Pulitzer Prize, History, 2008
In this addition to the esteemed Oxford History of the United States series, historian Daniel Walker Howe illuminates the period from the Battle of New Orleans to the end of the Mexican-American War, an era of revolutionary improvements in transportation and communications that accelerated America's expansion and prompted the rise of mass political parties.
He examines the rise of Andrew Jackson and his Democratic party but contends that John Quincy Adams and other advocates of public education, economic integration, and the rights of blacks, women, and Indians were the true prophets of America's future.
Howe's panoramic narrative - weaving together social, economic, and cultural history with political and military events - culminates in the controversial but brilliantly executed war against Mexico that gained California and Texas for America.
Please note: The individual volumes of the series have not been published in historical order. What Hath God Wrought is number V in The Oxford History of the United States.
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©2007 Oxford University Press, Inc.; (P)2009 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
"One of the most outstanding syntheses of U.S. history published this decade." (Publishers Weekly)
"He is a genuine rarity: an English intellectual who not merely writes about the United States but actually understands it." (Washington Post)
"A stunning synthesis....it is a rare thing to encounter a book so magisterial and judicious and also so compelling." (Chicago Tribune)
Perhaps it's because I knew so little about this era, but this is one of the two or three greatest books I've read on American History. I think one can't really understand the United States as it IS today without understanding what occurred during this pivotal, transformative era. Howe does a fantastic job explaining the large, more well-known events that still affect us today as well as providing dozens of smaller subplots and odds and ends that help fill out what life was like during this era. For the most part, he doesn't judge the actors, except when they really deserve judging (E.g., it's hard for Andrew Jackson to avoid the label of actual, or aspiring, autocrat.) Howe also sets forth a compelling case that many of the large events early in the period were facilitated by the lack of communications technology (Jackson's rise, for example, is clearly tied to his reputation gained in the Battle of New Orleans that was unknowingly fought after the war's official end); while the most dramatic transformative movements and counter-movements that arose later (namely around slavery and women's rights) were facilitated by the revolution in communications and transportation technology. I can't recommend this highly enough, and it fits well in the outstanding Oxford History of the US series.
I am a casual history fan and I've always had trouble keeping track of the Taylor's and the Tyler's in the first half of the 19th century. This book is comprehensive, well-read and detailed, sometimes to the point where it can be hard to follow, especially if you listen while commuting. There are many themes, and he jumps back and forth between them. I found myself backing up several times to make sense of things, but it was not too much of a chore. As the author says in the conclusion, he is telling a story, not asserting a thesis--this type of history I think is the most fun to listen to. I never found it tiresome, and that is a lot to say about a book this long. The other reviewer is correct, there were a lot of changes in the recording, sometimes in the middle of a sentence. While this is unusual in audiobooks, I did not find it very distracting.
This book provides a comprehensive overview of US history from the end of the War of 1812 to just after the admission of California to the Union. The ebb and flow of politics provides the main narrative framework for the book, into which Howe weaves detailed discussions of the competing social, economic, religious and technological forces that slowly transformed the coastal states of the founders into a continent-spanning empire riven by internal disputes that would erupt in the Civil War and reverberate for more than a century after. Howe makes the entire era come alive by drawing on a wide variety of primary sources, from census data to the writings contemporary diarists and newspaper accounts, and incorporating many engaging quotes.
This would be a perfect listen for an avid student of American history, since it covers a frequently overlooked period (overlooked, I would add, for reasons which Howe discusses at length towards the end of the book) were it not for the truly horrible quality of the recording. The narrator is overall quite good, but the editing is probably among the worst I have ever encountered. There are noticeable jumps in audio quality and speed throughout, sometimes even within the same sentence. These imperfections are substantial enough that at times I found myself listening more to the atrocious mixing than the actual content, which was a shame.
When writing a period survey, it is extremely difficult to be both comprehensive and cohesive. This book, however, succeeds marvelously at both. Howe has incorporated the breadth and inclusiveness of a period survey with in-depth critical analysis, and the result is a compelling story. Howe disclaims an attempt to present a thesis, yet he does identify several themes in his analysis, such as what he calls the revolutions in communications and transportation. He does a wonderful job maintaining his themes throughout the book, explaining how various events and trends influenced and were influenced by the themes. He also explains how many of these trends influenced the periods following 1815-1848, especially the lead-up to the Civil War, and continuing into the present.
Good book, good narrator, but the editing was horrible... leaving no pauses where they should be, running all the sentences together unnaturally. A tedious chore to listen to..almost as if the editors were trying to make the book as short as possible by crunching the sentences together as closely as they could. Never had the problem before with any other book -- I hope I never run into it again.
While I am enjoying this book, there are some issues. There is a LOT more about religion than I thought. From the description, I thought it was going to be about technology and politics. I'm a casual reader of history. It seems that this book is written for someone with a more than casual love of history. Be prepared to ocasionally pause this book and do a Google search for terms that the author assumes the reader is familiar with. While this book is read well, it doesn't seem to be edited well. I can imagine that it takes days if not weeks to record these books. In other books, you can tell when they have stopped and started recording by the suttle changes in pitch or tone. Usually this happens at the end of pages, chapters, or parts. In this book, it happens mid-sentence. A lot. While it doesn't make the book unlistenable, it is annoying.
This is an interesting, well-written history that provides more information about 1815-48 than you thought could fit into one book. Yes, it covers religion, as one reviewer said, but then again, it covers everything: electoral politics and newspapers of the 1830s, technological innovations, and even the execrable American diet and levels of drinking that had foreign visitors like Frances Trollope commenting on our peculiar ways.
Several heroes emerge, including John Quincy Adams in the Amistad trial, but there's one villain glowering over every bad decision that the U.S. made in this period: Andrew Jackson. Not that Howe isn't scrupulous in his reporting of history--he seems to be--but if this book were a melodrama, Jackson is its malign guiding force.
The editing is poor, as a few reviewers have commented. All the natural pauses have been snipped out, which makes the narration seem breathless. In fact, although the material is fascinating, it's hard to listen to this book for a long stretch of time without feeling tired, given the dense level of information and rushed delivery.
This period of history always gets the short stick. We go from revolution to civil war to WWI and 20th cetury without a pause into the largest technological, business, political, religous and social changes which enabled our 21st century ethics around the role of government, equal rights, the use of technology which seems so natural to us was quite different in 1812, but much closer to our current world in 1850. The discussion of women's rights, the revolutions of 1848, the great awakening, the war against Mexico, the development of the Whig's, and the anti-slavery movement are particualry engaging. Central is the change from the world of the horse to the technology of the railroad, telegraph, newspaper and strong federal government, complete with the central bank. This period of change rivals the change we feel has ocurred in the 20th century. Enjoy a great book.
I am a political conservative who likes honest, even critical history. If you are partial toward historians that are apologists for and who white wash past mistakes and wrongs, I would not recommend this book.
Though in many ways the American experiment may be exceptional, America's history of conquest, expropriation and displacement of natives, of chattel slavery, etc., is in no way exceptional nor remarkable. It is the history of the world.
The phrase “What Hath God Wrought” was the first message sent long distance over the telegraph. This was in some ways the beginning of the communications age. This book covers the period from 1815 to 1848. Many viewed the War of 1812 as the second American Revolution. In the aftermath of that war the American nation began to grow quickly. By the end of the period another war would be fought. This one with Mexico. That war would complete what we today call the Continental United States.
This period is rich in American history. The nation grew in size, but also in many other areas. Religion flourished in many new and differing ways. An American culture began to grow in the areas of science, literature, and the arts. The tasks of governing a Republic of vast proportions was a novel concept and continued to perplex many leaders. This period saw the end of the Federalist party with the government becoming a one party system with the Republican party in control during the Monroe years. After that the Republican party split itself in two as the followers of Andrew Jackson created the Democrat party and the opponents of Jackson creating the Whig party. Some of the greatest orators and politicians of 19th century America lived and served in this time. It was the period of Jackson, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, John Calhoun, and John Quincy Adams. Towards the end of the period new leaders like Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas began to rise.
Slavery was the elephant in the room that could no longer be ignored. As abolitionist societies began to grow in the North the Southern planter class become more and more adamant about protecting slavery. This conflict would continue to pull at the fabric of the nation until, a dozen years after the final period of this book, it would tear the nation in two.
These are only a few of the areas covered by Daniel Walker Howe in this outstanding volume in the Oxford History of the United States. Even a seasoned reader of history is bound to discover some new gems in these pages. Howe’s prose is never wooded and the subject is made very accessible. With magnificent books like these it is a shame that so few Americans read history. This is a great place to begin the study of a crucial time in our nation’s history.
"Good, apart from the economics"
"What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815 - 1848" by Daniel Walker Howe, read by Patrick Cullen is a good audiobook. Patrick Cullen reads it clearly.
The content of the book is, for the most part, a good explanation of the political and cultural changes in the US from 1815 to 1848. The judgements in it seem fair, like the judgement that the American colonists treated the Indians very shabbily and the US government didn't do much about this through a mixture of weakness and lack of concern for the Indians' rights.
Somewhat less good is the book's treatment of economics. The author takes for granted the idea that central banking and government spending money to prop up the economy during recessions. He doesn't argue that this is true, he just accepts it. And he's wrong. Central banking is a bad idea because it doesn't allow for voluntary adjustment of the money supply: instead the supply of money is adjusted by government fiat. The government pumping out money to "help" people during a recession is also a bad idea as it makes it more difficult for goods and services to be shifted out of the lines of production that are no longer profitable. See the works of George Selgin and Lawrence White on free banking and "Theory of Money and Credit" by Ludwig von Mises.
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