American History: A Very Short Introduction

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OUP USA, Aug 9, 2012 - History - 161 pages
This brief history of America will span the earliest migrations to the present, reflecting Paul S. Boyer's interests in social, intellectual, and cultural history, including popular culture and religion. It will reflect his personal view of American history, in which a sense of paradox and irony loom large. While noting positive achievements—political, economic, social, and cultural—he will also discuss the United States's failures to live up to its oft-stated ideals; although America has figured in the world's imagination (and its own self-image) as a "land of opportunity" offering "liberty and justice for all," the reality has often fallen short. For example, the establishment of the North American colonies had very different meanings for colonists from the British Isles and Europe, for Native peoples, and for enslaved Africans brought against their will. The late nineteenth century saw not only impressive industrial expansion and the creation of vast fortunes but also appalling conditions in urban-immigrant slums and a degraded, exploited labor force. The twentieth-century emergence of a suburban society of consumer abundance meant a better life for many and laid the groundwork for impressive cultural creativity, yet left behind crime-ridden inner cities and spawned a stultifying mass culture. The immigrants who have renewed and revitalized the nation have also stirred hostility and resentment. While American popular culture has demonstrated global appeal, the projection of U.S. military power abroad, from the Philippines early in the twentieth century to Iraq early in the twenty-first, has sometimes failed in its purpose and damaged the nation's international standing. Although this book will not be a muckraking exposť or anachronistic moral tract, neither will it be a celebratory panegyric or a bland recital of facts. ABOUT THE SERIES: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area. These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.
 

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America is one of the most fascinating and influential countries in the history of the World. For a while now it has been recognized as a singularly important country in the World, be it in terms of its economic and military power, its cultural influence, or its remarkable scientific and technological advances. This is that much more remarkable considering that America is a relatively young country – as a nation it has only existed for close to a quarter of a millennium, and as an distinct political and cultural entity for perhaps a couple of centuries longer. This pales in comparison to any other major nation in the world, some of whose histories extend for several millennia. Nonetheless, America boasts of a rich and interesting history.
This very short introduction to American history aims to give a highlight of all the major historical developments over the last four centuries or so. It is for the most part a very accessible and digestible account. People who are already well familiar with American history will find a lot of information in here that they had already been exposed to in other settings. The first two thirds of the book or so is just a very straightforward and clearly written rehash of the main events and developments in American history.
Unfortunately as the book progresses it becomes increasingly tendentious and ideological. This is first manifested by the choice of topic covered (more and more space given to special grievance groups beloved by the liberal academics), then by the tendentious characterization of events and policies (liberal ones are always virtuous and “progressive,” while the opposition to them comes from the misguided conservatives), to the downright falsehood and lies that have been discredited many times by all objective sources, but have become articles of faith by the left (Bush himself never declared “Mission Accomplished,” there was no torture at Guantanamo Bay). The latter parts of the book read like a laundry list of highlights from the editorial pages of the New York Times or Huffington Post. They are not serious works of historiography by any measure. This is why I am unable to recommend this book to anyone interested in getting an objective and serious account of American history.
 

Contents

Prehistory to 1763
1
Revolution Constitution a new nation
15
The promise and perils of nationhood
30
Slavery and Civil War
45
Industrialization and its consequences
60
Reform and war
75
From conflict to global power
90
Affluence and social unrest
106
9 To the present
123
References
139
Further reading
143
Index
149
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About the author (2012)


Paul S. Boyer was Merle Curti Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A leading authority on American history, his writings span the social origins of the Salem witchcraft outbreak to the cultural impact of the atomic bomb and the political implications of Bible prophecy belief in contemporary America. A history textbook author and editor of reference works, including The Oxford Companion to United States History, he published in many general-interest periodicals. He also appeared on PBS, BBC, the History Channel, and the Discovery Channel, and lectured at some 100 colleges and universities in the United States, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, Scandinavia, and Switzerland.

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