Overview

In the half-century between the Civil War and World War I, widespread yearning for a new beginning permeated American public life. Dreams of spiritual, moral, and physical rebirth formed the foundation for the modern United States, inspiring its leaders with imperial ambition. Theodore Roosevelt's desire to recapture frontier vigor led him to promote U.S. interests throughout Latin America. Woodrow Wilson's vision of a reborn international order drew him into a war to end war. Andrew Carnegie's embrace of ...

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Rebirth of a Nation

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Overview

In the half-century between the Civil War and World War I, widespread yearning for a new beginning permeated American public life. Dreams of spiritual, moral, and physical rebirth formed the foundation for the modern United States, inspiring its leaders with imperial ambition. Theodore Roosevelt's desire to recapture frontier vigor led him to promote U.S. interests throughout Latin America. Woodrow Wilson's vision of a reborn international order drew him into a war to end war. Andrew Carnegie's embrace of philanthropy coincided with his creation of the world's first billion-dollar corporation, United States Steel. Presidents and entrepreneurs helped usher the nation into the modern era, but sometimes the consequences of their actions failed to match the grandeur of their hopes.

Award-winning historian Jackson Lears richly chronicles this momentous period when America reunited and began to form the world power of the twentieth century. Lears vividly captures imperialists, Gilded Age mavericks, and vaudeville entertainers, and illuminates the roles played by a variety of seekers, male and female, from populist farmers to avant-garde artists and writers to progressive reformers. Some were motivated by their own visions of Christianity; all were swept up in longings for revitalization.

In these years marked by wrenching social conflict and vigorous political debate, a modern America emerged and came to dominance on a world stage. Illuminating and authoritative, Rebirth of a Nation brilliantly weaves the remarkable story of this crucial epoch into a masterful work of history.

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Editorial Reviews

Beverly Gage
…a fascinating cultural history…Rebirth of a Nation is a major work by a leading historian at the top of his game—at once engaging and tightly argued. Like the best histories, it is also a book that speaks to our own time.
—The New York Times
Charles Postel
Rebirth of a Nation is dazzling cultural history: smart, provocative and gripping. It is also a book for our times, historically grounded, hopeful and filled with humane, just and peaceful possibilities.
—The Washington Post
Library Journal

Lears (history, Rutgers Univ., Something for Nothing: Luck in America) examines the underpinnings of U.S. regeneration after the Civil War from both individual and national standpoints. For example, he shows that individuals, enabled by the Young Men's Christian Association, took part in physical fitness to transform themselves, while on the national level Southern white supremacists renewed themselves by reversing Reconstruction with their Jim Crow laws. Throughout, Lears also notes how militarism itself can be an agent of change and how Protestant Christianity added the important moral spark for regeneration. The latter insight is not new, and Lears is at his best when talking about militarism. As the Civil War faded from memory, the country looked for new wars, such as the Indian Wars, the Spanish-American War, and World War I, to create its heroes. Lears argues that this militarism still functions today, especially after 9/11. This is not a narrative history but more of an intellectual analysis geared to students and scholars and recommended for such readers.
—Bryan Craig

Kirkus Reviews
A cultural historian looks at America's "age of regeneration" between the end of the Civil War and World War I. The end of Reconstruction in 1877 also marked the beginning of decades of social and economic upheaval that transformed the nation from a sleepy republic to a world power. From the Civil War's widespread destruction emerged an intense longing for rebirth. Lears (History/Rutgers Univ.; Something for Nothing: Luck in America, 2003, etc.) presents this struggle between farmers and bankers, workers and industrialists, pacifists and militarists, immigrants and nativists, as a battle for the nation's soul. During this contentious period the noble Republican Party of Lincoln become the captive of big business, while the old bugaboo of race kept Northern and Southern Democrats from mobilizing an effective opposition. In richly allusive and lively prose, Lears explains how the desire for reconciliation among whites was achieved at the price of equal rights for blacks and a reign of racial terror. He examines how the populist dream of a cooperative commonwealth ultimately yielded to the elite cult of manliness and militarism, the pervasive power of capital and a managerial and political class convinced that the nation's road to renewal ran through empire. The author's cast of characters ranges from the unexpected-Harry Houdini, Buffalo Bill-to the predictable array of Gilded Age villains-mainly Morgan, Rockefeller and Carnegie. Lears clearly sympathizes with the idealists and dreamers determined to wrest meaning from the Civil War's awful sacrifice. He cites the work and commentary of people like Jane Addams, Mark Twain, William James and Eugene Debs. For him, Teddy Roosevelt was amonster and Woodrow Wilson a tragic figure, overwhelmed by dark forces. Though the author's take on the era is partisan, readers need not agree with his politics to appreciate the high style and obvious passion he brings to this difficult subject. Large-scale history with an intimate touch.
American History
“High-concept cultural history at its provocative best. Lears is a polymath and Big Thinker.”
The New York Times Book Review
“A fascinating cultural history. . . .A major work by a leading historian at the top of his game—at once engaging and tightly argued. Like the best histories, it is also a book that speaks to our own time.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061940965
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 6/9/2009
  • Sold by: HARPERCOLLINS
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 599,610
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Jackson Lears is Board of Governors Professor of History at Rutgers University and the editor of Raritan: A Quarterly Review. The author of Fables of Abundance (winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for history), Something for Nothing, and No Place of Grace, Lears writes for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The New Republic. He lives in western New Jersey.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Dreaming of Rebirth 1

Chapter 1 The Long Shadow of Appomattox 12

Chapter 2 The Mysterious Power of Money 51

Chapter 3 The Rising Significance of Race 92

Chapter 4 The Country and the City 133

Chapter 5 Crisis and Regeneration 167

Chapter 6 Liberation and Limitation 222

Chapter 7 Empire as a Way of Life 276

Conclusion: Dying in Vain 327

Acknowledgments 357

Notes 361

Bibliographical Note 391

Index 407

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