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67 of 68 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An understanding of modern America: highly recommended
This four-part BBC series provides an educational, insightful tour of American history. Simon Schama's detailed TV essays explain much of the history, mystery and contradictions of modern American society.
This is not a lightweight, frothy or frivolous series so don't expect the kind of giggles you get from Stephen Fry's adventures.[ASIN:B001C4QLBA Stephen Fry in...
Published on 29 Oct 2008 by Rowena Hoseason

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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Simon Schama's The American Future: A History [DVD]
I like Simon Schama & the way he narrates with his clear & precise voice & he's very informative too.
I'm not sure what I was looking for when I bought this dvd, it is interesting, but in some cases I find it a little hard to follow.
When someone bombards you with deep sophisticated info about the psychology & sociology of how a people are, were & will be, I...
Published 9 months ago by Mickey Sith


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67 of 68 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An understanding of modern America: highly recommended, 29 Oct 2008
By 
Rowena Hoseason "Hooligween" (Kernow, Great Britain) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Simon Schama's The American Future: A History [DVD] (DVD)
This four-part BBC series provides an educational, insightful tour of American history. Simon Schama's detailed TV essays explain much of the history, mystery and contradictions of modern American society.
This is not a lightweight, frothy or frivolous series so don't expect the kind of giggles you get from Stephen Fry's adventures.[ASIN:B001C4QLBA Stephen Fry in America [2008]

Instead, watching The American Future should help you understand how American political and social attitudes have been formed. It's been timed perfectly to coincide with the 08 presidential election, and Schama brings to bear his considerable historical expertise and his personal enthusiasm for the subject matter. The result is compelling and well worth watching more than once. We've been enthralled by it.

Schama follows a theme for each episode and explains the historical context behind current affairs. So we learn how America has been shaped by war (Independence and Civil, long before WW1, 2 and Vietnam), and how the need for water has dictated the development of the west and the engineering feats of the 20th century. In the episode about faith, Schama shows how religion was originally part of American rebellion and how it has come to be part of American conservatism. Finally, Schama tackles the tricky subject of immigration: how a nation of émigrés defines itself.

Each episode uses a fair amount of talking-to-camera segments but the series also uses a lot of archive footage to set the scene and occasionally comedic old movie scenes. Schama also interviews relevant characters; a modern-day preacher; a ditchman from the desert whose job it is to keep the irrigation channels flowing to water the crops; the ex-soldiers who campaign to end the current overseas wars. Overall, the opinions come across as reasonably well balanced although we're in no doubt that Schama is fairly in love with the American ideal... although he's not shy about pointing out how far away from that ideal the American reality lies.

The American Future was obviously designed to be viewed during election year and much of its content reflects the two presidential candidates and their campaigns. As such the series will date very rapidly and it's going to be interesting to watch it again in a year or so and see how the same information can be interpreted with a little hindsight.
Tackling `modern' history and making it relevant to current affairs is a risky business, particularly when the subject is a controversial one. Schama's series is well worth watching although it doesn't rank alongside the likes of Civilisation or Ascent of Man (but will any TV series ever be that brave again?).

The American Future educates and entertains and offers plenty of material to mull over during the days after watching. It's the very opposite of soundbite TV; not particularly flashy and devoid of snappy graphics. But packed with information and understanding.
Recommended to buy for repeated viewing.
9/10
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Good Series, 6 April 2011
By 
Brawny Withed (Leeds, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Simon Schama's The American Future: A History [DVD] (DVD)
This series saw Historian Simon Schama travelling through America looking at conflicts and issues that have affected the nation in its history and how lessons can be learned to deal with similar issues now.

The series was filmed in 2007 and so was set against the backdrop of the 2008 presidential campaigns of Barack Obama and John McCain.

A very interesting series and beautiful cinematography make this a very watchable set of doumentaries.

The episodes are as follows:

Episode 1 - American Plenty: Looking at America's dependence on its land and resources and how this is changing in the 21st century.
Episode 2 - American War: A look at how different the US attitude to war is from what outsiders assume it to be.
Episode 3 - American Fervour: How faith has shaped American political life and influenced pivotal hsitorical moments such as Civil Rights.
Episode 4 - What is an American?: Looks into the bitter conflict over immigration in America.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, 15 Feb 2009
By 
S. Collis (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Simon Schama's The American Future: A History [DVD] (DVD)
For anyone interested in America, this is a wonderful chronology leading up to and culminating in the Obama presidential campaign. Excellently researched and presented - I'll watch it again and again.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Quality overview; lacking Quantity, 1 Feb 2011
By 
G. Holder (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Simon Schama's The American Future: A History [DVD] (DVD)
Fundamentally, it is enjoyable to watch; imbuing a historical documentary with vitality through colourful biographical accounts, e.g. Montgomery C. Meigs. Furthermore the style focuses on particular people and situations, utilising them as microcosms to highlight larger and more general socio-economic patterns and occurences.

On the other hand, there is only 4 hours of footage. Indeed despite a whole episode focusing on American Wars and American views on war , virtually no attention was given to the wars of the 20th Century: indeed there was no mention on the World Wars, Vietnam.

To conclude, it is an illuminating and interesting overview of American History also extapolating on some of the future problems for America in the 21st Century. However, it is limited by a lack of time which impinges upon the quantity of American history which is covered. Therefore I believe it was worth watching, but arguably Schama's books may be substantial.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stupendous, 15 May 2009
This review is from: Simon Schama's The American Future: A History [DVD] (DVD)
Schama once again comes up with the goods: a work of startling erudition and breadth of scope - in spite of the title, the author considers the American past and how it relates to its prospects for the future (both in the country itself and the wider world). A most delightful bitesize yet in-depth guide to the main landmarks in American history.

I shall now be reading the book, which I had not intended to do, owing to a lack of time (not of inclination).
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intelligent and accessible, 9 Mar 2009
By 
P. Thody (Leeds, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Simon Schama's The American Future: A History [DVD] (DVD)
Excellent series of programmes, thoroughly recommended.

Schama explains serious subject - water shortages, religion, war and immigration - in a way that is at once informed and intelligent but also easy to understand and to follow. If, like me, you were disappointed by shallow, rushed nature of the "Stephen Fry in America" series that aired in the UK around the same time ("Just look at this really cute roadside cafe here in Idaho. OK, on to Oregon now."), this series delivers everything Fry's didn't.

Best of all is the cinematography: the whole thing is beautifully shot. It's certainly not a travelogue documentary but you could turn the sound off and still get something out of this.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First impression: Excellent!, 3 May 2012
By 
H. R. Mathisen "Arctic artist" (Spmi, Norway) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Simon Schama's The American Future: A History [DVD] (DVD)
<Amazon, my comment, The American Future 03.05.2012
Have just watched the first of the four programmes by Simon Schama: The American Future, A History. One would think the title a contradiction, but it is not. Schama manages brilliantly to use the present to illustrate the past, and its consequence: the future. This is a story of America's greatest failures, or at least one of them: The very relationship to the land. This is the core issue, of course, the taking over of the land from its rightful owners, and then having it worked by slaves from another continent, and so sunning themselves in the theft and the labour of others, taking the glory. Or what was perceived as glory, by former president Jackson.
Being an Indigenous person, I had expected more on the issue of the "Indian" or Native American. But Schama, apart from citing Jackson's horrible statement in this respect, adds just one term, that encompass it all: Ethnic cleansing, being justified by "progress".
He clearly illustrated the failure of the superficial agricultural "development" turning into the disastrous "dust bowl". As the huge dust cloud during that time in the 1930s reaches as far as Washington DC, a comment was made to the astonished politicians who were looking at it through the Congress windows: "Gentlemen, there you see Oklahoma!"
I was pleased that he highlighted Jimmy Carter, one of the best presidents US has had, and revealing the disability of American voters to face the truth, and instead running for Reagan - I hesitate to write his name with a capital letter.
A Native American friend of mine told me, when I visited Oklahoma in 2004: "You know, Americans are not very sophisticated". One wonder why they keep such large proportion of their population illiterate, I guess it is a question of politics and control... Well, these were some immediate thoughts. I have so far seen only the first program, so my comments are only preliminary.

Amazon, review, Simon Schama: The American Future, Act 2, 3 & 4 05.05.2012
Have just watched the last part of Simon Schama's Masterpiece The American Future, A History. As I already have written about the first program (or Act) I shall only briefly comment on the two middle acts. One focusing on America's Wars, so revealing and a real blow to American and human idealism and hope for peace! The other is about religion. Both hit head on core issues of what America is and Americans are (excluding Canadians, Mexicans and Latin-Americans, that is). In the Finale to this human drama of our time cum our near history, Schama focuses on just that: What is it to be an American: Ethnicity and Immigration. The scant reference to the Indigenous people being robbed of their land, aptly treated (but never too much) by other producers, are fully made up for by his focus on Mexican and Chinese immigrants. He answers the Anglo-American woman's angry reaction to the "intruders" from Mexico when she refers to their claim that they are just coming back to land stolen from them earlier. Schama shows how wrong she is, and how right they are. Mexico, Texas, Nevada and California were in fact stolen from Mexico, based on fierce racism. Even more horrible is they way the Chinese were treated. One understands now with what hatred and racism the US took over the war in Indo-China, it was not so much a war against Communism, as it was a war against "Chinks". How true Schama is to conclude that in completing the transcontinental railroad "the Chinese built modern America". Yet they were not invited to the celebration party, nor appeared in that photograph of the occasion in the 1880s. Instead they were driven off the land like sub humans, and the racism of this campaign is truly proto-Nazism. Schama manages to balance his criticism with focusing on occasions that really brings hope. The program was made just before the election where Obama became the first non-white president. This finale is a masterpiece of documentation, history telling, evaluation and biting irony at times. It shows the tragedies and the victories, (as when individuals take on tasks greater than themselves, and keep on at it) without sentimentality. These four programs as a whole elevates the making of TV documentary/history to a work of Art, in the best sense of the word, of soul gripping drama. It is shocking in its revelations of facts and happenings that others would rather forget or hide. How lucky America is to have such a person, we need one like that here in Norway, where so much of the history is coerced and made up in the service of blatant nationalism. One example being the glorification of those horrible Vikings; one of the main inspirations for an infamous Norwegian killer recently. ( "Vikings- worse than their reputation" here: (...)
I like the way he also links it to his personal experience in such a balanced and straightforward way, that adds to the quality, for it is possible to do it with the opposite result.
Am sorry my English is far from perfect, but hopefully understandable, and I realize that brother Simon Schama may never help us in Norway. But I sincerely hope that he gets inspiration and enough support to continue this all-important of re-examining history wherever he is. It is an inspiration, and hopefully will be so for others to take on the task of revelatory history telling. It will be hard to equal or surpass the sincere creativity and ingenuity of Mr Schama, but anything close to it will be very good indeed. Just one last word: Thank you, again!

Simon Schama's The American Future: A History [DVD]
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Get to know and understand the USA the easy way, 13 Feb 2013
By 
Mrs. G. M. Mulley "Gill M" (Hertfordahire UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Simon Schama's The American Future: A History [DVD] (DVD)
Simon Schama is the most reliable and entertaining of historians. As the USA affects our live more and more our knowledge and understanding need to catch up. This way is not only easy but extremely enjoyable. Highly recommended. GM
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Past and Present America Brought Alive, 22 Nov 2012
By 
Nicholas Casley (Plymouth, Devon, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Simon Schama's The American Future: A History [DVD] (DVD)
Schama's excellent four-part series was filmed just prior to the 2008 presidential election. In the series he interwove concerns that were present in the presidential debates with episodes from the country's rich history. There are four hour-long episodes, in which Schama makes regular use of original source material to bolster his arguments.

The first - `American Plenty' - explores the limits to American resources, with Schama arguing that the very concept of limits to the American dream being up till now anathema to the American psyche. But his is "a story of paradise lost" as he focuses on the issue of water supplies: "The land of plenty is running dry". He tells the story of John Wesley Powell and the Colorado River, ending up in Las Vegas where water has become a precious resource.

`American War' is the title of the second programme, where Schama uses America's wars of the past to reflect on those then being fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. Schama visits Arlington Cemetery, West Point military academy, and the sight of the Battle of Gettysburg. He uses the example of Montgomery Meigs, President Lincoln's Quartermaster General during the American Civil War, to bring out the contradictions of American `imperialism'.

In the USA "the great historical moment have always been acts of faith", states Schama in episode three, `American Fervour'. Here he skilfully combines the two different issues of faith and freedom into one by concentrating on the crucial early constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion. He then goes on to ask why religion has such a potent force in America (but fails to consider, to me, the obvious - a lack of a European-style welfare state). Schama also traces how religion in the States has gone from being a radical force for change to becoming a mark of conservatism.

In the final instalment of the series, Schama simply asks `What Is an American?' Instead of focussing on the usual suspects - the Europeans and the black slaves (the latter's story partly covered in the previous episode) - he looks at the Chinese who entered California seeking the liberty and equality that American ostensibly promised. How the Chinese navvies made modern America but were horrifically treated for their trouble is little-known. There are also some home-truths about Americans being the illegal immigrants when Texas was Mexican.

Throughout the series archive film and photographs are skilfully edited into contemporary scenes. The film is cleverly and often beautifully shot, with grey and brown autumnal scenes bathed by a rosy glow of a low-lying sun.

This DVD set is reviewed in 2012, after President Obama has successfully achieved a second term in office. It's therefore `quaint' to look back on these programmes and witness the hype of Obama's original campaign. Oh how he has disappointed! So as well as this series being of much value to students of nineteenth- and twentieth-century American history, Schama's excellent films and insightful comments on the 2008 election will themselves be of value for future historians looking back on the early years of twenty-first century America.

The only extra is a photo gallery.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Student of Simon Schama, 24 July 2009
This review is from: Simon Schama's The American Future: A History [DVD] (DVD)
I appreciate Schama's presentation of the complex issues covered in his series of recent American history. He is a very accomplished broadcaster as well as being a historian of stature.
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