America, Empire of Liberty: A New History
Penguin Books Limited
, 2010 - History
- 673 pages
It was Thomas Jefferson who envisioned the United States as a great ‘empire of liberty.’In the first new one-volume history in two decades, David Reynolds takes Jefferson’s phrase as a key to the saga of America – helping unlock both its grandeur and its paradoxes.He examines how the anti-empire of 1776 became the greatest superpower the world has seen, how the country that offered liberty and opportunity on a scale unmatched in Europe nevertheless founded its prosperity on the labour of black slaves and the dispossession of the Native Americans. He explains how these tensions between empire and liberty have often been resolved by faith – both the evangelical Protestantism that has energized U.S. politics since the foundation of the nation and the larger faith in American righteousness that has impelled the country’s expansion. Reynolds’ account is driven by a compelling argument which illuminates our contemporary world. This is also a book in which the voices of the past speak out strongly for themselves.Not just presidents from Washington to Bush, but ordinary men and women – settlers and Indians, slaves and immigrants, factory workers and farmers, baseball players and suburban housewives.Reynolds celebrates America’s technological achievements – the plough, the skyscraper and the personal computer.He paints vivid pictures of the battlefield of Gettysburg, the stockyards of Chicago, and the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama.But he also asks hard questions about the cost of greatness, from the Indian ‘Trail of Tears’ to the Civil War and the War on Terror. Reynolds depicts a country that has derived much of its energy – even its identity – from a perpetual struggle against enemies, real or imagined. Written with verve, insight and humour by a prize-winning historian, America, Empire of Liberty is a new history for a new presidency.