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Rebirth of a Nation: The Making of Modern America, 1877-1920

3.54  ·  Rating Details ·  279 Ratings  ·  40 Reviews
In the half-century between the Civil War and World War I, widespread yearning for a new beginning permeated American public life. Dreams of spiritual, moral, and physical rebirth formed the foundation for the modern United States, inspiring its leaders with imperial ambition. Theodore Roosevelt's desire to recapture frontier vigor led him to promote U.S. interests through ...more
Hardcover, 432 pages
Published June 9th 2009 by Harper (first published June 1st 2009)
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Nov 30, 2011 Szplug rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sprinkled throughout with air balls—self-help business guides as disguised anti-masturbatory tracts?—and rim ricochets and backboard bouncers that do not much take away from the otherwise effortless swishing of one ball after another kissing the netting whilst draining smoothly through the centre. In my opinion, Gilded Age to Great War America encompasses one of the most fascinating and pivotal periods in the history of the Great Republic, and Lears' penetrating, witty and sober rendition of tha ...more
I've never had so much trouble getting through a book—at least one I actually finished—that wasn't assigned to read in school. There are four problems with this book, and they're big ones.

First, the narrative has about as much cohesion and organization as my high school essays did. Yes, there is a theme of "rebirth" or "rejuvenation", but it just isn't strong enough to tie everything together. It could have worked for a selective history of the era instead of a comprehensive one. But because Lea
Justin Evans
Sep 15, 2012 Justin Evans rated it it was ok
Shelves: history-etc
The cover is a photo of a span bridge under construction, and I suspect that the book designer had read the book and realized that it, like the bridge, had two or three really strong points but was otherwise more or less dangling, disconnected bits and pieces.

I was primed to love this: I needed to read something about the time period anyway; Lears throws in quotes by people I love but historians usually don't touch (e.g., the Henrys Adams and James); he's no averse to actually, like, trying to
Christopher Lydon
Jan 04, 2010 Christopher Lydon rated it it was amazing
Jackson Lears' Rebirth of a Nation, is a glum reflection on the revivalist, bully-boy, anti-intellectual stream in American culture and psychology that's been flowing strong since the US Civil war, embodied by Teddy Roosevelt on his bad days and by G.W. Bush every day. See:
Joshua Buhs
Feb 02, 2016 Joshua Buhs rated it liked it
Shelves: history, non-fiction
Perhaps a bit too limited in focus. Or, better put, not fully integrated.

I feel bad giving this book a rating as low as three stars. Jackson Lears is, for my money, one of the most interesting historical thinkers, nimble and open to ambiguity, fully immersed in the sources but able to rise out of them talk in abstractions: but always abstractions made up of the empirical. Theoretically eclectic (even if the eclecticism comes from the same sources: not contradictory, necessarily, but not usually
Jim Malachowski
Apr 09, 2016 Jim Malachowski rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Writing in 1920 about the end of the Gilded Age, the noted historian Frederick Turner argued the age of free competition for unpossessed resources had ended. In his view, there had been an ongoing conflict between capitalists and democratic pioneers since the early colonial days. The frontier line, steadily expanding westward for decades and the origin of American democracy, had disappeared throwing the country into turmoil. The industrial revolution caused additional change. Mining had brought ...more
Joseph Stieb
Jul 31, 2015 Joseph Stieb rated it really liked it
Despite some glaring flaws, I found myself generally enjoying Jackson Lears' survey of American history from the 1870's to the 1920's. He is a skilled historian when it comes to capturing the way people thought and felt in a certain time period. I though he did a great job at this in regards to, for example, the cult/crisis of manly Christianity and Social/racial Darwinism among a population dealing with the ups and downs of civilization. This is also a pretty short book when you consider the sc ...more
Oct 28, 2012 Trekscribbler rated it did not like it
Yeah, I get it, Mr. Jackson Lears: despite any grace or goodness this great nation of ours has served up on the world, America is a bad, bad place. Its past is littered with sins that can never be fully washed away. Apparently, our nation’s only saving grace is that we allow civil disobedience that takes the form of your latest tome, REBIRTH OF A NATION: THE MAKING OF MODERN AMERICA, 1877-1920, to see the light of day, hoping to brainwash the masses with more of the carbon-copy demagoguery made ...more
Tom Mackay
Sep 03, 2013 Tom Mackay rated it really liked it
T. J. Jackson Lears is one of the finest historians of American culture. Rebirth of a Nation is essentially a culmination of his many years researching and writing on cultural phenomena occurring during the Gilded Age and Progressive Era; it is his grand overview of the period as a whole. As such, Rebirth is a cultural history of America's progressive moment and its industrial and imperial ascent.

By no means is Rebirth the first general history of this era. The works of Hofstadter, Wiebe and P
Tricia Hope
Sep 10, 2014 Tricia Hope rated it did not like it
I have never read a book that I have so intensely disliked. Lears tends to wax poetic to cushion his writing when he has nothing important left to say on his topic. He uses vague terminology to support himself and no hard statistics. Take for example when he discusses lynching. Yes, it was a horrible thing that happened and yes, it needs to be discussed lest we forget and return to its horrors (doubtful). However, he uses terms like most or many or even the "vast majority" when copious research ...more
Nov 16, 2013 Tim rated it it was amazing
November 2013 - Wonderful to reread - his prose is rich and intellectually challenging.

Lears is a remarkable writer. The book took me time to read because it is full both of the telling historical detail and his telling comments. Very few pages in my copy of this book do not have markings on them, many have numerous. The time he writes about, 1877-1920, sees America rise to the top of the world, while labor & farmers, blacks and immigrants have substantial problems. He sees the desire for r
Jul 27, 2012 Derek rated it it was ok
I'm not entirely sure what kept me from enjoying Jackson Lears' Rebirth of a Nation: The Making of Modern America, 1877-1920, though I suspect that a lot of it has to do with my having grown accustomed to (and quite fond of) micro-histories: In the Heart of the Sea, The Children's Blizzard, etc. Lears' work (admittedly already quite narrowed) seems desultory and bloated in comparison: a number of subjects cursorily glanced in a single page, tenuous transitions, the works. The writing was fine, a ...more
Chris Fobare
May 20, 2016 Chris Fobare rated it liked it
Lears should be lauded for the extensive research that he undertook for this study. At its core, his premise is sound: The Civil War brought about the promise of national regeneration, it collapsed in the face of white supremacy and the rise of monopolies, and ultimately a new generation undertook their own process of regeneration through progressive reform and imperialism. Overall, however, politics takes a back seat to culture in this study, which is ironic given that some of the central figur ...more
Feb 19, 2013 Kristi rated it really liked it
Lear’s argues that in the period between the Civil War and World War I, Americans yearned for spiritual, moral, and physical regeneration; furthermore, he contends that these hopes formed the social foundation for 20th century America. Lears asserts that tensions in American society are rooted in religious conflict, and the spirit of rebirth in “Protestant patterns of conversion.” In my reading these contentions were not adequately followed through with. Transformation through market exchange, m ...more
Dave N
Nov 17, 2015 Dave N rated it liked it
Shelves: us-history
A competent thematic history, but suffering from a disjointed organization that left me flipping back and forth to remind myself of people or events that were introduced chapters back. The problem with all thematic histories is that they leave the reader with a sense for certain aspects of the history of a period, but without the ability to put important elements in the context of what else is occurring at the same time. It's not that the book is poorly written; just that the way the information ...more
Bookmarks Magazine
Jul 30, 2009 Bookmarks Magazine rated it really liked it
Shelves: sept-oct-2009
"As he does in all of his acclaimed writings, Lears culls numerous sources to give a compelling, humane portrait of a cultural epoch. Rather than rehashing familiar tales, he brings acute judgment to the motivations of well-known figures like J. P. Morgan and William Jennings Bryan, while using their individual stories to illustrate the larger milieu. The Los Angeles Times saw Rebirth of a Nation as building directly upon Lears's previous books on antimodernism and advertising, in an ever-deepen ...more
Oct 12, 2012 Dan rated it really liked it
I only give this four stars instead of five, because of how dense the book was. It was hard to read for very long and easy to pick up something else. Thus, when I came back to it, I had to regain the train of thought. Very scholarly. Some provactive discussion of the concept of "scarcity" and how during the end of the 19th century it affected (and still does, I believe, although perhaps more benignly) every aspect of American life. I think I'd like to read it again, perhaps on vacation when I ca ...more
Jul 03, 2015 Scott rated it did not like it
The three words which best describe Rebirth of a Nation, The making of modern America, 1870 – 1920 are “dull”, “boring” and “long”. The best part of the book is the cover with an image of the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. I am convinced that whoever created the cover had never read the book. Mr. Lears chose a subject, which could have been quite interesting, but he failed miserably. Even his writing style is poor. My recommendation is to stay away from anything written by Jackson Lears!
Aug 06, 2013 Kuva rated it really liked it
A wide-ranging, very interesting, almost lyrical look at the Gilded Age/Progressive Era. Jackson Lears is really good at taking a literary approach to history, pointing out the metaphors and psychological conflicts that shape events. The one flaw in this book is that it is almost entirely focused on men. It contains brilliant analysis of masculinity and its connections to imperialism and racism, but doesn't spend nearly as much time reflecting on how women fit into that framework. All in all, th ...more
Sep 15, 2011 Diane rated it liked it
This book covers American history from the end of the Civil War to the First World War. The author concentrates on analyzing the major intellectual currents of the period. While this is an excellent idea, I found the delivery to be weak. The author spends the entire book making pronouncements without providing any evidence to back up his statements. He also has a very obvious bias/agenda throughout the book that detracts from the subject matter.
Jul 29, 2010 Bethany rated it liked it
Pretty good history of the turn of the century time period - the usual stuff - industrialization, urbanization, monopolization, unionization, class warfare, growth and recessions. He does have kind of a new twist on it a - a theme of cultural (and individual and national) renewal and regeneration driving the whole thing.

He says mean things about my buddy Teddy Roosevelt though; hard for me to get past that.
Jan 15, 2013 Champ rated it really liked it
More of a monograph than a popular history, "Rebirth of a Nation" suggests that notions of rebirth and regeneration fueled politics, the arts, social progress, and society from the end of the Civil War through World War I. Covering Reconstruction, the Gilded Age, and the Progressive Era, this book is dense, and a slower read than its 350 pages might lead you to expect, but I would recommend it to the motivated reader. I got a lot out of it, but it wasn't light reading.
Mar 26, 2010 Jenna rated it liked it
The main theme of regeneration/rebirth was well-carried out througout the book, but at times I felt some errors/generalizations were made, which is perhaps because the era is such a vast one to cover. And it is still a book of major "players" -- not necessarily always a "people's history" (which is always hard, if even possible) to attain.

Chambers The Tyranny of Change is perhaps a less theoretical, but maybe more straight-forward history of the era.
Sep 28, 2010 Pete rated it really liked it
excellent read. works on its own as a pretty comprehensive takedown of the recently re-beatified teddy roosevelt (for reason pop history rediscovery TR in the past five years) and also woodrow wilson as racists, imperialists, etc. as with most cultural historians it's hard not to wince when Lears starts to traffic in absolutes based on a few examples, but he's a convincing writer, and this definitely lent a new perspective on the era from end of reconstruction to Wilson's death
Feb 22, 2013 Işıl rated it did not like it
This book covers a large period of American history, beginning from right after the Civil War to the 1920's. But doing so, Lears fails to reflect clearly the real motives of the prominent people of certain outstanding periods such as the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era. Plain rhetoric is what you will encounter in the book. The traditional historical narrative seems to be sucked out of it completely. And calling Theodore Roosevelt an imperialist with boyish bellicosity? Give me a break.
May 05, 2012 Valerie rated it liked it
Shelves: american-history
I didn't always agree with some of his interpretations, but this was still an excellent, scholarly read. The Gilded Age is one of the most controversial, yet fascinating periods of American history. In fact, a careful examination of society today suggests that we are living in another Gilded Age.
Jeremy Farmer
Dec 09, 2010 Jeremy Farmer rated it it was amazing
Very good summary of the post-Reconstruction years through the end of World War I. Touches on all of the major (and many minor) players, events, etc and ties it in to modern day America. Nothing changes. History is cyclical.
Richard Hansen
Jan 31, 2010 Richard Hansen rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
A very good exposition of American history from a period which is often forgotten. Does an excellent job of examining the peculiarly American themes which underlie the complex mix of imperialism, Progressivism and racism present during the Gilded Age.
Jan 11, 2014 Anjan rated it it was ok
Great idea, poor organization. The material is dense with loaded words and ideas so it is hard to draw a clear narrative of change without having to sit and scrub the concepts free of what may just be opinion. More effort than I would like to put into the book.
Jul 13, 2010 Alexander added it
Recommends it for: all history buffs
Well written. It's a era I'm particularly intrested in and Lears does a great job of bridging the micro with the macro. It's not a criticism (far from it), but this book leads to more questions and more speculation.
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T. J. Jackson Lears (born 1947) is an American cultural and intellectual historian with interests in comparative religious history, literature and the visual arts, folklore and folk beliefs. He is the Board of Governors Professor of History at Rutgers University and Editor in Chief of the Raritan Quarterly Review.
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“The desire for unmediated grace put mystics like Anne Hutchinson in direct conflict with Puritan authorities in Massachusetts Bay, who sought to contain her challenge to ministerial authority. The molten core of conversion needed to be encased in a solid sheath of prohibitions, rules, agendas for self-control—the precisionist morality that we know as the Protestant ethic. An ethos of disciplined achievement counterbalanced what the sociologist Colin Campbell calls an other Protestant ethic, one that sought ecstasy and celebrated free-flowing sentiment, sending frequent revivals across the early American religious landscape. The two ethics converged in a cultural program that was nothing if not capacious: it encompassed spontaneity and discipline, release and control. Indeed, the rigorous practice of piety was supposed to reveal the indwelling of the spirit, the actuality of true conversion. Yet the balance remained unstable, posing challenges to established authority in Virginia as well as Massachusetts. The tension between core and sheath, between grace abounding and moral bookkeeping, arose from the Protestant conviction that true religion was not merely a matter of adherence to outward forms, but was rooted in spontaneous inner feeling.” 0 likes
“Henry Flagler: “Do unto others as they would do unto you—and do it first.” 0 likes
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