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Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815 (Oxford History of the United States #4)

4.09  ·  Rating Details ·  3,539 Ratings  ·  192 Reviews
The Oxford History of the United States is by far the most respected multi-volume history of our nation. The series includes three Pulitzer Prize winners, two New York Times bestsellers, and winners of the Bancroft and Parkman Prizes. Now, in the newest volume in the series, one of America's most esteemed historians, Gordon S. Wood, offers a brilliant account of the early ...more
Paperback, 778 pages
Published October 1st 2011 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published 2009)
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Back when I was in college, I majored in finance and minored in girls. I graduated magna cum laude in one, and failed brilliantly in the other. At one point, trying to change my luck with the coeds, I decided to pursue the hipster lifestyle. Since it was relatively cheap to grow out my hair and act indifferent, I figured this was the best way to get girls, other than being forthright and honest and asking them on dates. Part of being a hipster is progressiveness: you dream of the Peace Corps, si ...more
A great deal of clamor has been made in the past years over what the Founding Fathers would think about the political scandals of today. Disregarding the fact that they were a large group of different people and had different political opinions, and the fact that they would be unfamiliar with such strange future concepts as railroads or black people voting, this would be difficult to ascertain their intentions because the world they had envisioned and the young nation which they brought into wer ...more
May 13, 2016 HBalikov rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have heard a lot of good things about Wood's historical perspective and this period of American history is one that I am only familiar with in its broad outlines. I have enjoyed the enlightening process. As you can see, I have been at this book for over six years. You would have to be of a different temperament than my own to be able to read it straight through in a month.

Wood is very enjoyable in bite-size portions. I have learned a lot about one of the most critical (if not THE most critica
James Thane
May 23, 2010 James Thane rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is the capstone of Gordon S. Wood's long career, and an outstanding addition to the Oxford History of the United States.

Wood surveys the history of the U. S. from the adoption of the Constitution through the close of the War of 1812, a time during which the survival of the new nation was by no means a sure thing. As he describes, this was a time of enormous political, social, cultural and economic change, and it's safe to say that things did not turn out the way that many of the Found
Jason Pettus
May 04, 2011 Jason Pettus rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography []. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)

It's hard to beat Oxford University Press when it comes to authoritative yet lively looks at highly detailed periods in history; and here's their latest in their modern series about the history of America, written by former Pulitzer winner Gordon S. Wood and in this case covering just the years 1789 (when
Mar 27, 2010 Jeff rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Gordon Wood has been working on this book for over 20 years and it shows. The sheer amount of insight, analysis and historical detail is spectacular. Every paragraph has a point. Every word counts.

I went to a round-table discussion recently where ten judges and ten lawyers (I am one of the latter) met with Gordon Wood. Wood was down-to-earth and funny.

A judge asked Wood how he was able to accomplish writing such a prodigious book. It seemed impossible to do.

Wood's modest response. "Actually i
Susanna - Censored by GoodReads
Another solid entry in the Oxford History of the U.S.

For a further review: .
Paul Donahue
Apr 21, 2010 Paul Donahue rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
So many history books are just summations of political and military events between two fixed dates. Empire of Liberty goes far beyond that structure, going as far back as the early 1700s and all the way up to the Mexican and Civil Wars to put points and stories into full context. Not just wars and politics, but economics, commerce, religion, education, family life, social changes, slavery, diplomacy, westward expansion, science, philosophy, it’s all in there. Much like the other Wood book I rece ...more
Oct 12, 2010 Matt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I thoroughly enjoyed this read. Even though the author was slightly biased towards Republicanism and very biased towards Jefferson vs the Federalist founding fathers (all you need to do is compare the adjectives he uses for Jefferson vs Washington, Adams or Hamilton), I felt that he did an excellent job of comparing the positive and negative aspects of the two dominant politcal ideologies of the era (e.g. the economic and political stability of Federalism vs. populist anarchy of Jeffersonian Rep ...more
Bryn Dunham
Nov 07, 2011 Bryn Dunham rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned-books, history
From the Constitution's eventual ratification to the aftermath of the War of 1812, this is an epic history of the U.S. The author, Dr. Gordon S. Wood is a respected historian and professor who is a very acomplished writer of early American history and this is no exception. At 738 pages (paperback)this is a balanced to "center-left" history book, which is a little different than what I am used to but it was well done. He is definitely a pro-Jeffersonian Republican who were opposed to the Federali ...more
Christopher Carbone
May 11, 2010 Christopher Carbone rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who want to know how our country started
Empire of Liberty is a gripping narrative on the first 25+ years of the United States of America, the story of how the founding fathers started the nation, how the country saw itself, and how the nation was defined through constant- sometimes suffocating -contradictions.

The book begins with George Washington contemplating the Presidency and how the states contemplated giving up true Independence for interdependency; how being a state subject to a Federal Government chaffed them. As the story un
Brian Pate
Oct 12, 2013 Brian Pate rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013
I listened to the audiobook version on my way to and from work. (That helped me push through some of the less interesting chapters.)

After reading biographies of the first five presidents, this volume in the Oxford History of the US helped tie up the loose ends for me. Wood spent a lot of time dissecting the class distinctions of early America. His descriptions of the Federalist and Republican parties were helpful to understand the emergence of political parties in America. Chapters on slavery (
Only got halfway through before I had to return book to library. What I've learned so far:

* If someone says they want to return to the ways of the founding fathers, ask which one(s).

* Most complaints people make about government and politics today were being made more or less from the time the Articles of Confederation took effect.

* Many of the complaints about social groups were being made too, especially those about an educated elite, businessmen, and ordinary folks who insists on a seat at th
Roland Perlitz
Feb 16, 2016 Roland Perlitz rated it it was amazing
This is the best volume on the early republic I have read so far. Gordon S. Wood offers a detailed and vividly described account of the major events, personalitites, and politico-social circumstances of that era.

The author paints a positive portrait of a new nation built on the foundations of democracy in contrast to the vigorous monarchies of that period with good prose and an abundance of detail which serve to immerse the reader in the lives of both famous and ordinary Americans in the early r
Nov 20, 2009 David rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dec 26, 2011 Edward rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
How can an "empire", with its connotation of control by an "emperor" at the top and “liberty” with its suggestion of freedoms enjoyed by individuals at the bottom co-exist? They can't, or at least not easily, and that's the paradox explored by this history of our republic's first 25 years. There are fault lines that develop in these years as divisive and troublesome today as they were then. They emerge in nineteen chapters which interweave discussions about individuals (Washington, Jefferson, Ma ...more
Evan Brandt
Dec 30, 2013 Evan Brandt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As my son likes to point out, it has taken me quite a while to read this book.

But as I have replied, it is more by design than any difficulty with the material. This is the kind of broad sweeping history that requires thought and not a sharply focused biography of one person put into context.

This IS the context into which future biographies will be put.

All too often, as I recall it, American history is broken up into which war was fought when, and what happened in between them.

Although this book
Thomas Paul
Nov 18, 2011 Thomas Paul rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A lot of us think we know about our founding fathers and what they planned for America. But did you know that a lot of our founding fathers intended for the US to be a monarchy? That the Federalists and Democratic-Republicans despised each other so much that it makes the political parties of today look like a love-fest? That the Washington administration built a very strong federal government that taxed and spent their way to a prosperous nation? That our founding fathers had very little interes ...more
Jeremy Perron
Jul 19, 2012 Jeremy Perron rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Before I begin I would like to point out that I actually had the opportunity to meet Professor Wood when he was giving a lecture at the University of New England in September 2010. I was very impressed by his presentation and he even signed my copy of Empire of Liberty.

As I continue my march through the ages in which I explore all the historical eras of the United States of America, my journey takes me to the beginning of our modern government. Since I finished Robert Middlekauff's The Glorious
Brian Collins
Oct 23, 2012 Brian Collins rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Gordon Wood introduces this period of American history with the story of Rip Van Winkle, which is an apt illustration of the astounding cultural transformation that occurred in the period from the end of the Revolutionary War to the end of the War of 1812. Wood chronicles these changes with illuminating discussions of the intellectual currents of this period, how they affected the events of this period, and how, in turn, the events made plausible or implausible various intellectual currents. For ...more
Apr 28, 2010 Jim rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, non-fiction
Excellent overview of the culture and times of the early Republic. For me, this book provoked a lot of re-thinking about the nature of the American Revolution. Previously, i had thought of it less as a revolution, and more in the Jacques Barzun formulation, as a continuation of the evolutionary politics of Whiggish Britain. I'm not entirely sure Barzun was wrong, but Wood makes an excellent case for the radicalism of the Founding, particularly after Jefferson and the Republicans ascended in 1800 ...more
Bob Price
Oct 01, 2012 Bob Price rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
You know you have a problem when you have a favorite author about Revolutionary and Colonial American history. Being addicted to history can in fact create trouble. People may view you as boring. You may try to justify a high cable bill so you can watch the History Channel. You may drag your family to every single historical site you can find (especially in lieu of other, more fun spots....'what Great America? We can go to Plymouth!!!)

Anyway, Gordon Wood's magnificent history of post revolutiona
May 16, 2010 Brad rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Whew. Took me long enough to get through this 750 page epic. But well worth it. Woods’ exemplary analysis into the politics and culture of the beginning of America is, in a most welcome way, reassuring: the partisanship, the rhetoric, the heated debates on the roll of government taking place in the Founding generation are all so applicable to today’s political climate that it is almost unsettling. I mean, I guess on the one hand it might be taken to illustrate how ignorant of their history that ...more
Feb 15, 2010 Emily rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wow. So I can definitly put this one down as my "accomplishment" book of the year. At 700 pages plus, with an awkward trim size that made it difficult to tote around with me, nevermind hold in my hands, this book was a challenge, though one that I am glad I undertook. I would pretty much recommend this only to super history geeks, as it was dense. I would compare it to a textbook really--as its extremly well organized and researched look on the United States post-Revolutionary War, something I r ...more
Apr 28, 2014 Aaron rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Go ahead........quiz me on the Constitution, Founding Fathers, and early American history. I was sort of getting sick and tired of getting lectured by certain people and groups on these subjects, so like any good student I decided to read up on the subject. May I recommend this book. It's absolutely fantastic. Not only is it well-written, well-researched, and easy to understand, but it's also the most engaging book I've found on the subject. I breezed through all 700 pages in a week. What I foun ...more
Nov 03, 2011 James rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I am in love with the Oxford US history series. This one and the next are long, cover basically everything, and are pretty well paced considering how complete they are attempting to be. If, like me, your understanding of US history between the Constitutional Convention and the War of 1812 is "something something XYZ affair something" then this will get you caught right up. My personal takeaways are mostly about how tenuous the early republic was: all worried about a return to monarchy, reabsorpt ...more
Grindy Stone
May 18, 2013 Grindy Stone rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Give it about 40 pages and you will be transported to those golden days of America that Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and the rest of the moonbat brigade will almost convince you they were alive in the late-18th century, so wistful are their depictions and accounts of post-Revolution America.

Surprise surprise things were a little more sketchy, and the future of this country was anything but assured, even with a pretty good Constitution at the Founding Fathers' disposal. Take the time to get through
Nicholas Katopol
May 05, 2016 Nicholas Katopol rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Finally a chance to begin regurgitatin' Gah-dun Wood (Good Will Hunting bar scene)! I'm not much for lengthy reviews but I was impressed by this book. I agree with some other reviewers that Wood overuses the "aristocratic" label for the Federalists. The implication is fine but constantly hearing it was a bit grating. I've rarely seen such a remarkable weaving of the personal and the social. I also thought it important to hear the movement away from the aristocratic Roman Republican model to the ...more
Joseph Stieb
This book took me a while to get through because I read it chapter by chapter in between reading other books, so my memory of its very fine-grained details is a little hazy. Nevertheless, this is an incredible work and the best of the Oxford Histories of the United States series.

Wood covers the adolescence of the US in this well-written, in-depth, and fascinating history. Like most of the Oxford histories, it's short on cultural history, women, and slaves, but outstanding on politics, society, d
Cary Bishop
Jul 06, 2014 Cary Bishop rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is a necessary prerequisite for anyone who would argue the will or the thoughts of the founding fathers as a basis for any modern political decision. As the book makes clear, brilliant as the founding fathers often were, they almost always were divided in their opinions and could sometimes be wildly incorrect in their predictions of America's future. This being the case, claiming to bear the torch for the unified founding fathers in contemporary times would be a difficult claim to cred ...more
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  • Grand Expectations: The United States, 1945-1974
  • From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations Since 1776
  • What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848
  • Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945
  • The Impending Crisis: America Before the Civil War, 1848-1861
  • The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789
  • Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788
  • American Colonies: The Settling of North America
  • The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln
  • Crucible of War: The Seven Years' War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766
  • The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution
  • American Colossus: The Triumph of Capitalism, 1865-1900
  • Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution
  • Liberty's Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World
  • Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution 1863-1877
  • America's Great Debate: Henry Clay, Stephen A. Douglas, and the Compromise That Preserved the Union
  • The Americans, Vol. 3: The Democratic Experience
  • Waking Giant: America in the Age of Jackson
Gordon S. Wood is Professor of History at Brown University. He received the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for History for The Radicalism of the American Revolution and the 1970 Bancroft Prize for The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787 .
More about Gordon S. Wood...

Other Books in the Series

Oxford History of the United States (8 books)
  • The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789
  • What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848
  • Battle Cry of Freedom
  • Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945
  • Grand Expectations: The United States, 1945-1974
  • Restless Giant: The United States from Watergate to Bush v. Gore
  • From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations Since 1776

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“Virtue became less the harsh and martial self-sacrifice of antiquity and more the modern willingness to get along with others for the sake of peace and prosperity.” 3 likes
“The Civil War was the climax of a tragedy that was preordained from the time of the Revolution. Only with the elimination of slavery could this nation that Jefferson had called “the world’s best hope” for democracy even begin to fulfill its great promise.” 1 likes
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