Waking Giant captures the turbulence of a democracy caught in the throes of the slavery controversy, the rise of capitalism, and the birth of urbanization. Reynolds reveals unknown dimensions of the Second Great Awakening with its sects, cults, and self-styled prophets. He brings alive the reformers, abolitionists, and prohibitionists who struggled to correct America's worst social ills. He uncovers the political roots of some of America's greatest authors and artists, from Ralph Waldo Emerson and Edgar Allan Poe to Thomas Cole and Asher B. Durand, and he re-creates the shocking phenomena that marked the age: bloody duels and violent mobs; Barnum's freaks and all-seeing mesmerists; polygamous prophets and wealthy prostitutes; table-lifting spiritualists and rabble-rousing feminists. All were crucial to the political and social ferment that led to the Civil War. Meticulously researched and masterfully written, Waking Giant is a brilliant chronicle of America's vibrant and tumultuous rise.
©2008 David S. Reynolds; (P)2008 Tantor
"A remarkable synthesis, impressive on many levels." (Kirkus Starred Review)
"His book will appeal to general history buffs and American studies students. Highly recommended for all public and college libraries." (Library Journal)
I knew almost nothing about the Jacksonian era in American history before listening to this. Reynolds is mostly positive about Jackson's influence on democratic politics (small "d") while deploring his attitudes toward slavery and his "ethnic cleansing" of Native Americans. The political campaigns are all here, but even more than that, Reynolds gives a fascinating overview of cultural trends: the new religions, the new novelists and poets and philosophers (Hawthorne, Emerson, Melville), and the painters; and the new technology (telegraph, railroad, the Erie Canal). There is more than a dash of "spice" here as well, with discussions of hucksters, showmen, alcohol consumption, and sexual practices.
As a novice in the period, I don't have any opinion about how complete Reynolds' account is. What I CAN say is that it's very well written, competently narrated, and absorbing throughout. I'm looking forward to the audiobook version of "What Hath God Wrought" (due out next year), which covers the same period and which friends of mine have highly recommended. It will be interesting to compare the two.
Of the many excellent historical books now available on Audible, this is one of the best. Reynolds provides a panoramic view of life in the first half of the 19th century. His account weaves together the politics, mores, religious ferment, medical and cultural aspects of life in this era. The medical details were of particular interest to this 88 year old listener. During the 20s my mother used the practice of "blistering" - mustard plasters - for chest colds and anything else. Calomel - a poisonous mercury purgative was still employed. Medicine really didn't change much until the first real antibiotic, sulfanilamide, was developed in the 1940s. A fascinating and meticulously researched book.
I read mostly fiction, but I enjoy history. I was expecting a political history but I was pleasantly surprised that it also covered religion, science and medicine, technological advances, entertainment and even art (painters and authors). It was a very thorough look at life in the early 1800's. What I took away most was the mood of the country leading up to the civil war. You could see that early on in our country's history, slavery was going to a huge issue for us to deal with. You could also see how our founding fathers laid the groundwork for the next generation to deal with it. Would make a good reference book.
If you are interested in U. S. history this is a must book for you. Details and insights without judgment or an agenda. A terrific volume about a part of American history that is generally ignored. I couldn't stop listening.
Really an exceptional volume. Reynolds weaves together political and cultural history in one of the most enjoyable history books I have read (listened to) in years. You will set this book (your Ipod) down and marvel at how little we have changed in almost 200 years.
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