reasons, like unfair taxation. In this exceptional collection of essays (some previously published and others originating as lectures) he argues brilliantly to the contrary, that the Revolution was indeed fought over principles, such as liberty, republicanism, and equality. As he points out, Americans believed they alone had the virtues republicanism requires (such as simplicity and egalitarianism) and thus were supportive but skeptical of revolutions in France and Latin America. When joined to Protestant millennialism, Americans grew to believe that they were God's chosen people, with a mission to lead the world toward liberty and republican government, a view that Wood uses to explain America's continued attempts to create republics in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. This is a remarkable study of the key chapter of American history and its ongoing influence on American character. (May)
From the Publisher
"Mr. Wood is the premier student of the Founding Era."
Wall Street Journal

"Gordon S. Wood is more than an American historian. He is almost an American institution. Wood has done more than anyone to make the era of the Revolution and early Republic into one of the liveliest periods in American history."
The New York Times Book Review

"When Gordon Wood says anything about America, people listen. Especially when he talks about the lessons of history, as he has for more than half a century now."
Providence Journal

"Exceptional... a remarkable study of the key chapter of American history and its ongoing influence on American character."
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Cogent, beautifully written essays... A superb collection."
Booklist (starred review)

"It's difficult to conjure another writer so at home in the period, so prepared to translate its brilliant strangeness for a modern audience. Sound, agenda-free analysis, gracefully presented."
Kirkus Reviews

"Intellectually expansive and elegantly woven, Wood's writings are the closest thing we have to an elegant mediation between today's readers and the founding generation. Required reading for Revolutionary War enthusiasts on all levels."
Library Journal

"[A] collection of nuanced, elegant essays. It's hard to imagine a historian better trained to write on this subject."
American Heritage

Library Journal
Wood (Alva O. Way University Professor, Brown Univ.; The Radicalism of the American Revolution) has long pronounced the American Revolution to be the transformative event in U.S. history, one to which we continually return to "refresh and reaffirm our nationhood." Standing above the stark economic determinism of Progressive Era historians (e.g., Charles Beard) and the ideological determinist school characterized by Bernard Bailyn, Wood has devoted his prolific career to constructing a historical interpretation that combines all aspects of the American Revolution into a viable synthesis. Whether discussing the foundations of the American Constitution, the Revolutionary mentality, or the birth of modern American politics, these previously published essays and lectures represent the incredible range of this eminent scholar's contributions to the historiography of the Revolutionary era. Wood's introduction and conclusion encapsulate his themes, while his brief afterwords to each chapter note the evolution of his thought. VERDICT Intellectually expansive and elegantly woven, Wood's writings are the closest thing we have to an elegant mediation between today's readers and the founding generation. Required reading for Revolutionary War enthusiasts on all levels.—Brian Odom, Pelham P.L., AL
Kirkus Reviews

A Pulitzer and Bancroft Prize–winning historian offers deeply contemplative essays from a career devoted to studying the Revolutionary Era.

If, as Wood (History/Brown Univ.; Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815, 2009, etc.) asserts, the Revolution "is the most important event in American history, bar none," it follows that arguments over its ideology, the doctrinal core of the nation's creation, become critical, not just to contemporary politicians and activists looking to the past for legitimacy, but even—and more regrettably—to generations of historians bent on imposing their own era's preoccupations. The author discloses his own methodology, of particular value to those interested in historiography, and also important to the general reader looking for reliable information about the nation's origins. Wood rejects the temptation to take sides among history's combatants. Rather, the historian's task, he writes, is to examine why they "thought and behaved as they did," understanding that ideas, while important, are subordinate to passions driving social change, that they are always constrained by the facts on the ground and frequently entail consequences that no one, not even their sponsors, could foresee. With these stipulations and with genuine modesty—in postscripts to most of these essays, Wood frequently offers second thoughts about pieces composed years ago—he covers such topics as the disconnect between the sometimes lurid rhetoric accompanying the more prosaic reality of the Revolution; the Founders' fascination with the rise and fall of Republican Rome; the unique radicalism shared by Jefferson and Tom Paine; the conspiratorial interpretation of events that flourished in the 18th century; the era's sincere fear of monarchism on the one hand, mob rule on the other; the ideal of disinterestedness versus the competing interests unleashed by messy democracy; the peculiar awkwardness of the republic's first decade; and the origins of our unique constitutionalism and our sometimes misguided political evangelism. It's difficult to conjure another writer so at home in the period, so prepared to translate its brilliant strangeness for a modern audience.

Sound, agenda-free analysis, gracefully presented.

Read More

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780143121244
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
06/26/2012
Pages:
400
Sales rank:
576,577
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

David Hackett Fischer
"Gordon S. Wood is more than an American historian. He is almost an American institution. Of all the many teachers and writers of history in this Republic, few are held in such high esteem…The strength of Wood’s scholarship derives from qualities of caution, balance and restraint that are uniquely his own."
From the Publisher

“Mr. Wood is the premier student of the Founding Era.”
Wall Street Journal

“Gordon S. Wood is more than an American historian. He is almost an American institution. Wood has done more than anyone to make the era of the Revolution and early Republic into one of the liveliest periods in American history.”
The New York Times Book Review

“When Gordon Wood says anything about America, people listen. Especially when he talks about the lessons of history, as he has for more than half a century now.”
Providence Journal

“Exceptional... a remarkable study of the key chapter of American history and its ongoing influence on American character.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Cogent, beautifully written essays... A superb collection.”
Booklist (starred review)

“It’s difficult to conjure another writer so at home in the period, so prepared to translate its brilliant strangeness for a modern audience. Sound, agenda-free analysis, gracefully presented.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Intellectually expansive and elegantly woven, Wood’s writings are the closest thing we have to an elegant mediation between today’s readers and the founding generation. Required reading for Revolutionary War enthusiasts on all levels.”
Library Journal

“[A] collection of nuanced, elegant essays. It’s hard to imagine a historian better trained to write on this subject.”
American Heritage

Read More

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network

     

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >