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The American Future: A History Hardcover – 2 Oct 2008

3.4 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Bodley Head; First Edition edition (2 Oct. 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847920004
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847920003
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 3.8 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 391,192 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"Schama has a masterly ability to conjure up character and vivify conflict." (Ben Rogers Financial Times)

"He remains a master storyteller, admirably and sceptically well read in current revisionist histories." (The Times)

"Simon Schama is many things: widely ranging historian, art critic, public intellectual, television don... This ragged, brilliant, hopscotching volume of vaguely connected essays is largely about America's myth of its own exceptionalism" (The Guardian)

"The master storyteller takes on the greatest story of our time, America ... Britain's foremost historian comes to a greater understanding of its present and future. Essential reading" (Sebastian Shakespeare Tatler)

"Schama remains the subtlest of story-tellers... fans of Schama will wish the book were twice as long... What makes this book so bracing is the way Schama shows how unlike itself America has become" (Tom Payne Daily Telegraph)


A more inspiring evocation of the spirit of liberal America - past, present and future - does not exist'

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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By Eugene Onegin TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 1 Mar. 2010
Format: Paperback
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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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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