West from Appomattox: The Reconstruction of America after the Civil War / Edition 1

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The story of Reconstruction is not simply about the rebuilding of the South after the Civil War.  Instead, the late nineteenth century defined modern America, as Southerners, Northerners, and Westerners gradually hammered out a national identity that united three regions into a country that could become a world power. Ultimately, the story of Reconstruction is about how a middle class formed in America and how its members defined what the nation would stand for, both at home and abroad, for the next century and beyond.
A sweeping history of the United States from the era of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, this engaging book stretches the boundaries of our understanding of Reconstruction. Historian Heather Cox Richardson ties the North and West into the post–Civil War story that usually focuses narrowly on the South, encompassing the significant people and events of this profoundly important era.
By weaving together the experiences of real individuals—from a plantation mistress, a Native American warrior, and a labor organizer to Andrew Carnegie, Julia Ward Howe, Booker T. Washington, and Sitting Bull—who lived during the decades following the Civil War and who left records in their own words, Richardson tells a story about the creation of modern America.

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Editorial Reviews

Edward L. Ayers
… in her ambitious West From Appomattox, Heather Cox Richardson argues that these years, far from being uneventful or insignificant, saw nothing less than the reconstruction of America, a recasting of the relationship between the government and the people. It was in late 19th century, she believes, that the fundamental issues that divide us today -- between those who want to keep government small and those who want to use government to create opportunity and justice -- took shape across a newly expanded and consolidated nation.
— The Washington Post
Mark Lewis
…[Richardson's] main emphasis is her reworking of Frederick Jackson Turner's thesis that America was shaped by the frontier experience. To Richardson, it was Americans' romantic image of the West, more than their actual experience there, that redefined the nation during Reconstruction. By idealizing the West, Americans preserved their antebellum view of themselves as a community of rugged individualists. Thus was born the blinkered worldview of the modern middle class, which perceived itself in opposition to the undeserving poor and the grasping rich.
—The New York Times
The Historian

"Vibrant, fast-moving. . . . A provocative and succinct narrative."—David A. Lincove, The Historian

— David A. Lincove

The Journal of American History

"This is political history writ large, complete with a cast of characters that reflects the diversity of the American population...Historians of Reconstruction and the Gilded Age cannot afford to it ognore this book or fail to wrestle with the artgument."--Brooks D, Simpson, The Journal of American History.

— Brooks D, Simpson

Sheldon Hackney
“Richardson tells a different story about the United States as a whole during a reconceptualized period of ‘Reconstruction’ after the Civil War.”—Sheldon Hackney, University of Pennsylvania
Eric Arnesen
“Highly original, deeply researched, and important, West from Appomattox has the added advantage of being extremely well written: Heather Cox Richardson’s prose is clear, accessible, and compelling.”—Eric Arnesen, University of Illinois at Chicago
David W. Blight
"With a marvelous sense of scope, narrative lucidity, and thorough research, Heather Richardson makes the convincing case that Americans still live in the world that Reconstruction built—or left partly unbuilt. A skilled historian of political economy, Richardson has here written a new and important synthesis of late-nineteenth-century American society enmeshed in a great struggle to determine just what kind of country the Civil War had wrought. This book is deeply informed and a good read; it spurs our effort to help Americans realize that their reading must not stop with Appomattox."—David W. Blight, Yale University, author of Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory
Elliott West
"A truly fresh reconsideration—and a smart and wonderfully written one—of Reconstruction. Richardson pulls back to a genuinely national perspective, and in doing so gives us a strikingly original view of this vitally important time in the national story."—Elliott West, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville
The Historian - David A. Lincove
"Vibrant, fast-moving. . . . A provocative and succinct narrative."—David A. Lincove, The Historian
The Journal of American History - Brooks D
"This is political history writ large, complete with a cast of characters that reflects the diversity of the American population...Historians of Reconstruction and the Gilded Age cannot afford to it ognore this book or fail to wrestle with the artgument."—Brooks D, Simpson, The Journal of American History.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300136302
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 4/28/2008
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 423,871
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Heather Cox Richardson is professor of history at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and the author of The Death of Reconstruction: Race, Labor, and Politics in the Post–Civil War North. She lives in Winchester, MA.

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Interviews & Essays

Q:  How is this book different in its focus and scope from other books on Reconstruction?
A:  West from Appomattox expands the usual story of Reconstruction both geographically and temporally. Tying the North, South, and West together into a story that reaches beyond 1877 reveals a more complex pattern than is found in the usual accounts of Southern racism or Northern industrialism.  This is a story of the creation of the American middle class around an ideology that celebrated individualism even as it harnessed the government to its own interests.

Q:  Why should people read this history?
A:  First of all, I hope it’s fun. It explains Jesse James, Mother’s Day, Monopoly, Sitting Bull, and a whole bunch of things that are part of our everyday culture. But it also makes a larger argument about the creation of an American mindset that has determined our history since 1900, and that still influences our politics today.
Q:  How does it relate to today's political and social environment?
A:  Political discourse today echoes the fights of Reconstruction. During the Civil War era, the Republicans created national taxes and dramatically expanded voting. Ever since, the questions of tax dollars and how they are spent have been the focus of political debate. Are voters “hard-working” citizens who want policies that will be good for everyone, or are they “special interests” looking for a government handout?

Q:  Why "West from Appomattox"?
A:  Americans looked west for new opportunities after the Civil War, and western symbols came to represent an American ideal of hard-working citizens in a land of small government. At the same time, though, those symbols obscured the fact that the newly created middle class was expanding the government to bolster its own interests even as its members extolled individualism. Even today, the same tensions over the role of government persist. And the symbol of America is still the cowboy.

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