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

3.42 of 5 stars 3.42  ·  rating details  ·  189 ratings  ·  33 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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Szplug
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
Christopher Lydon
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: http://www.radioopensource.org/jackson-lears-on-obamas-sorrows-of-empire/
Justin Evans
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
...more
Soren
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
...more
Tricia Hope
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
Trekscribbler
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
Tim
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
...more
Tom Mackay
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
...more
Derek
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
Kristi
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
Bookmarks Magazine
"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
Nick Buck
One of my all-time favorite history books. Lears is a master. He unfolds the post-Civil War generation's masculine obsession with regeneration through violence, its bellicose leadership, and its 21 century reification. Part cultural analysis, part biography, part history, this book is brilliant.
Dan
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
Kuva
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
Işıl
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.
Pete
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
Champ
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.
Jenna
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.
Diane
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.
Bethany
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.
Valerie
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.
Heather
Interesting subject potential; the book overall was not as engrossing as I had hoped. The narrative digresses quite a bit (enough to be distracting) and more time is given to theoretical supposition rather than specific examples. Maybe the subject was to vast to cover in one book.
Anjan
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.
Richard Hansen
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.
Jeremy Farmer
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.
William Risher
I was looking forward to this new synthesis of a transformative period in American history but, sadly I was disappointed. While it had good material, the author's biases were too obvious.
Barron
Jun 07, 2010 Barron marked it as to-read
Finally! The exact right book on the exact period I've been wanting to read a history book on! My grand plan to read all of American history will soon be complete.
Sean Chick
Passionately written but an example of an author hating their subject so much that it clouds their judgment. The words 'ham fisted' come to mind.
Steve Cox
While there was quite a bit of good material here, it was subsumed under the author's politics. It felt rather Zinnian at times.
David
Aug 04, 2009 David added it
Many parallels and precedents for current political and economic situation.
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197898
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.
More about Jackson Lears...
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