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Letters from America
     

Letters from America

by Alexis de Tocqueville
 

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Young Alexis de Tocqueville arrived in the United States for the first time in May 1831, commissioned by the French government to study the American prison system. For the next nine months he and his companion, Gustave de Beaumont, traveled and observed not only prisons but also the political, economic, and social systems of the early republic. Along the way, they

Overview

Young Alexis de Tocqueville arrived in the United States for the first time in May 1831, commissioned by the French government to study the American prison system. For the next nine months he and his companion, Gustave de Beaumont, traveled and observed not only prisons but also the political, economic, and social systems of the early republic. Along the way, they frequently reported back to friends and family members in France. This book presents the first translation of the complete letters Tocqueville wrote during that seminal journey, accompanied by excerpts from Beaumont’s correspondence that provide details or different perspectives on the places, people, and American life and attitudes the travelers encountered.

These delightful letters provide an intimate portrait of the complicated, talented Tocqueville, who opened himself without prejudice to the world of Jacksonian America. Moreover, they contain many of the impressions and ideas that served as preliminary sketches for Democracy in America, his classic account of the American democratic system that remains an important reference work to this day. Accessible, witty, and charming, the letters Tocqueville penned while in America are of major interest to general readers, scholars, and students alike.

Editorial Reviews

Books & Culture

"[Letters from America] provide[s] significant insights--above all, into [Tocqueville''s] mental habit of ''making comparisons.'' . . . But beyond their value in understanding Democracy in America, the letters are often simply delightful."--Daniel E. Ritchie, Books & Culture

— Daniel E. Ritchie

The New Criterion

"Ably translated. . . . Illumines the great work Democracy in America."—Daniel J. Mahoney, The New Criterion

— Daniel J. Mahoney

Books & Culture - Daniel E. Ritchie

"[Letters from America] provide[s] significant insights--above all, into [Tocqueville's] mental habit of 'making comparisons.' . . . But beyond their value in understanding Democracy in America, the letters are often simply delightful."--Daniel E. Ritchie, Books & Culture

The New Criterion - Daniel J. Mahoney

"Ably translated. . . . Illumines the great work Democracy in America."—Daniel J. Mahoney, The New Criterion
Hugh Brogan

"How welcome! How charming! Tocqueville’s letters from the U.S. and Canada are now presented in workmanlike American English for the first time. Everyone can enjoy them and learn from them. I do."—Hugh Brogan, author of Alexis de Tocqueville
Fritz Stern

"These magnificent letters, splendidly edited and audaciously translated, not only convey Tocqueville's immediate impressions and reflective wisdom about 'the happiest people' and their materialist mode, about Indians and slaves, but beautifully express the beguiling character of the young writer. A treasure."—Fritz Stern, author of Five Germanys I Have Known
Daniel Walker Howe

"These candid letters illuminate the purposes and perceptions of America's most famous foreign interpreter. Reading them, Tocqueville becomes an engaging personality, not simply the name of a revered text."—Daniel Walker Howe, author of What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848
Library Journal
Readers who enjoyed Peter Carey's novel Parrot & Olivier in America, which riffs on Tocqueville and Gustave de Beaumont's visit to America in 1831, should be delighted by this collection. For here is the real thing: the first English-language translation of all of Tocqueville's letters from that visit, supplemented by the correspondence of his friend and traveling partner Beaumont. Although the companions originally traveled to America to study penal reform, they commented freely on everything they experienced. Many ideas eventually appearing in Tocqueville's two-volume Democracy in America (1835; 1840) first surfaced in these letters: the American infatuation with commerce, a seemingly infinite frontier and cheap land for everyone, the absence of primogeniture, weak central government, the anomalous standing of religion. The young men noticed American women, too, though not always admiringly. Slavery appalled them, as did the ruthless treatment of indigenous tribes. VERDICT It's no surprise that the letters are jam-packed with insightful observations. What is surprising is how alive they are even today. This is living history, not embalmed. A collection that combines both charm and historical relevance, it should appeal widely.—David Keymer, Modesto, CA

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780300153828
Publisher:
Yale University Press
Publication date:
11/30/2010
Pages:
304
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.20(d)

Meet the Author

Frederick Brown is professor emeritus, State University of New York at Stony Brook. His previous books include Zola: A Life; Flaubert: A Biography; and The Soul of France: Culture Wars in the Age of Dreyfus. He lives in New York City.

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