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American Character

A History of the Epic Struggle Between Individual Liberty and the Common Good
Narrated by: Jonathan Yen
Length: 9 hrs and 59 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (82 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

The struggle between individualism and the good of the community as a whole has been the basis of every major disagreement in our history, from the debates at the Constitutional Convention and in the run-up to the Civil War to the fights surrounding the agenda of the Progressives, the New Deal, the civil rights movement, and the Tea Party. In American Character, Colin Woodard traces these two key strands in American politics through the four centuries of the nation's existence, from the first colonies through the Gilded Age and Great Depression to the present day, and how different regions of the country have successfully or disastrously accommodated them. The independent streak found its most pernicious form in the antebellum South but was balanced in the Gilded Age by communitarian reform efforts; the New Deal was an example of a successful coalition between communitarian-minded Eastern elites and Southerners.

Throughout the American experience, the goal has always been to find the sweet spot between protecting the individual and nurturing the health of the community, and Woodard's historically informed suggestions for achieving that balance will be of interest to anyone who cares about the current American predicament - political, ideological, and sociological.

©2016 Original Material © 2016 by Colin Woodard. (P)2016 HighBridge, a division of Recorded Books

What members say

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  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Love the book, hate the fake accents narrator uses

This is a very interesting book, but the narrator's insistence on using ridiculous accents to indicate quotes is both annoying and distracting. Seriously, affecting a stilted English accent for Fareed Zakaria, a Maurice Chevalier parody for Alexis de Tocqueville, a fake German accent for Hans Morganthau as well as the many other examples are enough to make me want to use electronic reading. In other words, I would rather listen to Alexia for all the quotes than the audible version with its narrator. Since I prefer to read on a kindle fire tablet which allows me to underline and note passages, and only use audible to allow me to continue with a book when I am unable to read, I feel ripped off by buying this audible book companion. If you don't use the audible companion for listening while exercising, then don't waste your money and utilize the automated narrator available for free on fire tablets.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Interesting view on history

I really enjoyed the book and the narrator. Woodard takes some interesting viewpoints on American events and I would actually like to buy the book so I can notate the things that I want to look up.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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Worthwhile- Repeats Much of "American Nations"

If you are familiar with Woodard ' s "American Nations" then you will find much of this book familiar as well. I believe it stands on its own and does extend to a more candid presentation by the author as to how American Nations have contributed to contemporary affairs and the continuing corrosive effect of Deep South values in the American Experience.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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Bias towards "the common good"

Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

No. I fell in love with Colin Woodward's American Nations. I have listened to it twice and could not stop talking about it. My favorite part of American Nations was how unbiased Colin Woodward was. He was acting as a historian focused on an accurate accounting of history and an explanation of our current culture. I was extremely excited to read this book thinking it was going to read an extension of the groundwork from that book and hear about how these nations compete between the idea of individual liberty and the common good that was unbiased like his other writing. The book starts out this way. When he explained the purpose of the book in the first few chapters it is spot on. Then when the book gets going its starts to lean extremely heavily on a big government "Yankeedom" point of view as the only "right" solution to everything. It takes a tone of anything that does not believe that government is a utopian solution to help the common good is evil. I had trouble finishing this book from about 1900 on. Lastly, he makes it out to seem that certain assumptions he has made a pure fact. I was very disappointed in this book and do not know if I will ever read another one of his after this. I will still promote his American Nations and probably listen to it for the third time soon..

Have you listened to any of Jonathan Yen’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

Yes. Just as good as others. He is great!

Did American Character inspire you to do anything?

no.

4 of 6 people found this review helpful

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Maybe just hang it up.

I feel like he didn't quite have enough material for an entire second book. Also, the support for his conclusion that he had deduced the character of our geographical nation is a little weak, especially as it nearly violates the core idea of 11 nationa

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Warning

To any admirers of Woodard's excellent book "American Nations" who might hope for an equally unbiased assessment of the "American Character", you are likely to be disappointed. He begins and ends by paying lip-service to the benefits of a politics properly balanced between communitarian and individual freedom concerns, but in between it seems he can find no collectivist program he doesn't support and no opposition to those programs which could possibly be based on anything other than narrow self-interest and greed. He lauds the views of such far left ideologues as Galbraith and Krugman but has nothing but distain for their ideological opponents such as Hayek, Mises, Hazlitt and Irving Kristol. In fact, he does not seem to think there is such a thing as a leftist ideologue, reserving that word only for Tea Party advocates. He excoriates the work of think tanks like AEI, CATO, The Manhattan Institute and the Hoover Institute and publications like National Review but has nothing at all to say about the virtual takeover by leftists of universities, public education, journalism and Hollywood, far left movements like moveon.org, Occupy Wall Street or Anti-fa or far left publications like The Nation. His own leftist views are on full display in the final part of the book where he outlines what he thinks is a winning 'fairness' agenda that will enable the D's (he says there is simply no hope for the R's in his unbiased opinion) to take over virtually all state and federal politics except in what he calls 'the deep south.' This is pure leftist propaganda (but he uses that word only to describe anti-collectivist efforts) masquerading as an objective view of the 'American Character' and is especially disappointing to those of us who hoped for a more helpful and less ideological effort from someone who offered just that in his first book. Sad.

I gave it two stars instead of one because in places (like his reiteration of the points made in "American Nations" and his occasional--very occasional--warnings about the left 'going too far'), he dons the guise of objectivity and purports to recognize the positive contributions of those who seek to at least slow down the country's 'progress' toward a socialist utopia, even though in most of the book he can find very few positive things to say about those persons.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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useful guide to American history and culture

I hope Democrats will read this book before we all die in a fiery inferno.
The practical advice is at the very end of the book - if you only have 20 minutes to spend on this book, listen to that. But hearing the whole context is fun and quite illuminating.

The only reason I gave the narrator 3 stars is the "accents" that pop up when quoting historical/public figures. They're... not great... By this I mean that I cringed a lot, and almost gave up on the book at some point because of it (but I'm glad I didn't). It's a shame, since accents are not necessary in this context, and don't have much to add - there is no dialog that they need to help us keep track of, and the source of the quote is always mentioned anyway. Besides, no one can reasonably be expected to replicate such a wide range of accents anyway - so it's a losing proposition from the outset. (Unless you're Meryl Streep, in which case go for it!)
The narration is quite good otherwise.

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  • 08-29-17

Well researched and analyzed

Mr Woodard once again puts well researched information together into an informative, well analyzed explanation of where we (the USA people) are, how we got here, and where we might go and by what means.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Biased Misrepresentation

Billed as a balanced look at America's need for both libertarianism and collectivism, this is instead a propaganda playbook for building a socialist nation filled with hours of hateful attacks on anything and everything conservative. If you are a socialist you will gleefully cheer the authors biased attacks on and misrepresentations of libertarianism. If you are a conservative this will be a infuriatingly painful listen.

5 of 14 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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A Liberal Interpretation of American History

This is a high school level liberal interpretation of American History. If you are a person of the left you will most probably enjoy this books point of view.

2 of 10 people found this review helpful