In 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville, a young French aristocrat and civil servant, made a nine-month journey through the eastern United States. The result was Democracy in America, a monumental study of the strengths and weaknesses of the nation’s evolving politics. Tocqueville looked to the flourishing democratic system in America as a possible model for post-revolutionary France, believing its egalitarian ideals reflected the spirit of the age - even that they were the will of God. His insightful work has become one of the most influential political texts ever written on America and an indispensable authority for anyone interested in the future of democracy.
Public Domain (P)2010 Tantor
I got this version, simply because I couldn't tolerate the one narrated by Frederick Davidson. This version is the original translation, by Henry Reeve, which was disliked and criticized by de Tocqueville. The Blackstone Audio version (narrated by Davidson), is of the George Lawrence translation (1966), which is generally more respected.
One thing that Reeve did in his translation, was in the sections where de Tocqueville quotes from English sources, he translated the French translation back into English - often changing the meaning - instead of inserting the original English sources. Lawrence, in his translation, included the original English sources, thereby preserving de Tocqueville's intent.
If it weren't for the horrible quality of both the Blackstone recording (excessive noise reduction, which removes all the consonants from the beginnings of words) and the Davidson narration (which is read with an annoyingly laconic, "landed gentry" delivery), I would have chosen the Lawrence translation over the Reeve. If there had been an available recording of either the Mansfield/Winthrop, or the Goldhammer translations, I would have picked one of them over this.
That said, John Pruden does an exceptional job of bringing this book to life. Even this imperfect translation was lauded as an important work in its own time, and it is easy to see why. De Tocqueville did an amazing job of assessing the American culture. His description of our unique brand of representative democracy clearly explains what set us apart from all other forms of democratic government at the time. His descriptions are so insightful, that much of what he wrote about the character of the American people (both the good and the bad), remains relevant to this day.
Until a more accurate (and listenable) translation becomes available at Audible, I would recommend this book to other listeners.
Everyone who wants to understand what America is, how it was created, and where its values came from must read or listen to this book. When written it was recognized as a work of amazing detail, analysis and genius. It still is.
The Author spent years traveling America, researching its forms of life, forms of government, cultural values, religions, the Indians, slavery, its economic life and after developing a wonderful understanding of the parts, he was able to synthesis all the parts into a rational explanation of why America burst onto the world stage as one of the greatest countries on the globe in just a few short years. America was an amazing phenomenon. It was not the only new country, or a country will resources, or educated people. Yet, in a few short decades after its successful revolution, it had already become the standard by which all other countries were judged as successful. Tocqueville wanted to know why, and to take the lessons learned in America back to France to help the French develop rational government after the chaos that was the French revolution. To sum it up, Tocqueville claimed "America was great because Americans were good." His analysis showed that the shared cultural values of Americans concerning liberty, responsibility, religion were so strong that they outweighed any other factor in developing a great Nation from scratch. He also showed that the democratic/republican tradition had developed in America for over 200 years starting from the lowest level, through the town, county, colony, and finally the National government. This understanding of the rules of self government was a part of the American culture and did not have to be imposed from the top or learned anew. Finally, he described America's internal conflict about slavery and predicted the civil war and its aftermath. Fascinating reading. This is as relevant today as ever, it should be mandatory reading for all American students.
The discussion of the westward expansion and the subsequent interaction with the Indian nations was fascinating. I had never heard this description, and analysis, and it is right on the mark. I suppose that political correctness has limited this type of discussion today, but every American, and American Indian should read this analysis. Clear, dispassionate description of the inevitable westward expansion of Europeans. This class of cultures was not always, and maybe not usually violent. The Indian communities largely made a living by the "chase", or hunting. The European made his living by Agriculture, and needed land to settle. As the whites moved into a region, they would hunt the game out of the region for 200miles, so the game and the Indians were pushed ever westward. Attempts were made to fix the boundary of westward expansion, to include the Kind of England forbidding any settlement of lands that did not drain into the Atlantic. But, as settlers saw land that the Indians has abandoned, since the game was gone, they clamored farther westward. This started the whole cycle over again as the game was hunted out, and the Indians were forces westward for survival again. There were times were Indians sold their lands as they could not find enough game and needed to move west, and they would not or could not adapt to the agrarian forms of European life. Fascinating first hand research and analysis.
Yes, my reaction was "now I understand why we are the way we are" as a nation and as a people. As Issac Newton once states "we stand on the shoulders of great men", and we are all a part of our history, both our biological history encoded in our DNA and our cultural history encoded in our beliefs, values, laws and traditions.
Everyone should listen to this book. After listening to it I bought a copy so i could use it as a reference.
All school children should read this as a guide to responsible citizenship. Tocqueville basically predicts the future of America but gave ample warning.
Marine photograper, turned Embassy Officer, now USAF Public Affairs
What I find most amazing about this work is how much this foreigner attributes to destiny, fate and providence as if he were lulled in by the very arguments of many of the founding fathers who also believed divine intervention shaped the United States.
While clearly dated, the perceptions in this book have been repeatedly touted as amazingly insightful -- very possibly because he mirrors at us collectively what we wish we were more than the actual facts of the moment. Nonetheless, even if the overarching statements are far reaching, the actual elements of daily life are an amazing slice of life that we can no longer reach into. We own Alexis a great debt for capturing this moment in time.
As an audiobook, this is a great read. It is smooth, fluid and makes a great narrative. I loved it.
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