In Empire of Liberty, one of America's most esteemed historians, Gordon S. Wood, offers a brilliant account of the early American Republic, ranging from 1789 and the beginning of the national government to the end of the War of 1812.
As Wood reveals, the period was marked by tumultuous change in all aspects of American life - in politics, society, economy, and culture. The men who founded the new government had high hopes for the future, but few of their hopes and dreams worked out quite as they expected. They hated political parties but parties nonetheless emerged. Some wanted the United States to become a great fiscal-military state, like those of Britain and France; others wanted the country to remain a rural agricultural state very different from the European states. Instead, by 1815 the United States became something neither group anticipated. Named a New York Times Notable Book, Empire of Liberty, part of The Oxford History of the United States series, offers a marvelous account of this pivotal era when America took its first unsteady steps as a new and rapidly expanding nation.
The Oxford History of the United States is considered the gold standard for serious historians and general readers (and listeners) alike. Three of the titles have won the Pulitzer Prize for history; two have been Pulitzer Prize finalists, and all of them have enjoyed critical and commercial success.
Please note: The individual volumes of the series have not been published in historical order. Empire of Liberty is number IV in The Oxford History of the United States.
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©2009 Gordon S. Wood; (P)2009 Audible, Inc.
I've always appreciated Gordon S. Wood's writing -- his "Creation of the American Republic" is one of my favorite books of all time. He manages to write in a popular, main-stream way without dumbing anything down. This is just very good narrative history, much like the other Oxford History of the US books. There is probably not much new being revealed here, but I find his synthesis of the facts about this era very enlightening. For example, I think I had a pretty good understanding already of the basic Federalist/Republican differences, but Wood has retold the story in such a clear and interesting way that the whole thing felt fresh. Also, his style is just great -- the words flow, the vignettes are well-chosen to illustrate his points, and the result is a beautifully told story of the early republic.
The narration is competent but not spectacular. I have downloaded and will listen to the other Oxford History of the US works at Audible (What Hath God Wrought by Howe, Battle Cry of Freedom by McPherson.) I hope Audible will consider getting the others in the series now that they have made such an excellent start.
This is a wonderful book not only for anyone interested in this particular period of history, but for all those who despair of today's politics and who think the country may not survive whatever current political conflict is occurring. Gordon Wood shows us that we Americans have been fighting the same political fights, exhibiting the same cultural flaws and virtues, struggling with the same social problems as we do today. And the country's survival was much more fragile than it is now, being only a decade or two old. The writing style is very entertaining, and the narration is perfect for the text. I enjoyed it tremendously.
Wood has written a history period review that feels like an excellent novel. I can't remember a history account so full of startling explanations and analyses, and I thought I knew a lot about this era . Wood takes no standard assumptions for granted while sticking with solid factual evidence. He makes villains of actions and cultural mistakes, not personalities. He sees the prejudices and flaws of the times in context without passing judgment or evoking his own prejudices. Wow, this is a classic!
The narration is so perfect I thought Fass and Wood must be twins. Fass' enthusiasm and since of drama never overplay but always charm. BTW: I was led to this work by Wood's also-brilliant The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin.
Superior history of the early American Republic bridging the gap b/t "The Glorious Cause" & "What Hath God Wrought?" Wood vividly captures the diversity and clash of opinions as Americans realized, "We won the war - now what?" We watch as the patriots who won the war & founded the nation slowly drift into factions that harden into opposing political parties, further complicated by differences in geography, lifestyle, and culture. Reading this, it feels amazing that the United States came into being at all, let alone survived the travail of the ideological battles virtually baked into its founding.
The terrific thing about this history is how it illuminates that the struggles the U.S. went through then are largely the same issues it continues to struggle with today - the power of states vs. the Federal gov't, Congressional vs. Presidential authority, the role of the judiciary, and shall the Constitution be interpreted literally, or is it more of an adaptive framework cleverly crafted to change with the times as need be? Even the struggle of religious fundamentalism vs. that of comparative tolerance and arguments about the role and scope of religion vis a vis the state were wrestled with right from the beginning.
Plenty of folks who like to talk about interpreting the Constitution the way the framers intended probably ought to indicate which framers - there were a number of different outlooks. And those who yearn for a day of less mean spirited politics need look no further than this period to have their illusions shattered. I was downright shocked to see some of the things that such esteemed figures as Jefferson & Hamilton had to say about each other. Their vitriolic personal attacks would be right at home in today's poisoned political atmosphere.
Beyond this terrific insight, Professor Wood's eye for detail and untangling the complicated issues (e.g. early history of the American judiciary) are also exemplary. I can't praise this book enough
Bottom line, this book provides an exceptional insight into the culture and politics of a burgeoning nation, and it goes a long way to explaining the foundations of much of what we see around us today. It is well written, impeccably organized, and if you don't learn a thing or two about the country after finishing, you might just be the author.
My main contention with the book is that is not a linear narrative, it is organized into a series of topics meant to lay out a comprehensive cultural mosaic, and skips around a lot in painting its picture. To this end it is quite effective, but at the expense of consistent and compelling story. That is, there is nothing passive about this listen, you have to pay constant and close attention to fully appreciate it, less so than you would if it were told as a chronological account with emphasis on the significance of individual events.
That said, it is hard to understate the comprehensive nature of the cultural understanding conveyed in this book. Upon finishing, you will intimately know the people of the late 18th / early 19th century, at all social strata. It is truly a magnificent work.
This book will undoubtedly give you a new perspective on how America became America. Beautiful history addressing so many aspects of who we are, and how we got to be this way. This is a tremendously readable and interesting history, and should be required reading for anyone who wants to engage in political, social or economic policy debates in America as we know her today.
Addicted to audio-books.
I read "John Adams" by David McCullough before I listened to this book. Such a striking difference on the perspective of John Adams. Wood obviously does not think much of Adams, commenting that Adams was interested in his own importance, which is in stark contrast to other opinions. It was an interesting book, but colors the characters too much with his (Wood's) opinions.
The reader of this book talked so fast and in such a monotone that I found it extremely difficult to follow the text. One thing just sort of bled into another. I love early American history and was looking forward to a more detailed look at our earliest years as a new country. It's a shame, I really wanted to like this book. It was difficult for me to get anything much out of it.
This book deepened my owe and admiration of the American experiment in establishing a lasting great experiment in establishing and validating that a republic built on liberty for all is possible. Seldom in history that a nation is blessed with several outstanding almost super human quality, the founding fathers and first presidents and leaders enabling this experiments to be a reality. God bless America and save the west
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