In Empire of Liberty, one of America's most esteemed historians, Gordon S. Wood, offers a brilliant account of the early American Republic, ranging from 1789 and the beginning of the national government to the end of the War of 1812.
As Wood reveals, the period was marked by tumultuous change in all aspects of American life - in politics, society, economy, and culture. The men who founded the new government had high hopes for the future, but few of their hopes and dreams worked out quite as they expected. They hated political parties but parties nonetheless emerged. Some wanted the United States to become a great fiscal-military state, like those of Britain and France; others wanted the country to remain a rural agricultural state very different from the European states. Instead, by 1815 the United States became something neither group anticipated. Named a New York Times Notable Book, Empire of Liberty, part of The Oxford History of the United States series, offers a marvelous account of this pivotal era when America took its first unsteady steps as a new and rapidly expanding nation.
The Oxford History of the United States is considered the gold standard for serious historians and general readers (and listeners) alike. Three of the titles have won the Pulitzer Prize for history; two have been Pulitzer Prize finalists, and all of them have enjoyed critical and commercial success.
Please note: The individual volumes of the series have not been published in historical order. Empire of Liberty is number IV in The Oxford History of the United States.
I've always appreciated Gordon S. Wood's writing -- his "Creation of the American Republic" is one of my favorite books of all time. He manages to write in a popular, main-stream way without dumbing anything down. This is just very good narrative history, much like the other Oxford History of the US books. There is probably not much new being revealed here, but I find his synthesis of the facts about this era very enlightening. For example, I think I had a pretty good understanding already of the basic Federalist/Republican differences, but Wood has retold the story in such a clear and interesting way that the whole thing felt fresh. Also, his style is just great -- the words flow, the vignettes are well-chosen to illustrate his points, and the result is a beautifully told story of the early republic.
The narration is competent but not spectacular. I have downloaded and will listen to the other Oxford History of the US works at Audible (What Hath God Wrought by Howe, Battle Cry of Freedom by McPherson.) I hope Audible will consider getting the others in the series now that they have made such an excellent start.
59 of 59 people found this review helpful
This is a wonderful book not only for anyone interested in this particular period of history, but for all those who despair of today's politics and who think the country may not survive whatever current political conflict is occurring. Gordon Wood shows us that we Americans have been fighting the same political fights, exhibiting the same cultural flaws and virtues, struggling with the same social problems as we do today. And the country's survival was much more fragile than it is now, being only a decade or two old. The writing style is very entertaining, and the narration is perfect for the text. I enjoyed it tremendously.
25 of 25 people found this review helpful
Bottom line, this book provides an exceptional insight into the culture and politics of a burgeoning nation, and it goes a long way to explaining the foundations of much of what we see around us today. It is well written, impeccably organized, and if you don't learn a thing or two about the country after finishing, you might just be the author.
My main contention with the book is that is not a linear narrative, it is organized into a series of topics meant to lay out a comprehensive cultural mosaic, and skips around a lot in painting its picture. To this end it is quite effective, but at the expense of consistent and compelling story. That is, there is nothing passive about this listen, you have to pay constant and close attention to fully appreciate it, less so than you would if it were told as a chronological account with emphasis on the significance of individual events.
That said, it is hard to understate the comprehensive nature of the cultural understanding conveyed in this book. Upon finishing, you will intimately know the people of the late 18th / early 19th century, at all social strata. It is truly a magnificent work.
22 of 22 people found this review helpful
The excellent volume in the Oxford History of the United States covers the period from the creation of the Constitution through the War of 1812. This 26 year period saw many changes take place in the United States. During this time George Washington served as President and helped to define that office. The first three presidents managed to keep the United States out of the wars that defined and tore Europe apart for over 25 years. Under Thomas Jefferson the nation doubled in size with the Louisiana Purchase. Advances were made in science, literature, religion, law, and politics. Few realize how important these years were. During this time an experiment in governing a large number of people spread out over a vast territory with a representational government.
Gordon Wood is an excellent historian and this volume is proof that he is a great writer. The book covers a great deal of material, but never comes across as a dry academic text. The various sections give a great overview of the period and the people. The book is organized along topics more than a strict timeline, though the topics do follow a chronological order. The chapters on the Judiciary and on Religion were very good and quite balanced. There is a lot of helpful information that many Americans would do well to learn. This is a book that every American ought to read.
17 of 17 people found this review helpful
Superior history of the early American Republic bridging the gap b/t "The Glorious Cause" & "What Hath God Wrought?" Wood vividly captures the diversity and clash of opinions as Americans realized, "We won the war - now what?" We watch as the patriots who won the war & founded the nation slowly drift into factions that harden into opposing political parties, further complicated by differences in geography, lifestyle, and culture. Reading this, it feels amazing that the United States came into being at all, let alone survived the travail of the ideological battles virtually baked into its founding.
The terrific thing about this history is how it illuminates that the struggles the U.S. went through then are largely the same issues it continues to struggle with today - the power of states vs. the Federal gov't, Congressional vs. Presidential authority, the role of the judiciary, and shall the Constitution be interpreted literally, or is it more of an adaptive framework cleverly crafted to change with the times as need be? Even the struggle of religious fundamentalism vs. that of comparative tolerance and arguments about the role and scope of religion vis a vis the state were wrestled with right from the beginning.
Plenty of folks who like to talk about interpreting the Constitution the way the framers intended probably ought to indicate which framers - there were a number of different outlooks. And those who yearn for a day of less mean spirited politics need look no further than this period to have their illusions shattered. I was downright shocked to see some of the things that such esteemed figures as Jefferson & Hamilton had to say about each other. Their vitriolic personal attacks would be right at home in today's poisoned political atmosphere.
Beyond this terrific insight, Professor Wood's eye for detail and untangling the complicated issues (e.g. early history of the American judiciary) are also exemplary. I can't praise this book enough
15 of 15 people found this review helpful
This book will undoubtedly give you a new perspective on how America became America. Beautiful history addressing so many aspects of who we are, and how we got to be this way. This is a tremendously readable and interesting history, and should be required reading for anyone who wants to engage in political, social or economic policy debates in America as we know her today.
10 of 10 people found this review helpful
Wood has written a history period review that feels like an excellent novel. I can't remember a history account so full of startling explanations and analyses, and I thought I knew a lot about this era . Wood takes no standard assumptions for granted while sticking with solid factual evidence. He makes villains of actions and cultural mistakes, not personalities. He sees the prejudices and flaws of the times in context without passing judgment or evoking his own prejudices. Wow, this is a classic!
The narration is so perfect I thought Fass and Wood must be twins. Fass' enthusiasm and since of drama never overplay but always charm. BTW: I was led to this work by Wood's also-brilliant The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin.
15 of 16 people found this review helpful
“In 1816…Congress enacted a duty on imported foreign books…. 'Our government,' declared the chairman of the Senate finance committee in defense of the tariff, 'is peculiar to ourselves, and our books of instruction should be adapted to the nature of the government and the genius of the people. In the best of foreign books we are liable to meet with criticism and comparisons not very flattering to the American people. In American editions of these, the offensive and illiberal parts are expunged or explained, and the work is adapted to the exigencies and tastes of the American reader. But withdraw the protection, our channels of instruction will be foreign.'"
Does the spirit of that sound strangely familiar? There is nothing new under the sun. At least not in the history of political discourse and strife in the United States. I’m not sure if listening to this extraordinarily enlightening history of the nation’s first quarter century left me more confident that what we have overcome in the past we can get through again or more depressed that after all these years we are still at one another's throats over the same issues. For ideologues there is ammunition here to defend every doctrinaire viewpoint about the true nature and genius of the American experiment. What I found most interesting, however, was the fact that all the parties to the struggle to define a nation which was still determining its own nature were at some point forced to act counter to their principled pronouncements, not for political considerations but simply because it became clear that to do otherwise would lead to a disaster born of stubborn consistency. In the end these men, and they were, sadly, all men, put the survival and welfare of the nation before their commitment to any inflexible philosophy of government.
It is also fascinating to find that the interests and factions of today were often allied or opposed in very different alignments during those early years, and the gradual shift in these alliances forms some of the central action of this historical account.
Perhaps the most valuable thing about Wood ’s book is the fact that there is no discernible bias in his account. This is ground where we can all meet and wonder at the events and actions which kept a very fragile ship of state off the rocks even before it seemed to be fully seaworthy. Impressively, it deals with every aspect of the American experience in those years, from foreign affairs to manufacturing to religion, education and the arts. It is a hugely worthwhile listen.
12 of 13 people found this review helpful
For a long time I was apprehensive about this book, and afraid that it would be one that drones on and on in my headphones while I can barely pay attention. But I've been on a pretty serious history kick lately and I gave it a shot because I knew very little about the period. Now it's my favorite American history book to date by a mile.
Gordon Wood weaves his anecdotes, political facts and social tidbits in a masterfully informative way, while his writing flows as elegantly as great fiction. Robert Fass reads with perfect pitch, cadence and inflection. I was glued to my headphones from the first hour to the end and there wasn't a single boring chapter. I hadn't realized before how pivotal a time this was in terms of the origins of American ideology, or how unprecedented many of these ideas were. Professor Wood also exposes the absurd cluelessness of these supposedly great men with good humor, and their ironic unfunny hypocrisies with poignancy. There are so many lessons to be learned here, and I can't recommend enough that you take this journey back in time. I suspect you will be happy that you did.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful
Most memorable part: The description of the elites' attitudes about people moving west. The now necessary fear of unsupervised, pioneering Americans becoming savages, moving away from the civilized east, ruining the desired European-style homogeneous social structure and consolidation of education, skills, culture, revenue, etc., is described so as to make the reader completely sympathize with these attitudes. The fear becomes understandable via the portrait of the difficulty of holding things together already. A brilliant study in how ideas of the past weren't necessarily crazy, foolish, bigoted, or simple-minded.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
"Empire of Liberty" by Godron Wood is a history of the US from the end of the war of independence until 1815.The author explains how the American Republic changed over that time and seems to make reasonably sound judgements. The narrator reads clearly. If you are interested in this period of American history you should listen to this book.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful