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America, Empire of Liberty: A New History
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80 of 93 people found the following review helpful
on 20 July 2010
Despite being billed as the best one-volume history of the United States in recent times, "America: Empire of Liberty" is a remarkably uneven book. Reynolds starts off well with a reminder of pre-1492 Native Americans achievements and a caustic look at the Columbus myth. The standard remains pretty high right on through his coverage of the colonial period, the war of liberation, the contradictions and correspondences between slavery and liberty, and on right up until the civil war. Up till that point it is a readable, succinct account of the United States history.

Then things start to level off, Reconstruction isn't dealt with particularly well in my opinion, but perhaps I was spoiled by recently reading Eric Foners masterpiece Reconstruction. On to the Spanish-American War; Reynolds rightly acknowledges it was a war with the Spanish then the Cubans and Filipinos, though he seems to portray the conflict in the Philippines as one between equivalents ("atrocities mounted on both sides") despite acknowledging in the text that while 4,000 US troops died the death toll for Filipinos was around a quarter of a million.

On to the twentieth century: Reynolds exhibits satisfaction that the United States was never sullied by a large socialist party, but plays down the level of repression focused on the generality of leftists in America that peaked during the Red Scare after WW1 and reached a crescendo post WW2 with McCarthyism (so-called: in reality it went far deeper than Joseph McCarthy, see Ellen Schreckers The Age of McCarthyism). Neither of these periods is explored to any great depth.

The really great failure in the book is how Reynolds deals with issues of foreign policy during the twentieth century. There are no mentions of the bombing and invasions of Cambodia under Nixon, no mention of Lyndon Johnson's invasion of the Dominican Republic. Despite covering at relative length the Carter era treaty to return the Panama Canal to Panama there is zero coverage of the Bush I's invasion of Panama though ample, and not particularly erudite, coverage of the subsequent years invasion of Kuwait by Iraq and the American led response. On the US depredations in Central America during the Regan era - nothing more than a brief mention in the paragraph that inadequately covers the Iran-Contra affair. The coverage of the Vietnam War is fairly nugatory, other events such as the slaughter in Indonesia of 1965 or the invasion and occupation of East Timor, both of which the US were involved in to varying degrees, are not covered at all. Chile and Allende ("whose reforms had wrecked the [Chilean] economy" - US efforts in that direction obviously don't exist for Reynolds) receive one paragraph. The US's relationship with Israel is barely acknowledged. American support for Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan is entirely ignored. There is no attempt on Reynolds part to look into the systematic factors that drove the United States post-WW2 foreign policy with regard to third world countries that make up all of those mentioned above. For someone who is a professional international historian writing a book with the word "Empire" in the title this is beyond a joke.

The book begins as a succinct and reasonable synthesis of US history (pre-"discovery", colonial, independence, civil war) to one that is safe, comfortable and entirely within the cosy consensus of apologetic writing about the United States in the post WW2 world. Those chapters that deal with the twentieth century (with a few exceptions such as Reynolds account of the Civil Rights Movement) are often disingenuous, larded with chatty quotes and asinine details regarding the "great and the good", and totally distort the reality of US foreign policy. For that reason "America: Empire of Liberty" is a book that I heartily recommend avoiding.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 24 June 2009
David Reynolds History of America is a timely book that takes us from the Founding Fathers right up too Barrack Obama's victory. The book explores this history through the contradictions and complexities of American ideas of Liberty - Empire and Faith , thus creating a fresh perspective to a subject that has been well covered. Reynolds, a professor of American history for over thirty years, displays a masterful control over the wealth of materials and information that his exhaustive research has produced - conveying the facts with such erudtion and style, I found the book hard to put down.
Viewing the history through the prism of Empire - Liberty and Faith, we see a country that has stuggled with these contradictions and wrestled with it's conscience - mainly in regard to slavery, human rights issues and foreign policy - though it has in the main endeavoured to the right thing, with varying degrees of success. In the end we are left with a picture of an Empire staring over the precipice - two costly wars and an economy reeling from the Sub-Prime mortgage disaster has left America in a very vulnerable position, and left a population wary of the future. Reynold's New History is compelling told with a story tellers skill and an historians eye for detail. Superb.History of the American PeopleMade in AmericaThe Right Nation: Why America is DifferentThe First Salute: View of the American RevolutionThe World We're inThe Eagle's Shadow: Why America Fascinates and Infuriates the WorldDivine Magnetic Lands: A Journey in America
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46 of 55 people found the following review helpful
on 14 February 2009
David Reynolds has written a fantastic book that is both comprehensive in its coverage and intimate in its biographical details of the major players and defining events in American history. It provides an extraordinatry insight into the dynamics that have shaped America from the dichotomy of an anti-empire founded on the 'will to be free' that offered liberty and freedom on a scale unmatched by Europe, that founded its prosperity on the labour of black slaves, to the debates that shape modern America, as it does what it has always done - defining its identity as its perpetual struggle against all enemies foreign and domestic, real or imagined.

This is a well-written, thoroughly enjoyable book that provides a new insight into the world's self-styled only super-power. If you don't believe me check out the Radio 4 series Reynolds has done based on this book.
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18 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on 20 May 2009
I had hear excerpts from David Reynold's "Empire of Liberty" read on BBC Radio 4 - who serialised this book. I had encountered David Reynolds on BBC TV - for example his excellent series on world summit meetings.
I have always been interested in the history of the USA too but mainly through watching TV documentaries. In about 600 pages - David takes you through the last 400 or so years of american history at quite a pace. Key characters are fleshed out well. He has an eye for a telling quotation from those there at the time. Though quite a long book the pace is quick - the second world war only lasted less that 4 years for the USA so in a few pages we are into the cold war. Some may not like the considerable space devoted to social history as against political or economic history - but that comes down to personal interests of the reader. But no this is the Bizz!
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
This is one of the best single-volume histories of America I've ever read. Whilst it does have to sometimes skim over certain topics or eras in the interests of brevity, it doesn't leave out anything important, and the relative shortness of the text gives the benefit of a broad overview, particularly in terms of the persistent characteristic of having an enemy to fight and draw the country together - first it was the British, then the Native Americans, then the Spanish in Mexico, Nazi Germany, the Cold War and now Islamic fundamentalists.

Reynolds draws on three major themes that have defined America over the years - empire, liberty and faith - and shows how these have intertwined over the years to make America the country it is. These themes highlight more than any other the contradictions at the heart of America - "the empire forged by anti-imperialists, the land of liberty than rested on slavery, the secular state energized by godly ambition".
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 19 December 2009
Thus far this book seems to has been well received and justifiably so. I'll just highlight a couple of distinguishing features which make this a truly excellent book.

Firstly it's scale and pace. The narrative of the American story which David Reynolds unfolds manages to confidently weave the big political and economic events together with the human stories of presidents, slaves, industrialists, activists and labourers. With centuries to survey, not everything is explored with the same depth, but the tapestry which Reynolds weaves genuinely works - he draws together the connections between peoples, events and places and demonstrates their historical consequences.

Secondly it's not over-moralised. Reynolds fully recognises the tensions and complexities of the American story and it's great paradoxes between liberty, slavery and empire. Indeed the whole book is based around these (and other) tensions. The story unfolds as a tale of continuing triumphs and defeats and not as a great moral judgement of American virtue or vice. It is restrained, balanced but above all engaging, fresh, dynamic, readable and thoroughly recommended by this reviewer!
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 1 July 2010
I was never interested in American history (felt how much of there is to read about?) but somehow was prompted to read more about the build-up/background of American thought and actions (expecially post the Gulf of Mexico oil spill).

Reading the book, it is quite evident that the author has a deep understanding of American past.

The material presented is also constructed in a very interesting way, showcasing historical events against interesting themes.

Overall an excellent purchase.

Highly recommended. Helped me to some extent in understanding the 'why' aspect of American behavior in the 20th and 21st century.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 16 June 2012
This is a great, well-balanced single-volume history of the US, explaining the factors behind the growth of this nation from day 1.

Rather than simply 'tell the story', (to his credit) Reynolds spices things up by including quotations from memoirs, autobiographies etc. of the figures discussed to give a more complete image of the political climate at any given time. The pace at which events are covered prevents you from getting bogged down in issues that don't interest you, but provide enough information for you to appreciate the relevance of these issues, and are frequently inspirations for further reading.

He also has a unique way of introducing important people or legal cases. Instead of giving a blow by blow account of Abraham Lincoln's life, for example, Reynolds mentions a few of the most well-known elements of his life before actually introducing him, inviting the reader to take an educated guess as to who is being described. Although not totally relevant to the success of the whole book, this was an element of the written style I loved tremendously.

I would thoroughly recommend this book to anyone interested in learning more about America, and I would urge anyone studying the Civil Rights in the USA unit for A level history to read this before sitting the exam: it's a great way of uncovering themes that the textbooks don't mention that are relevant to the subject area (eg. expansion of Federal Government power over time).

10/10. So good, I could read it twice.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 23 April 2011
This is an extremely satisfying and pleasurable book to read. Reynolds writes well, keeping the pace up while fitting in sometimes a great amount of detail. For me, coming from a place of knowing very little about American history other than there was a civil war at some point, it was the perfect thing to start filling in the gaps. Few books have kept me so interested all the way through, especially when the page count is encroaching on 600, but this was a breeze and Reynolds' anecdotal and informative style kept me going all the way through. Highly recommended.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 4 May 2010
I found this one of the most enthralling history books I've ever read. In part down to the material, but very much also down to the author. It covers the whole of modern American history, and would no doubt have gone back further were it not that the American Indians left little or no recorded history and as such that part of the book is very much guess work. The rest is a fascinating overview of the United States right up to Obama. The only reservation for me was that it was too short, I could have read on forever, but it whet my apetite to read more about the Civil War, the Civil rights movement, Reagan (and I would never have believed I woulkd want to hear any more about him!), Nixon, Prohibition, and for that the author has my huge thanks, and I'll be checking out further books by him.
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