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 ...

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Letters from America

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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.

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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

Times Literary Supplement
Curiously, this is the first publication en bloc, in either French or English, of Alexis de Tocqueville’s delightful letters from America in 1831-2. All of them have previously been printed, but only here and there. Frederick Brown is to be congratulated on bringing them all together, and for publishing, with them, the American letters of Gustave de Beaumont.—Hugh Brogan, Times Literary Supplement

— Hugh Brogan

French-American Foundation and the Florence Gould Foundation

Winner of the 2011 Translation Prize given by the French-American Foundation and the Florence Gould Foundation

— 2011 Translation Prize

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
Times Literary Supplement - Hugh Brogan
“Curiously, this is the first publication en bloc, in either French or English, of Alexis de Tocqueville’s delightful letters from America in 1831-2. All of them have previously been printed, but only here and there. Frederick Brown is to be congratulated on bringing them all together, and for publishing, with them, the American letters of Gustave de Beaumont.”—Hugh Brogan, Times Literary Supplement
The New Criterion - Daniel J. Mahoney

"Ably translated. . . . Illumines the great work Democracy in America."—Daniel J. Mahoney, The New Criterion
French-American Foundation and the Florence Gould Foundation - 2011 Translation Prize

Winner of the 2011 Translation Prize given by the French-American Foundation and the Florence Gould Foundation
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
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300153835
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 11/30/2010
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • File size: 3 MB

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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