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The American Future [Audiobook] [Audio CD]

Simon Schama
3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Jun 2009
The American Future traces the history of a country whose most enduring trait is its capacity for self-renewal, especially at times of disaster. Examining issues of power, race and immigration, religious fervour and prosperity, this masterful portrait of the world's most controversial superpower looks backwards and forwards to understand why now, more than ever, the fate of America, and by extension the rest of the world, is hanging in the balance.
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product details

  • Audio CD
  • Publisher: HarperAudio; Unabridged edition (Jun 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061684295
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061684296
  • Product Dimensions: 18.5 x 16 x 4.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)

More About the Author

Simon Schama is University Professor of Art History and History at Columbia University and the prize-winning author of fourteen books, which have been translated into twenty languages. They include The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age; Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution; Landscape and Memory; Rembrandt's Eyes; the History of Britain trilogy and Rough Crossings, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award. He has written widely on music, art, politics and food for the Guardian, Vogue and the New Yorker. His award-winning television work as writer and presenter for the BBC stretches over two decades and includes the fifteen-part A History of Britain and the eight-part, Emmy-winning Power of Art. The American Future: A History appeared on BBC2 in autumn 2008.

Product Description


"Schama is a genius of storytelling" (The Times)

"The American Future shares Kerouac's almost inebriated eloquence, the words tumbling delightfully across the page, the sentences as playfully ornate as the Charlie Parker saxophone solos that Kerouac so adored... Also an inspiring and illuminating work of history, a reflection on the essence of America with a bedrock of deep knowledge behind the bebop prose. A more inspiring evocation of the spirit of liberal America - past, present and future - does not exist" (Niall Ferguson Financial Times)

"The master storyteller takes on the greatest story of our time, America ... Essential reading" (Tatler)

"This is the most exhilarating book that has been written about America for at least eight years...ebulliently combative...instantly engaging...weaving the immediate present with its earlier history... Schama has delivered a glittering tale of America's past" (Spectator)

"A wonderfully thought-provoking book... Schama continually illuminates the broad sweep of events with reference to telling details...fascinating" (Daily Express) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.


A more inspiring evocation of the spirit of liberal America - past, present and future - does not exist' --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Schama inside history 12 Aug 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Having recently read David Reynold's excellent America: Empire of Liberty and Paul Johnson's comprehensive History of the American People - I did not think there was that much anyone could add. But Simon Schama's immense skill as a writer and historian suffuses the subject with freshness and originality. Weaving lived histories with significant events in American history - Schama breathes life into the characters and events, analysing momentus occasions and adding his own considerable insights into a subject he cleary has consummate knowledge of.
Familiar events such as the Civil War and the Civil Rights movement are viewed through the lived histories of characters that were there to witness history unfolding - and Schama brilliantly uses letters and diaries to create a real sense of immanence and urgency - rather than just rehashing other historical accounts.
The causes and effects of these epoch changing events, clearly illustrate how America has been shaped - and Schama frequently jumps to the present to address issues that have been ongoing problems in the country - such as immigration. A question he puts to George W Bush at a Downing Street dinner. That is the strength of this book and the main difference between Schama's work and the others. It is not a linear historical narrative - sometimes the writing has the kind of authority of a witness to the events, and at times reads like a novel.
I think Schama's book is written in a very immaginative way that few writers would have dared attempt - moving backwards and forwards through history and the present. But this style allows you to view the history from a different perspective. I highly recommend The American Future.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Back to the Future 1 Mar 2010
Let me say to begin with that this book is not in anyway a history of the United States-how could it be at less than 400 pages? However, don't let that put you off-what Schama has done here is to offer a history of American ideas especially those enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The real theme here is how Americans have lived up to those promises and when they have not. However, what makes Schama's account particularly refreshing is his marshalling of evidence to demonstrate the enduring power of these founding principles: whilst the obvious American betrayals are here of the Native indians, African Americans in the South or Chinese railway labourers they are effectively balanced by the stories of Montgomery Miegs the uncorruptable American soldier who regarded his duty as the defence of the constitution or examples of the rich diversity of worship which thrives under the guarantees of religious toleration which were a cornerstone of the Founding Father's concept of liberty. Schama is very much the micro-historian in this book deploying well-chosen personal lifestories to make the broader point-it works much better than some generalising narrative-being both highly readable and often genuinely informative. These personal perspectives are interspersed with sketches from the 2008 Presidential Election Campaign where Schama unashamedly wears his heart on his sleeve, seeing it as the moment when Obama had to triumph to restore faith not in America, but in its guiding principles and values. Of course, not everyone will share this view, but I recommend this book wholeheartedly to all, but especially to Americans of all political views and Europeans who have indulged in America bashing to excess. America's future Schama's stimulating account reminds us, has a much stronger underpinning of principle than that of many countries who despise it.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars So Much Wishful Thinking? 31 Oct 2011
By Nicholas Casley TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The book of the TV series, as usual with Schama, is so much more. An assessment of America's past at a time of apparent radical change - the 2008 presidential election is the prism through which Schama's narrative works (the result was not yet known when the book was published) - lies behind the book's title. But what would Schama say, now that we are three-quarters of the way through Obama's first (and only?) term? Well perhaps he has already said it on page twelve of this volume, set out in the prologue of this book: "Maybe this sense of an American rebirth was just so much wishful thinking?"

Like the TV series, the book comes in four chapters and follows their respective episodes quite well. But `the more' than Schama offers his readers, as opposed to his viewers results in these chapters being quite long, of one hundred pages or so each. Nevertheless, I read each chapter non-stop, so mesmerising are the stories he has to tell, so skilful the way of their telling. For sure, sometimes Schama lets his pen go too far; long, long sentences of descriptive power, yes, but when he talks of `saltwater taffee vendors' and `limp seersucker jackets', I have to wonder whether he's gone too native. (He informs us that he has lived half his life in the US already.)

This first chapter, `American War', informs us how much history matters. Schama takes us on an epic journey around American attitudes to fighting, from the opposition at the very beginning of the republic's founding, through the Philippines and right up to Abu Ghraib; from West Point to all points north, south, east and west. Did you know that the American has a brief but nasty naval war with the French post-revolution? Or that water torture was practised by US soldiers against Filipino rebels in the 1900s?
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Poor
I like Simon Schama's TV documentaries so I was expecting this book to be as well-written, interesting and engaging as his television scripts. Sadly it isn't. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Overview
Many history books give you the narrative - this gives you the understanding behind the story. Gives you a much better grasp of how Americans think and act.
Published 14 months ago by Charles Sibthorpe
1.0 out of 5 stars Overblown over-academic pretentious gobble-de-gook
This book is NOT for the general reader. Every 10th word is one I do not know. The book assumes a lot of prior knowledge, and not just basic knowledge, it assumes a serious and... Read more
Published 15 months ago by JustABookFan
4.0 out of 5 stars American Future
Nobody writes history quite like Simon Schama:

"But when you stepped through the bails of scratchy tumbleweed that had come to rest against the broken fence you could... Read more
Published 20 months ago by TomCat
5.0 out of 5 stars Schama's America
I recently attended one of his lectures on the "Festival of Britain" and this lecturer and television personality is as enthusiastic in person as on the screen and it is this... Read more
Published on 26 Sep 2011 by RR Waller
2.0 out of 5 stars A bad introduction
It was my first expierence of reading about American History and I was very disappointed. The book lacks the structure, the constant jumping between periods annoyed me and at one... Read more
Published on 7 Aug 2011 by BW
2.0 out of 5 stars Already out of date
I never thought I'd give Simon Schama only two stars, but this doesn't work for me. This is mainly becuase this was written in the hopeful days of President Obama's election,... Read more
Published on 3 Jan 2011 by Davey
2.0 out of 5 stars not for beginners...
For anyone seeking an introductory text to the history of the USA, this is a poor option. The book frequently jumps from events in the 18th century to events in the 21st century... Read more
Published on 29 Dec 2010 by dr_mf
2.0 out of 5 stars Very difficult to read and stay interestered
I get the inpression that the publisher asked for 20.000 words and Mr Schama willingly obliged.
Very difficult for myself to read, boring in places beyond reason. Read more
Published on 7 Dec 2010 by Ian Jones
3.0 out of 5 stars Hmm, frustrating...
I share many of Sirin's reservations regarding this book; the TV series was incisive, well-structured and showed best Schama's eloquent and well-informed raconteur style; the book... Read more
Published on 22 May 2010 by Richard Sewell
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