We have a glut of text and trade books on American history. But what we don’t have is a compact, inexpensive, authoritative, and compulsively readable book that will offer to American readers a clear, informative, and inspiring narrative account of their own country. Such an account can shape and deepen their sense of the land they inhabit and, by making them understand that land’s roots, and share in its memories, will equip them for the privileges and responsibilities of citizenship in American society. It will provide them with an enduring sense of membership in one of the greatest enterprises in human history: the exciting, perilous, and consequential story of their own country.
The existing texts simply fail to tell that story with energy and conviction. They are more likely to reflect the skeptical or partial outlook of specialized professional academic historians, an outlook that leads to a fragmented and fractured view of modern American society and fails to convey to American readers the greater arc of their own history. Or they disproportionately reflect the outlook of radical critics of American society, whose one-sided accounts lack the balance of a larger perspective and have had an enormous, and largely negative, effect upon the teaching of American history in American high schools and colleges.
This state of affairs cannot continue for long without producing serious consequences. A great nation needs and deserves a great and coherent narrative, as an expression of its own self-understanding; and it needs to be able to convey that narrative to its young effectively. It perhaps goes without saying that such a narrative cannot be a fairy tale or a whitewash of the past; it will not be convincing if it is not truthful. But there is no necessary contradiction between an honest account of the American past and an inspiring one. This account seeks to provide both.
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About the Author
Wilfred M. McClay is the G. T. and Libby Blankenship Chair in the History of Liberty at the University of Oklahoma, and the Director of the Center for the History of Liberty. His book The Masterless: Self and Society in Modern America was awarded the Merle Curti Award of the Organization of American Historians for the best book in American intellectual history. Among his other books are A Student’s Guide to U.S. History, Religion Returns to the Public Square: Faith and Policy in America, Figures in the Carpet: Finding the Human Person in the American Past, and Why Place Matters: Geography, Identity, and Civic Life in Modern America. He was appointed in 2002 to membership on the National Council on the Humanities, the advisory board for the National Endowment for the Humanities, and served in that capacity for eleven years. He has been appointed to the U.S. Semiquincentennial Commission, which is planning events for the nation’s 250th anniversary in 2026. He has been the recipient of fellowships from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the National Academy of Education. He is a graduate of St. John’s College (Annapolis) and received his Ph.D. in History from the Johns Hopkins University.
What People are Saying About This
“At a time of severe partisanship that has infected many accounts of our nation’s past, this brilliant new history, Land of Hope, written in lucid and often lyrical prose, is much needed. It is accurate, honest, and free of the unhistorical condescension so often paid to the people of America’s past. This generous but not uncritical story of our nation’s history ought to be read by every American. It explains and justifies the right kind of patriotism.”
Gordon S. Wood, author of Friends Divided: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson
“Those who are acquainted with Wilfred McClay’s writing will not be surprised that Land of Hope, his latest book,is a lucid and engaging account of the ‘great American story.’ McClay is a charming storytellerand a first-rate scholar and appreciator of America’s political andcultural development.”
Michael Barone, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, senior political analyst at the Washington Examiner, and coauthor of The Almanac of American Politics
“We’ve long needed a readable text that truly tells the American story, neither hiding the serious injustices in our history nor soft-pedaling our nation’s extraordinary achievements. Such a text cannot be a mere compilation of facts, and it certainly could not be written by someone lacking a deep understanding and appreciation of America’s constitutional ideals and institutions. Bringing his impressive skills as a political theorist, historian, and writer to bear, Wilfred McClay has supplied the need.”
Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence, Princeton University
“In a time when America seems pulled in opposite directions, Wilfred McClay has written a necessary bookthe most balanced, nuanced history of the United States I have read in the past fifty years.”
Daniel Henninger, deputy editor, editorial page, The Wall Street Journal
“Too many recent historians have tried to rewrite America’s history as a tale of squalor and exploitation.Wilfred McClay tells it like it is:as a story of hope.”
Glenn Harlan Reynolds, Beauchamp Brogan Distinguished Professor of Law, University of Tennessee
“No one has told the story of America with greater balance or better prose than Wilfred McClay.Land of Hopeis a history book that you will not be able to put down. From the moment that ‘natives’ first crossed here over the Bering Strait, to the founding of America’s great experiment in republican government, to the horror and triumph of the Civil War, and to the stirring election of Barack Obama, McClay’s account will capture your attention while offering an unforgettable education.”
James W. Ceaser, Professor of Politics, University of Virginia
“I wishLand of Hopehad been there when I was teaching U.S. history. It is history as literaturebroad, detailed, compassionateand it can help anyone who wants to know where we came from and how we got here. Professor McClay has made a welcome gift to the history of our country.”
Will Fitzhugh, Founder,The Concord Review
“This is the most cheerful and inspiring history of America written so far this century. Where most historians emphasize fragmentation and oppression, McClay makes the case for a unified national story characterized by optimism and achievement.Without downplaying dismaying episodes, past and present, he shows how they have been offset by the American pursuit of reform, revival, and improvement.Old heroes like George Washington are restored to their rightful place.America is far from perfect, McClay admits, but it is genuinely dedicated to the ideals of equality and democracy, and there is much to be proud of.I can imagine schools and colleges assigning this book with a sense of gratitude and confidence.”
Patrick Allitt, Cahoon Family Professor of American History, Emory University
“InLand of Hope, Bill McClay succeeds at multitasking. He has writtennot onlya learned and readable history of the United States, fromColumbus to Trump, with balance and integrity but has provided an insightful primer on the meaning of citizenship itself. McClay remindsus that although history holds no easy lessons, its honest practice proves indispensable in preventing the future from proceeding indarkness. Those entrusted with teaching young minds about the discipline of history as well as history will find in this volume much tofortify them.”
Robert Paquette, Professor of History and President, The Alexander Hamilton Institute
“This book is the antidote to abysmal levels of historical knowledge our high school graduates possess. History bores them; the textbooks are dreary; lessons play up guilt and identity politics. It turns them off. They want powerful tales and momentous events, genuine heroes and villains, tooan accurate but stirring rendition of the past. This is Bill McClay’s Land of Hope, a superb historian’s version of the American story, in lively prose spiced with keen analysis and compelling drama. Every school that assigns this book will see students’ eyes brighten when the Civil War comes up, the Progressive Era, the Depression, civil rights ... The kids want an authentic, meaningful heritage, a usable past. McClay makes it real.”
Mark Bauerlein, author of The Dumbest Generation
“Land of Hopeis in every way a remarkable piece of work, clearly written and as balanced and fair-minded as any American history you will ever read.Land of Hopeoperates on the assumption that the past remains a necessary part of us, something we must both understand and learn from. It refuses the all-too-common view that we today are simply superior to our own history, a history that amounts to little more than a grab bag of chicanery, venality, and self-interest. Instead, it is an attempt to lay out the political history of our nation, the dilemmas we faced, the choices we made, and the ideas that shaped and reshaped our American creed.”
John Agresto, Professor of Political Science, former President of St. John’s College, and author ofRediscovering America
“Wilfred McClay has written more than a textbook. His affirmative, even-handed review of American history, institutions, and character is refreshing, and comes none too soon, when so many accounts are merely trying to settle scores. Beautifully written and fair minded, Land of Hope ranks among finest surveys of the nation’s past.”
Gilbert T. Sewall