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The Thirteen American Arguments: Enduring Debates That Define and Inspire Our Country
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The Thirteen American Arguments: Enduring Debates That Define and Inspire Our Country

3.32 of 5 stars 3.32  ·  rating details  ·  305 ratings  ·  54 reviews

Howard Fineman, one of our most trusted political journalists, shows that every debate, from our nation’s founding to the present day, is rooted in one of thirteen arguments that–thankfully–defy resolution. It is the very process of never-ending argument, Fineman explains, that defines us, inspires us, and keeps us free. At a time when most public disagreement seems shril
Paperback, 336 pages
Published March 10th 2009 by Random House Trade Paperbacks (first published 2008)
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The Thirteen American Arguments offers a lot of potential but doesn't deliver

I heard Howard Fineman on the radio discussing The Thirteen American Arguments: Enduring Debates That Define and Inspire Our Country one day and scribbled the book title down in my little notepad as I was driving down the road. The idea behind this book is truly great - find 13 central arguments that have been passed down over time and look how different eras of Americans have addressed them.

Fineman's 13 arguments are:
William Leverne
I have enjoyed reading and seeing Howard Fineman for many years in Newsweek and on MSNBC and others. So, I was pleased to check out his first book: The Thirteen American Arguments: Enduring debates that define and inspire our country. I was not disappointed. The basic premise of the book, as I see it, is that the whole American experience is based on a series of arguments, with much participation and involvement in the debates, with different sides of the essential arguments, through the years a ...more
As much as I like Fineman on MSNBC shows like Countdown and Hardball, I just couldn't get into this book. He presents both sides of the arguments well, and I agree with his book's premise that our country's founding talent of civil political discourse is long gone. Now all we do is shout at each other instead of debate in the classic Lincoln/Douglas way.

However, this book needed a better editor. Fineman could have cut about 50-100 pages out of this book by sticking to the purpose of the book an
Howard Fineman's The Thirteen American Arguments is a very accurate portrayal of modern day American politics. Through his 13 arguments, he is able to pinpoint many of the issues present in our society and our government today. While he does a good job at attempting to epitomize the "essence" of the United States of America, my personal opinion is that his nationalism is a bit much. He hardly ever disagrees with any of the executive decisions the government makes. I believe it is a good read for ...more
An excellent premise; faulty execution... My major beef is that the dude never seems to get around to saying anything! In discussing "Who is a person?", for example, we get a paragraph on Ann Richards introducing Ferraro in '84, the standard tip of the hat to Abigail Adams, and then a paragraph on Roe v. Wade followed by some references to Nancy Pelosi. What is your point, holmes? "Like the universe, the meaning of personhood is expanding." Oh. Thanks.
This book was an attempt to un-biasedly discuss thirteen broad categories of arguments that encompass all of the major political arguments in the United States of America. I believe the author failed at being unbiased. The book repeatedly refers to the then upcoming 2008 election and in the first chapters Hilary and Obama are referred to in a positive light several times, McCain isn't mentioned until one of the last chapters and in his place the author discusses a Republican candidate for senate ...more
An interesting way to look at America. It was given to me by members of a my Debate and Speech team. The author, Howard Fineman, writes about politics for the MSNBC. When examining the "thirteen" arguments which shape America Fineman tries to write a neutral book. Neutral, in terms of politics. I can't help but feel that he is biased towards liberal sides of arguments. Obama is presented as brilliant, the epitome of American ideals and the legacy of Lincoln. However, in the chapter of faith McCa ...more
2 stars is generous. The book lacks substance and fails to make a contribution to political, philosophical, or social discourse. Fineman points to 13 arguments that Americans debate (some longer than others), calls them uniquely American, and leaves it at that. No assertions, no positions, no arguments of his own. The title of the book and the overarching theme intrigued me enough to purchase it hardcover and I was excited to read it. Then I read it. I was disappointed. There was so much potenti ...more
This book was an excellent overview of all the issues that have plagued America since its founding. The 13 arguments presented are, and always have been, incredibly relevant to the social and economic issues that America has encountered all throughout history. Fineman seems to lift above all political prejudice, commenting on the political strategies and legacies of political figureheads and journalists, ranging from Jill Abramson to Obama. He incorporates not only the present, but past argument ...more
The Thousander Club
Adam C. Zern shares his thoughts . . .

"I found Mr. Fineman's book at the Book Warehouse for pretty cheap. The title and and subject matter intrigued me; although, I love just about anything that deals with American history. Shortly after beginning to read the book I realized I wasn't getting exactly what I was looking for So, what was I looking for? I wanted a book similar to Thomas Sowell's masterful work A Conflict of Visions. I wanted an in-depth compare and contrast, an objective, intellect
Brian Ayres
I always get a kick out of TV commentators who report on an issue in American life and claim that this is "unprecedented." Next time it happens, someone should send that talking head a copy of Fineman's 13 Arguments. In much of the 240 or so pages, Fineman produces nothing more than a rehash of current events throughout his 20-plus years of reporting. But a deeper read shows Fineman's keen understanding and interpretation of American politics on many issues, including judges and law, national v. ...more
Darrell Fisher
May 10, 2010 Darrell Fisher rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Darrell by:
This is a book everyone should read. It doesn't have a ideological bent to it. Just simply explains the motivations of this country. You know we all watch TV and we see the Tea Baggers and other groups that seem original but they aren't. Our issues with our country have never change. They are only more prevalent because of the social media that allows all opinions to be expressed ans expressed loudly.

In some ways we are no different from the founders of this country. The fact is we all need to
It's interesting to read this book four years after it was published and realize how little has changed politically. It's also interesting to read and realize how little has changed politically in the last couple of centuries. There is some divergence between arguments made by and between the founding fathers, but it's remarkable how similar our arguments are today. Of course, that's Fineman's thesis: the arguments we're having today are basically the same ones we've always been having and it's ...more
Very informative stuff. It was even too informative that I can't retain all of the information. But the main idea is that Americans need to keep arguing about the important stuff. Fineman highlighted 13 of those important things, but perhaps there are more. I also feel like there was a lot of overlap among the 13 topics, but I guess that's to be expected when we are all trying to answer one question: what should America be? I liked how many different perspectives were presented for each of the o ...more
Jul 16, 2008 Lauren is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
See, I read serious books too. I picked this up after hearig Mr. Fineman on NPR. I am a mild political junkie, although more of a political theory person versus strategy, so I thought this would be right up my alley. I am only a few chapters in, but the book is not exactly what I thought it would be. I think it does a good job of giving a basic overview of the "13 Arguments" as well as proving some interesting anecdotes I had never tripped over before; but on the whole, I have found the first fe ...more
Wonderful,thought provoking book for anyone who loves politics! Howard Fineman does an outstanding job of looking at the decisions made by our founding fathers. He maintains that the ideas and "arguments" or debates that shaped our country are still relevant today. These debates were conducted with mutual respect and civility. This book provides a unique perspective on the issues which concerned our country's founders and which still are affecting our country today. It's an optimistic look at th ...more
This is a great book for an election year as well as any time for those interested in politics and political philosophy. Fineman deals with the great "arguments" which this country has engaged in since its start: Who is a person? (slaves, women, the unborn?) Who is an American? (immigration concerns go back to 1776) Debt and the Dollar? (free trade or protectionist tariffs are being argued by Alexander Hamilton and in every generation going forard). What is important IS the argument...that we co ...more
Benjamin Eins
Interesting background information that helps understanding american politics & culture.
A fascinating book focusing on the "Arguments" that define the USA as a nation. Some are obvious ("Who Is A Person" has moved from a racial argument to one about fetuses, stem cells, corporations, and such; "Who Is An American?" is timely), but more interesting are the less obvious (e.g. "Who Judges The Law" is an eye-opening account of the role of the Constitution and Judiciary). Well worth the read for all Americans.
I had this book on loan from Borders, but I shall probably buy it if I can ev
If you watch enough political oriented programming to know who Howard Fineman is, then this book probably will not tell you anything you do not already know about the major arguments that define American politics. (About the only thing in here that I hadn't read or heard elsewhere was that Nanci Griffith performed "Across the Great Divide" at former Texas Governor Ann Richards' memorial service.) I suspect that I am not really the target audience for this book, but I could see myself using porti ...more
A well-researched, smart account of big questions that America has been struggling with since the country's founding. Although Fineman's political bias is evident throughout the text (he's clearly to the left), he does present both sides of the arguments. I didn't love the organization of certain chapters, where I thought the transitions were lacking. However, I still give this a four star rating because it is insightful and contains insider stories and explanations that are interesting and comp ...more
TJ Jackson
This book is nothing crazy over the top, but Fineman does a nice job of defining and laying out the arguments and counterarguments to thirteen key topics we face as a country. On some of these topics there might be an answer, but the answer is the need for debate versus actually finding any defined "answer"; to Fineman's point of "if we cease to argue, we cease to be". He does a nice job of giving the reader a topical history, as well as current concerns. Great refresher in a huge election year.
Excellent read! Especially in an election year when we are apt to think that government is right or wrong, black or white, this points out the many areas of enduring debate that will never be clear-cut.Like environmental issues(drill,baby,drill-or try to save something for our children),is the military for agression or defense,and the enduring debates over the limits of presidential power and national vs. states rights. Fascinating book and very well written.
Said 13 arguments, going by the book's table of contents.

1. Who is a person?
2. Who is an American?
3. The role of faith.
4. What can we know and say?
5. The limits of individualism.
6. Who judges the law?
7. Debt and the dollar.
8. Local vs National authority.
9. Presidential Power
10. The terms of trade.
11. War and diplomacy.
12. The environment.
13. A "fair", more perfect union.
A book that's rich with detail. If you know something of American history, there won't be a lot of surprises....but I was surprised by how consistent the voice and detail were. Probably the most interesting is to see how someone else looks at history and tries to draw those connections to the America of today. The anecdotes about George W. Bush were especially good. The end was perhaps a bit flat.
An interesting take on politics in America. Fineman views politics as discussions about continuing issues and not just Republicans v. Democrats or liberals v. conservatives. Fineman provides a different lens for viewing today's political fights in which the parties may have switched sides on basic issues (sometimes more than once) but where the basic issues remain. A good book!
This book is interesting, although I felt it leaned a bit to the left. I was hoping to get a better understanding of the right. The author tends to jump from one decade to another or even one century to another quite abrubtly. I found it annoying and eventually as I started a new paragraph/sentence I wondered if it would relate at all to the one I had just finished.
Doug Allen
if you're looking for a book that attempts to resolve the thirteen American arguments, this isn't it. but I think fineman does a good job of laying out the basics and the history of thirteen issues that have historically been and will continue to be big influences in the way that American public policy is made. relatively quick read, as well.
Tom Mackie
Great book not only for personal reading but a good book for a reading in civics classes. It is not a deep work of political Science but a means to get students to think of the great political issues of American history. Best of all my students love this book for the On-line class. It gives them the fabric to debate big issues.
I'm not giving this a rating because I was only about 80 pages into it when I had to return it to the library, and it just didn't seem worth the $0.25/day in fines to finish reading it. Kinda of a mile wide and an inch deep, but having just come off reading the Political Brain, perhaps I wasn't in the right frame of mind for this book.
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"Howard Fineman is Newsweek's senior Washington correspondent and columnist. An award-winning reporter and writer, Fineman is also an NBC news analyst, contributing reports to that network as well as MSNBC. His column, "Living Politics," appears in Newsweek, on, and on Fineman's work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The New Republic. He live ...more
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Thirteen American Arguments: Enduring Debates That Inspire and Define Our Country

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