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Freedom Just Around the Corner

A powerful reinterpretation of the founding of America by a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian.The creation of the United States of America is the central event of the past four hundred years," states Walter McDougall in his preface to Freedom Just Around the Corner. With this statement begins McDougall's most ambitious, original, and uncompromising of histories. McDougall marshals the latest scholarship and writes in a style redolent with passion, pathos, and humour in pursuit of truths often obscured in books burdened with political slants.With an insightful approach to the nearly 250 years spanning America's beginnings, McDougall offers his readers an understanding of the uniqueness of the "American character" and how this character has shaped the wide ranging course of historical events. McDougall explains that Americans have always been in a unique position of enjoying "more opportunity to pursue their ambitions䳨an any other people in history." Throughout Freedom Just Around the Corner the character of the American people shines, a character built out of a freedom to indulge in the whole panoply of human behaviour. The genius behind the success of the United States is founded on the complex, irrepressible American spirit.A grand narrative rich with new details and insights about colonial and early national history, Freedom Just Around the Corner is the first instalment of a trilogy that will eventually bring the story of America up to the present day, a story epic, bemusing, and brooding.
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Anyone aspiring to write a multivolume history of the U.S. reckons with illustrious predecessors, especially the histories of Daniel Boorstin and Richard Hofstadter (the latter never completed). But those histories were interpretive; they had a particular slant on the past. McDougall's is more explanatory. It provides up-to-date understanding of much that happened in our early history but without a sharply etched point of view. It's thus a bit like a textbook, struggling to keep readers' attention on all it packs in. Fortunately, in this regard it succeeds wonderfully well. Briskly written, deeply researched, fact-filled and satisfyingly wide in its coverage, it's mainly a history of the public attributes of the colonies and early nation-the ethnic and racial groups (including Native Americans), its states, religious denominations, political parties, wars and institutions. There's little social history here or the history of ideas and culture, little about subjects like women, gays, historical myths and memory. But no single history, not even in a projected three volumes, can cover everything. McDougall's particular strength is that he keeps individuals front and center: the work is alive with humans and their struggles and achievements. Pulitzer Prize-winner McDougall (for The Heavens and the Earth: A Political History of the Space Age) says at the start that his theme will be the conditions that made for Americans' world-known "hustling" behavior and mentality. Fortunately, he quickly drops this line. There's a better and more fitting word for people's desire to better their lot: ambition. That's what this book has in full measure. Maps not seen by PW. (Apr. 2) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

McDougall (history, Univ. of Pennsylvania) offers the first part of a projected trilogy on U.S. history, seeking to avoid "the extremes of condemnation and celebration of the American past" and to depict America as a marketplace of goods and ideas. He proposes that the country was shaped by five factors: geography, technology, demography, the federative impulse, and, perhaps most important, its reality-based mythology, e.g., its civic religion, the stated respect for public virtue, and the relative compatibility of its diverse faiths. Undergirding this volume is McDougall's delineation of the American people's propensity for "hustling," a character trait that variously represents resourcefulness, deception, reinvention, and opportunism. Influential hustlers include the bogus "Baron von" Steuben, who nevertheless developed the Continental Army, and Methodist Francis Asbury and Roman Catholic John Carroll, who effectively adapted their creeds to the American mosaic and became great promoters. The author puckishly suggests that this country might be so successful because it allows freedom of corruption for all, thereby reducing social tensions. This narrative history, concluding with the election of Andrew Jackson as president, benefits from McDougall's fine prose and often breezy style. While indeed dramatizing a diverse story, his book still represents a top-down emphasis on famous people and events over social history components. General history buffs as well as undergraduate students will appreciate this book.-Frederick J. Augustyn Jr., Library of Congress Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

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