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The American Future: A History
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The American Future: A History

3.72 of 5 stars 3.72  ·  rating details  ·  431 ratings  ·  77 reviews
In November 2008 the United States will elect a new President. But the imminent collapse of twenty years of Republican conservativism means the country is already conducting an intense self-examination about the trajectory of its history; how it came to find itself in multiple crises and how an America that began as 'the last, best hope of earth' came to be so suspected an...more
Hardcover, 400 pages
Published October 2nd 2008 by Bodley Head (first published 2008)
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(showing 1-30 of 1,048)
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Trevor
This is such an interesting book. I’ve decided recently I need to learn a bit more about American history but know so little that I have been struggling with the who’s who and then what to make of various players. American history is much like America herself – a bit like Norman Bates in Psycho, pleasant when you first meet him, but he can be a bit, well, psycho too. America has the best of people and the worst of people. Often these are one and the same person. Jefferson, for example, is someon...more
Ben Babcock
I wouldn’t necessarily describe myself as anti-American, but I will cop to having anti-American sentiments. I have plenty of American friends, but I chose to move to England before the United States—and, to be perfectly honest, I don’t think I could ever bring myself to live in the United States. There are just some ideas so apparently entrenched in American society that seem so backward to me. And I know my American friends understand—a lot of it seems backward to them too!

It’s something of a t...more
Paul
Sep 28, 2008 Paul marked it as assorted-rants-about-stuff
Simon Jenkins writes in today's Sunday Times:

“The most evil nation on earth!” At a dinner in Lahore earlier this year I was shocked at the casual anti-Americanism of the conversation. Sophisticated people who knew America and Americans well took it as second nature to excoriate the place. When I expressed surprise, I was told that America was polluting Pakistan’s culture, undermining its democracy and fomenting the Taliban by bombing Pashtun villages. Yes, I said, but could they not distinguish...more
Alan
Schama writes as if he invented English. This is history as it once was. Popular, interesting and well written. It looks to the past to explain and illuminate the present. Taking the 2008 election as turning point, Schama tells that story from the perspective of how the past influences the present. He commingles race, immigration, war and the economy as they played out in 2008 and traces those threads back into the past showing that they are not new and fit into a particular historical patterns....more
R.
Schmaa deftly plumbs the depths of America's internal contradictions, concluding that our hope, greatness, and indeed exceptionalism therein lie. All American high school students should read Schama's section on religious toleration and the founding fathers. Schama takes on and soundly thrashes the current evangelical assertion that the United States was established as 'a Christian nation (he even produces and early treaty, ratified by Congress, that states bluntly "as the United States is not i...more
Paul
There are geniuses among us. No, probably not that guy next to you on the train. They're difficult to spot, unless they reveal themselves in some way. Fortunately, some of them do so by writing books. Simon Schama is definitely one of them. Schama's latest, "American Future," is based on a BBC-TV documentary series he hosted during last year's presidential campaign. I'm not sure which came first, book or TV series. It doesn't matter. The book is good -- genius good.

This is not to say Schama is e...more
Rob
Feb 04, 2012 Rob rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: side1
In 2008, America stood on the cusp of a change which even just a few years earlier would have been unthinkable. Barack Obama, a black American, had a realistic chance of being elected President of the United States. His vision of change was providing an inspiring alternative both to a discredited Republican regime and Hillary Clinton's Democratic Party machine. Establishment politics had failed - the long years of easy credit and economic boom had come crashing to an end, whilst American troops...more
Brad
The premise of this book concerns the idea that we can only comprehend the American future by understanding the American past. To accomplish this, Schama deals with four different aspects of American uniqueness that, contemporary Americans ignorant of history might seemingly ignore. And to clarify the points he wants to make he weaves an absolutely beautiful narrative, capturing wonderful American figures long since lost in history’s deep annals.

First, Schama deals with war. Given the fact that...more
Ken
Using the 2008 election as a backdrop, award-winning historian Simon Schama delves into our history to provide perspective on what it really means to be an American. War, race & immigration, religion, and prosperity are the four pillars that are the foundation of this book. Simon digs deep to unearth elements of American history that were absent from my public school upbringing. These bits of history are essential to his theme though and I was amazed that I knew little to none of it. Withou...more
Glorious
What I found interesting about this book was retelling of personal accounts from people from the inception of America.. to the early settlers.. to the civil war veterans.. to the Civil Rights Movement.. and to the people that voted for change in 2008.

The book takes individual stories from the past.. using the themes of immigration, war, religion, freedom and civil liberties.. and then uses present day stories to show the similarities and the differences.

Schama's ability to research and recall th...more
Jami Fultz
Initially, I was skeptical ... what could a British historian tell Americans about their own history? But from the first provocative line - stating the day democracy returned to the U.S. was in January 2008 at Theodore Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, IA - I was hooked. I have been impressed with the thread he weaves through his narrative, tying seemingly disparate characters together. I had no idea how huge an impact the Miegs family has made on our nation ... as well as the son of a Korean...more
Andrew Breslin
Simon Schama is a rock star. You might not guess it to look at him. He’s nearly 70, does not own a pair of leather pants as far as I’m aware, and rarely exposes his chest during public performances. But I recently got to see him at one of these, and as far as I’m concerned, the man could teach Mick Jagger a thing or two about peacockery.

Professor Schama was promoting his latest book, A History of the Jews, and I’m almost certain I was one of the few gentiles in the audience, and one of the young...more
Mark
A great review of American history warts and all. It made me realize just how biased our school curriculum is. From destruction of native American societies, to slavery, to discrimination against all immigrants at one time or another, Schama puts it all in perspective and suggests what is yet to come based on what has already transpired. America's good qualities are not ignored, but one comes away feeling that we have room to improve.
Michael
Stylish, superb writing...
Phyllis Harrison
Jul 08, 2010 Phyllis Harrison rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Americans, non-Americans
So you think you know American History pretty well?
You might be persuaded otherwise after reading Simon Schama’s The American Future.
The book starts out with the story of Montgomery Meigs, the first in a long line of patriots in service to our country from the very beginning of our beginnings until the present day. How did Americans miss this great story? From those members of the Meigs military dynasty who were convinced that the American government’s course was right, to those who thought the...more
Chris Davis
I've never reviewed a history book before. I've only read a handful, so that isn't really surprising. I live in the US now, so I figured I should attempt to learn a bit more about its history, or what there is of it anyway. I read a more basic history book a while back for a general overview, and this was designed to firm up that knowledge a little.

I chose a book by Schama because I am fairly familiar with his work (and I didn't really want to read a bit by a US historian - they are often sicke...more
Ashish
He's back - one of the greatest living historians and essayists is in the house and has thrown his shirt into the ring. Schama is here to sing of his adopted home - not a martial song of praise but a complex melody that is as rich and layered as the history of the country he loves so well. The book begins with coverage of Obama's astonishing ascent in Iowa - Schama is at the polling stations and beautifully describes the way the tide swells towards the new President. You can feel him quicken wit...more
Nigel
A typical Schama approach, offering "A" History rather than trying to present "The" History. It provides an interesting and often very poetic account of how and why America has become the country it is today. This history is full of paradoxes eg how can the 'land of the free' be littered with so many instances of blatant discrimination. Schama's approach has allowed him plenty of scope to put his slant on American history but it does make for an interesting and very informative read. He focuses...more
David Cheshire
This is not a narrative history, more a history built of many narratives, from which themes emerge, such as "American fervour" (religion)and "American plenty" (economy). It's not a book you can skip or dip into; more an extended essay, it asks commitment from the reader. But it's worth it. Through the selection of less familiar figures whose stories are woven into the bigger picture and used as archetypes fresh insights emerge; like how for American soldiers the regiment or unit does not replace...more
Chris Walker
This is a good book to pick up in the run-up to the current American election. While it was written at the time of the last election the themes of history the author discusses are still very relevant. In fact there is so much history packed into it I keep picking it up to read bits of it again. Schama's writing about history is engaging and he uses short biographies to illustrate his themes, although I did find he spent too much time with the Meigs family. I found the material on Thomas Jefferso...more
Dan Toft
I had already been following Professor Schama since the release of his "A History of Britain" series from the 90s. His command of witty and creative analysis translates remarkably well from his on-camera work to written form, and all the while, I had his unmistakable English voice, rising and falling in its characteristic intonations, in my mind as I read. I could tell that the book wasn't attempting anything new with regards to the actual research concerning American history: everything he touc...more
Denerick
This is a book in four parts, dealing in turn with the American military tradition, American religion, American identity and American aspiration (Or capitalism/lack thereof)

Schama gleefully points out the endless ironies of American history - be it the wonderously enlightened declaration of Independence (that runs concurrent with the institution of slavery, obviously) or the emphatically altruistic words stamped onto the Statue of Liberty, whilst thousands of Chinese migrants were lynched across...more
Piet
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Heikki

Simon Schama's book is a really interesting one to read. It has such strength in its message, such lucidity in the examples, and such a formidable intellectual background that it promises to be a very fulfilling book.

Schama is very well versed in American history and has done his research meticulously. He takes the reader across the vast landscape of Americanism and conclusively shows how that concept is one based on eternal discovery, eternal progress, and the American ideal of finding your hap...more
Danielle
The American Future is a piece of popular history written on the eve of the 2008 presidential election, which Barack Obama would go on to win. The book makes no predictions whatsoever about the American future. Rather, it uses as a starting point Obama's campaign rhetoric which made references to the American past. Schama then jumps back and forth between the election rhetoric and the history it references. His unstated thesis seems to be that American history is uniquely future-oriented, self-c...more
Andrew
Schama is, without a doubt, one of the more accessible and relatable historians of today. In the "American Future" Schama delves into America's past to try and explain the current state of affairs in the US. Some of the topics he discusses at length include religion, immigration, politics and race; and all with the wit and originality of any Schama work. He discusses all of these subjects by examining little known parts of American history, such as a notable African-American female preacher from...more
Mark
As with most things Simon Schama writes, it has a title and a subject but is always more about Schama himself than his subjects. Once you see past the academic egotism however you find a rich plethora of information on the history if the USA and how it pertains to the current national character. Brought out to coincide with the historic 2008 elections which Barack Obama would go on to win, this book traces the route of the modern America picking up heavily on the aspects of civil rights and slav...more
Mark Rossiter
A curious title for what is a work of thematic history about America interspersed with passages of personal reminiscence, but Simon Schama’s book was written during the 2008 election, those days of surging hope when it seemed the US might reinvent itself instead of tightening harder into acrimoniously gridlocked incomprehension among its various racial, religious and ideological components. Seems a long time ago now. I suppose it was intended as an exploration of the past as a guide to the futur...more
Reenie
A tale of the history of the USA and how it relates to the hot topics of the 2008 Election: war, religion, immigration & economics.

It's not really surprising, I guess, but Simon Schama, who is probably best known for the History of Britain series, writes this book like a screenplay for a documentary. Actually, given that there are a number of asides about location scouting for filming in his framing sequences for each section, the word 'like' doesn't really belong there: this IS a screenplay...more
Alan
Jul 23, 2011 Alan added it
I've only read two Schama books, and I like the style -- captivating short stories about individuals that bounce around in time and place while collectively telling the big story. For this American, that sometimes hurt (like President Jackson's ethnic cleansing of the Southeast Indians) and sometimes made me proud (like Edward Everett, of Massachusetts, arguing against the "enormous evil" of the Removal Act, or several Presidents vetoing shameless anti-immigrant legislation). The book is about r...more
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style 1 7 Jul 12, 2009 06:34AM  
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Simon Schama was born in 1945. The son of a textile merchant with Lithuanian and Turkish grandparents, he spent his early years in Leigh-on-Sea in Essex. When his parents moved to London he won a scholarship to Haberdashers’ Aske’s School where his two great loves were English and History. Forced to choose between the two he opted to read history at Christ’s College, Cambridge. Here he was taught...more
More about Simon Schama...
The Power of Art Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution A History of Britain: At the Edge of the World? 3500 BC-AD 1603 (A History of Britain, #1) The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age Rembrandt's Eyes

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