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The American Future: A History From The Founding Fathers To Barack Obama

3.73  ·  Rating Details ·  539 Ratings  ·  87 Reviews
In November 2008 the United States elected a new President. But the 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 for mankind’ came to be so suspected and vilified ...more
Paperback, 416 pages
Published July 2nd 2009 by Vintage (first published 2008)
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(showing 1-30 of 1,325)
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Trevor
Jan 31, 2010 Trevor rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Alan
Jun 05, 2010 Alan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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. Shurmer
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
Hugh Ashton
Sep 12, 2016 Hugh Ashton rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I like Simon Schama's work (OK, I'm biased, because we were at the same college), and I enjoyed reading this book. Written in 2008, after Obama was sweeping the nation and seemingly ushering in a new age in American political life, it now makes chilling reading.

The optimism inherent in Schama's tone of 2008 now appears to have been totally unjustified. The racism, prejudice and intolerance that Schama chronicles as a thread running through the whole of American history (and not a minor thread, e
...more
Paul
Oct 20, 2009 Paul rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 03, 2009 Brad rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 06, 2009 Ken rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
May 16, 2010 Glorious rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 15, 2010 Jami Fultz rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Todd Stockslager
Schama, better known for his histories of England (three volumes to cover the full sweep) and the French Revolution, meanders through American history to find clues to America's future. The narrative wanders backwards and forwards through history to give Schama leeway to talk about wars, religion, race, and immigration and how they shaped the America we live in today.

But there is little effort to draw the threads within a topic together into a cogent directed argument, so consequently this reads
...more
Elizabeth
Jan 14, 2015 Elizabeth rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is another argument for used-book stores. I stumbled across this book and it immediately jumped to the head of my reading list.

Simon Schama is a wonderful writer with a fantastic mind. He spans American history to discover what is an American and does so unapologetically. He describes great moments in American history and many times we wish we had done better. He sees America as a country of contradictions--the land of the free and of the slave. He wrote this book on the eve of Obama's
...more
Bob H
Although billed as a perspective on the 2008 presidential election - the prologue is his observation of the Jan. 2008 Iowa caucuses, in which Obama and Huckabee won and upset all expectations - Mr. Schama was not reflecting on the final outcome. That, he did not know when he wrote this book. He did know something extraordinary was taking place, that night in Iowa. Here, now, what we have is a reflection, a tour, snapshots of America in 2008, a time in which the country reached a turning point of ...more
Andrew Breslin
Jun 07, 2014 Andrew Breslin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 15, 2009 Mark rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
John Kaufmann
Jun 21, 2016 John Kaufmann rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This was a hard one to rate. One the one hand it was full of very interesting storytelling about various episodes and characters in American history. On the other hand, I never really got the point of the book, of what the author was driving at. The theme tying the chapters together seemed to be how various religions and immigrant groups have gone from being shunned outsiders to being accepted, as the concept of what an American is has continually broadened. But the author never really spelled o ...more
Michael
Stylish, superb writing...
Maria
Schama was a BBC reporter covering the 2008 presidential race when he wrote this book. It's a history of how Americans talk about and view their future. Interwoven with his experiences in America is its history and culture.

Why I started this book: Richard recommended it to me, and the title looked interesting.

Why I finished it: I was worried about this book when I first started it, as it talked about the 2008 presidential campaign. But it turned out to be fascinating, and insightful. Schama too
...more
Phyllis Harrison
Jul 08, 2010 Phyllis Harrison rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 09, 2009 Ashish rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 07, 2011 Nigel rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 07, 2013 David Cheshire rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 14, 2011 Dan Toft rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Heikki
May 20, 2012 Heikki rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

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
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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
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