George's Reviews > American Colossus: The Triumph of Capitalism, 1865-1900

American Colossus by H.W. Brands
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Jan 05, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: lacpl-ebook, nook-ereads
Read from December 22, 2010 to January 05, 2011


“…he [John Pierpont Morgan (1837-1913)] believed capitalism a surer guide to the national interest than democracy. Capitalism was predictable; the pursuit of profit enforced reason on men and sifted the able from the incompetent.”—page 548

The ‘Gilded Age,’ with its (‘conspicuous consumption’) millionaire’s mansions in the east, co-existing with the sod-houses of ranchers and farmers of the western prairie, is one of the most fascinating periods in American history. In his captivating book, ‘American Colossus: The Triumph of Capitalism, 1865-1900,’ University of Texas, at Austin, professor, H. W. Brands shares hundreds of extremely interesting and insightful, albeit all too brief, vignettes of the people, places and events—the highlights and the lowlights—that made this era extraordinary.

This book is really an incredibly good read—that just kept getting better, and better, with each new chapter. Who would have anticipated seeing the name, George Armstrong Custer (page 171) in a book subtitled: ‘The Triumph of Capitalism, 1865-1900’? Or encountering the likes of Susan B. Anthony standing and waving her handkerchief “as enthusiastic as a girl” in response to Buffalo Bill Cody during his Wild West Show at the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 (page 471)? And these are just some of the vegetables. The meat of this book is extensive and substantial.

How can I not rave about a book that had me scrambling to Wikipedia uncountable times to learn more about many of its engaging characters. Not to mention the nine (or so) books I harvested therein to add to my already overloaded ‘to read’ shelf.

Recommendation: If you read only one non-fiction book on American history, this year, this is the one it should be.

More excerpts that I found interesting (many to which I could only say, Amen):

“…upon Southern secession, many Californians spoke of leaving the Union themselves—if not to join the Confederacy, at least to adopt a stance of pro-Confederate independence.”—page 46

“Because no one held legal title to the herds, no one had material incentive to preserve them.”—page186

“Not owning the land, the cattlemen had little incentive to protect or improve it. On the contrary, they had every incentive to extract as much value from it as they could, lest others do so first.”—page 209

“Crowded cities, where the irresponsible and ignorant were numerically equal, or more than equal, to the rest, and where the weakest and most worthless was a match by his vote, for the wisest and best…”—page 384

“ ‘Though the people support the Government,’ Cleveland asserted, ‘the Government should not support the people.’ ”—page 446

“ ‘He [Thomas Brackett Reed (1839–1902)] declared of certain Democrats that they never opened their mouths without subtracting from the sum of human knowledge.’ ‘We live in a world of sin and sorrow, otherwise there would not be any Democratic Party.’ “—page 495

“Joseph Choate called the [income] tax ‘communistic in its purpose and tendencies’ in argument before the Supreme Court in […] 1895…”—page 499

“By 5 to 4 the [Supreme] court struck down the income tax.”—page 499

“Theodore Roosevelt contended that the United States had won the Philippines as fairly as it had won northern Mexico a half century earlier.”—page 540

“ ‘Hawaii is ours,’ the former president [Grover Cleveland, (1837-1908)] wrote Richard Olney. ‘As I look back upon the first steps in this miserable business I am ashamed of the whole affair.’ ”—page 549

“The return of prosperity predictably corroded agrarian and labor radicalism. The Populists disappeared, with most being reabsorbed into the Democrats, and labor strikes diminished in frequency and extent.”—page 543

Adobe Digital Editions [ePub], 611 pages (including about 36 pages of endnotes)

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