• The End of the Myth

  • From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America
  • By: Greg Grandin
  • Narrated by: Eric Pollins
  • Length: 13 hrs and 27 mins
  • Categories: History, Americas
  • 4.6 out of 5 stars (190 ratings)
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Publisher's Summary

Winner of the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction

From a Pulitzer Prize finalist, a new and eye-opening interpretation of the meaning of the frontier, from early westward expansion to Trump’s border wall.

Ever since this nation’s inception, the idea of an open and ever-expanding frontier has been central to American identity. Symbolizing a future of endless promise, it was the foundation of the United States’ belief in itself as an exceptional nation - democratic, individualistic, forward-looking. Today, though, America has a new symbol: the border wall.   

In The End of the Myth, acclaimed historian Greg Grandin explores the meaning of the frontier throughout the full sweep of US history - from the American Revolution to the War of 1898, the New Deal to the election of 2016. For centuries, he shows, America’s constant expansion - fighting wars and opening markets - served as a “gate of escape”, helping to deflect domestic political and economic conflicts outward. But this deflection meant that the country’s problems, from racism to inequality, were never confronted directly. And now, the combined catastrophe of the 2008 financial meltdown and our unwinnable wars in the Middle East have slammed this gate shut, bringing political passions that had long been directed elsewhere back home.  

It is this new reality, Grandin says, that explains the rise of reactionary populism and racist nationalism, the extreme anger and polarization that catapulted Trump to the presidency. The border wall may or may not be built, but it will survive as a rallying point, an allegorical tombstone marking the end of American exceptionalism.

©2019 Greg Grandin (P)2019 Macmillan Audio

What listeners say about The End of the Myth

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Exceptionally broad and insightful analysis of the role of frontier and limitless “freedom” in US social history.

This book described in detail a long and fundamental array of social and political movements all rooted in “the myth” of limitless expansion and privileged, often savage freedom. And it is not only the myth of limitless opportunity (of land and ingenuity) that has served as a safety valve for white frustrations and resentment, but also unbridled savagery (towards African Americans, Native Americans, Mexican Americans and others) that Grandin shows with a wealth of examples and overwhelmingly clear patterns, US institutions - cultural as well as political and economic - have and still do not only allow but encourage. The documentation presented is thorough and well- explained, making further research accessible. Yet the question remains: how do we overcome this Myth has been rooted and continues to be central to our history.

4 people found this helpful

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Tre story of the frontier in American history

It’s been a week or two since I finished this and what remains is this: the book tells the story of the myth of the frontier as both the essence of and “safety valve” to the American character, and what happened when no physical frontier remained - the Wall, white supremacy, etc. On the on hand it’s provides interesting analysis of a lot of threads in American history. On the other, explains too much. This has been nominated for the National Book Award, so it obviously is well-regarded, but I thought it reduced a lot of complexity to a polemic that isn’t especially helpful in understanding or bridging the current American political divide, especially where political trends similar to those in the US are emerging in places as disparate as the UK, Germany Turkey, and Brazil.

4 people found this helpful

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  • MJ
  • 04-21-19

The chickens are coming home to roost

This is American history viewed through the lens of expansionism, from the Western frontier to the many wars (military, ideological, economic) the US has fought at home and abroad. The thesis of the book is that seemingly endless expansion allowed the US to shore up the country at critical junctures by projecting outward many of its worst inclinations (violent racism, rampant greed/corruption, right-wing extremism) until relatively recently. Now that the US is contracting in power and influence with no new frontiers left to exploit, quagmires/losses in most wars since Vietnam, and serial economic disasters taking their toll, those historically destructive impulses have nowhere "out there" left to go and are being redirected internally. A sweeping, fascinating, and profoundly unsettling listen. Very highly recommended.

14 people found this helpful

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Good History, Flawed Analysis

This historical fact presented are accurate and interesting, but were not new to me and they have been presented better elsewhere. I accept the basic premise that the open frontier acted as a form of repeated wealth redistribution, reducing social tensions, until the very late 1800's. This seems rather obvious. The extended theory that the artificial frontier (via manifest destiny, and repeated external conflicts) somehow did the same was not well supported.

There is a subtext to book which is the US has outlived its founding myths. I believe the opposite, I believe the US is slowly beginning to live up to its myths and the best is yet to come. The future is our frontier, and if not infinite, it is potentially vast.

I disagree with much of the Author's other analysis. I am a left-leaning-moderate, but I try to see and understand the beliefs and motivations of both the far right and far left. I would categorize the analysis in this book as pretty-far-left, with a fundamental misunderstanding of the development and ideology of the far right.

The author presents the philosophy of the New Right as fundamentally negative in nature, organized around rejectionism. The New Right would not see it that way at all. They feel they are fundamentally positive - they want individual freedom, they are for life, for faith, for self-reliance, for American ideals, support the constitution, they are pro-equality based upon effort and ability. Most don't believe they are racist, insisting they are the ones being discriminated against and disempowered. Indeed they are being discriminated against and disempowered compared with their historical advantages. They are against the mainstream, but only because they feel that steam has been flowing in the wrong direction, against them, pushing them back, keeping them from moving forward.

The author proposes that American radical right was radicalized by solders returning from Vietnam. The only evidence for this seems to be antidotal, and I did not buy it. The segregationists/white-supremacists wing of the new right has existed and been radicalized since the birth of the nation. Nixon led them into the Republican party using dog-whistles in the 60's. Nixon needed their votes but both parties strongly suppressed their radicalism. As the nation moved slowly and modestly to the left, this relatively small group became more and more politically active and powerful, eventually dominating Republican primaries - and thus the party. This progressed through Southern Democrats, the Second New Right, the Tea Party, and Trumpism.

The narration is quite clear and well paced, but slightly over enthusiastic which I found a bit off-putting.

1 person found this helpful

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Great book

Excellent exploration of ideas relevant to US history and to today's political climate, and even to US foreign policy.

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history with intellectual fire

Stunningly powerful and convincing and brilliantly written
It shows how the USA has reached it's current weakened cruel state under Trumpism

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One of the best books I’ve ever read

If you really want to understand Trump and the American empire this book is essential

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"In a world..."

Great book that suffers from poor narration.

Eric Pollins has a great voice for a movie advertisement, but his performance in this audiobook is severely lacking. Phrasing is almost non-existent and it's difficult to tell where one sentence ends and another begins.

Pollins' speech is clear, but incredibly boring. Narration is a performance, created for human consumption. The task is not just to read the words, but to engage the listener.

Pollins' cadence never changes, his inflection is almost always flat and uninteresting. With about four hours left in the book he ever-so-slightly changes words that are quotes or Spanish names. The difference is slight and easy to miss.

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Well done. Deserve the Pulitzer Prize

Excellent book should be on your reading list. Explains a lot of the problems throughout our history pertaining too race.

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  • Amy W Saha
  • 07-11-20

Brilliant looking back from 2020

I didn’t agree with every conclusion but my fundamental lens looking at american history will forever be changed. Just wish author was on Twitter