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The American Future: A History

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  623 Ratings  ·  91 Reviews
In November 2008 the United States will elect a new President. But the imminent 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 of earth' came to be so suspected an ...more
Hardcover, 400 pages
Published October 2nd 2008 by Bodley Head (first published 2008)
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Jan 31, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Rob Shurmer
Mar 06, 2010 rated it really liked it
Schama 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 an early treaty, ratified by Congress, that states bluntly "as the United States is not in ...more
Jun 05, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 16, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Jul 25, 2009 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
Sep 07, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Hugh Ashton
Sep 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 07, 2009 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
Mar 15, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Patricia Monger
Jan 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book was written in the midst of the 2008 presidential election, so when you read the preface you think, "Hoo-eee! Was he ever wrong in being so optimistic!". But I am a fan of Schama's work, so I kept on. It's worth it. I suggest you skip the preface, start at Chapter 1, and then return to the preface at the end of the book. By then, you'll be able to see that the USA has a habit of going off the rails: it's not Trump, it's the people themselves. But by the same token, because of that, you ...more
Jami Fultz
Oct 15, 2009 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
Jun 15, 2009 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.
C. Adam Volle
Mar 26, 2012 rated it really liked it

I don't know enough about the discipline of historical research to declare one man the best historian of our time, but I'll fearlessly call Simon Schama the best writer in English of history in our time.
Stylish, superb writing...
Al Wright
Oct 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
One of my favorite historians and writers. Schama paints pictures with his powerful prose without burying the lead. This book uses the occasion of the 2008 Presidential Election in the US as the starting point in exploring America's past. Schama brings the well known and not so well known historical figures to life while holding up a mirror to America as a nation and as a diverse population. My hope is that he could frame a new book or update this one starting from the 2016 presidential election ...more
Nov 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Great book to get an overview of the way America is America, not just a bigger Australia but an ongoing experiment in balancing the needs of the many people that inhabit her and desires
Jun 15, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
Vooral het hoofdstuk over immigratie gefascineerd gelezen.
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
Phyllis Harrison
May 03, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Bob H
Dec 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
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 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 27, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A tale of the history of the USA and how it relates to the hot topics of the 2008 Election: war, religion, immigration & economics.

It's not really surprising, I guess, but Simon Schama, who is probably best known for the History of Britain series, writes this book like a screenplay for a documentary. Actually, given that there are a number of asides about location scouting for filming in his framing sequences for each section, the word 'like' doesn't really belong there: this IS a screenplay
Feb 22, 2012 rated it really liked it

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
Feb 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, politics
As with most things Simon Schama writes, it has a title and a subject but is always more about Schama himself than his subjects. Once you see past the academic egotism however you find a rich plethora of information on the history if the USA and how it pertains to the current national character. Brought out to coincide with the historic 2008 elections which Barack Obama would go on to win, this book traces the route of the modern America picking up heavily on the aspects of civil rights and slav ...more
Jan 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
May 21, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 17, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Chris Davis
Mar 23, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Mark Rossiter
Oct 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
A curious title for what is a work of thematic history about America interspersed with passages of personal reminiscence, but Simon Schama’s book was written during the 2008 election, those days of surging hope when it seemed the US might reinvent itself instead of tightening harder into acrimoniously gridlocked incomprehension among its various racial, religious and ideological components. Seems a long time ago now. I suppose it was intended as an exploration of the past as a guide to the futur ...more
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style 1 7 Jul 12, 2009 06:34AM  
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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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