It's not business as usual. Cultural hostilities more irreconcilable than any since the Civil War have divided America in two. In November 2008, the American people elected a new president, feeling more anxious about the future of the nation than at any time since Watergate. Our omnipotent military, the cornucopia of material comforts available, the security of our borders, and the global economy can no longer be taken for granted.
In The American Future, historian Simon Schama takes a long look at the multiple crises besetting the United States and asks how these problems look in the mirror of time. In four crucial debates - on wars, religion, race and immigration, and the relationship between natural resources and prosperity - Schama looks back to see more clearly into the future.
Full of lost insights, The American Future showcases Schama's acclaimed gift for storytelling, ensuring these voices will be heard again.
©2009 Simon Schama; (P)2009 HarperCollins Publishers
"A lively meditation on American history... Schama's wide-ranging narratives wander between contemporary reportage...and fluent, richly literate history." (Publishers Weekly)
Simon Schama has a knack for writing beautifully and finding interesting and often obscure stories to highlight his historical theses. The fact that some of his books, including this one, are companions to BBC or PBS shows, helps his texts move along at a fast clip (a good feature for an audiobook), makes sure that the material contains good word-pictures to light up your mind, and makes sure the words, sentences, paragraphs and chapters are well edited. The downside of all this is that sometimes the topics are left somewhat under-developed, somewhat superficial. But as long as you know that is the style, going in, you can suspend your critical eye and just go along for a very entertaining ride. I highly recommend the book. I have only dinged it one star for occasionally irritating superficiality, and for the narrator's occasional lapses into fake accents to speak out quotes from the characters. Minor blemishes in a good audiobook.
mostly nonfiction listener
You know those questions that go "if you could have dinner with anyone, who would it be?". Well...I think I'd choose Simon Schama. Or maybe a roadtrip. Schama is one of those historians who both have something to say about how we live now and the depth of knowledge to ground his thinking by weaving stories from our past. One part sociology, one part history, all very smart and engaging. The American Future should be read in conjunction with watching the BBC documentary of the same title, narrated by Schama.
Reading the book while watching the documentary does wonderful things for the brain in terms of reinforcing the concepts and stories with images. It helps the stories stick.
Schama's basic premise is that the election of Obama represents the culmination of an American journey towards our nation struggling to live up to our founding myths. Only American could produce the horror of the civil war, segregation and institutional racism while holding the promise of electing an African American to the highest office. This American Future beautifully chronicles our redemption, placing the biggest story of our times firmly within our American narrative.
As someone who has lived here for 11 years, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Like Schama, I am a foreigner reflecting upon why things are what they are and how did we get here.
The breadth of history covered (often out of sync) gave me some insight into why there is no such as a typical American. The book is a great primer into non-conventional US history what you don't see on history channel. For example, I'd not heard of Meigs and the contribution he made to the Civil war nor did I know about other members of his family line before and after.
The stories on TDR, Westpoint, why Texas joined the Union, the uprooting of Cheroke by President Jackson, the German immigrants / Chinese immigrants and their corresponding race riots were particularly entertaining though not always is a happy way.
As for reviewers who dismissed this book with one star. I don't agree with them one bit. I can appreciate History is written by the victor and one man's freedom fighter is another one's terrorist but but I didn't hear Schama writings as being particularly biased.
I endured it for an hour hoping it would move on to something useful. This book isn't just biased, is openly hostile and condescending of conservatives and worshipful of politicians on the left. If Rush Limbaugh were a liberal, this is the book he would write.
You won't gain anything from reading this at all.
Most Democratic politicians would work hard to distance themselves from this nut. Paul Krugman however would probably love the book.
The author revels in the current popularity of liberal ideas as if it is some rebirth of America. While trying to craft a foreigner's critique of American Democracy (the author is British) like some second rate Alexis de Tocqueville, Schama can't help but let escape his glee on each and every page at the prospect of a final victory of liberal ideals. This book hardly ranks as a history and should instead be shelved in the politics section along with the James Carville and Ann Coulter titles. This way fans of history won't waste their money after reading a misleading description of this book.
Schama appears to attempt a sort of modern "de Tocqueville" account of America, and falls short by providing inconclusive, bug-on-the-wall anecdotes of the country's current condition. This may very well be interesting for a foreigner who is interested in learning about the minutaie of ever-elusive American culture, but otherwise it leaves the reader with little but Schama's futile attempt at turning over a new leaf.
I tried to listen to this but after the first two chapters contained so many opinions masquerading as fact - unsubstantiated fact - I almost gave up and boy I wish I had. It got no better. I think this was written by Obama's campaign or PR department - or else David Axelrod (nickname "Karl Rove"). Look elsewhere unless you drank the kool-aid.
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