The American future : a history

by Simon Schama

Hardcover, 2009




New York : Ecco, c2009.


Historian Simon Schama offers an essential historical perspective on the 2008 presidential election and its importance for reclaiming America's original ideal. Cultural hostilities more irreconcilable than any since the Civil War have divided America in two. In November 2008, the American people elected a new president, feeling more anxious about the future of the nation than at any time since Watergate. Our omnipotent military, the cornucopia of material comforts available, the security of our borders, and the global economy can no longer be taken for granted. Schama takes a long look at the multiple crises besetting the United States and asks how these problems look in the mirror of time. In four crucial debates--on wars, religion, race and immigration, and the relationship between natural resources and prosperity--Schama looks back to find lost insights into the future.--From publisher description.… (more)

Media reviews

Besides, he’s a man trapped in the most punishing of literary cages. Jacques Barzun once observed that of all the books it is impossible to write, the most impossible is a book trying to capture the spirit of America (I first read this truth when I was three-quarters of the way through my own attempt). Schama has assigned himself a mission impossible. No one should wish a Brilliant Book upon any other human. And at least we can say that while Simon Schama, the Man of Brilliance, comes away from this book bruised and limping, at least Simon Schama the outstanding historian still survives.
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As a stylist, the historian wanders from entertaining observations to ponderous, tortured phrases.

User reviews

LibraryThing member bruchu
The Future of Americanism Through the Past

If you have never read Simon Schama before, you don't know what good writing looks like. In "The American Future," Schama explores the essentials of American exceptionalism. Not really a straight narrative history, but more of an extended op-ed essay about the continuities of ideologies that extend throughout the founding of the republic up until the present.

The book is divided into four sections, militarism, religion, immigration, and expansion. The essence of the American story is found in each of these themes. Schama does an exceptional job weaving the contemporary and the historical into a single continuous narrative. The story of the Meigs family is symbolic of the American military tradition that extends through multiple generations. Religious pluralism, the foundations of both the positive and negative qualities of humanity. The age of immigration introduces us to concepts of inclusion, exclusion, race, language, and culture. Finally, the long tradition of imperialism on the frontier and beyond.

While nothing about the historical background and significance is new, it is Schama's writing that stands out. The art of writing is more than just making a point and Schama's choice of words and combination of metaphor and illustration is really magnificent.

Overall, you really can't go wrong with "The American Future." The book is all of educational, philosophical, reflective, and entertaining. Free from the ideological constraints of the left or the right, but rather with an observant eye and the stroke of a pen. Schama hits the nail right on the head, "The American Future" is a can't miss.
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LibraryThing member PhyllisHarrison
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 government had taken a seriously wrong detour along the way, and some Meigs’in between, all of whom in the name of duty and love of country did what they could to reconcile their personal cognitive dissonance and give their all, including their lives, for America.
What I want to know is this: Why isn’t Montgomery Meigs as well known as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, Frederick Von Steuben or Thaddeus Kosciuszko?
Along the way the story lags, meanders and jumps a little but it covers some crucial ground that should be required reading for every school child. It includes the early settlement records of Georgia and Texas that I had already seen with my own eyes while doing genealogical research. Along the way we meet Fannie Lou Hamer (if we haven’t known her before) and get re-acquainted with Grover Cleveland, Teddy Roosevelt and Lyndon Baines Johnson. Although my personal experience and opinions do not always match Simon Schama’s take on things and the meanderings are sometimes too “Tom Wolfe” for my tastes as I prefer my non-fiction plain, we have to ask:
Why are Americans so ignorant about our own history? We have attempted to clean it up for our schoolchildren with terms like “resettlement” and “land grants” but don’t we have public libraries? Don’t we have Simon Schama? Aren’t we adults yet?
The author takes us through the fear between the gunpowder explosions, the sorrow of broken families with conflicting alliances, broken promises, disgusting displays of inhumanity (but thankfully without too many graphic descriptions), individual determination to see ideals and dreams realized no matter what the cost, and the creativity and genius used for both good or greed of what we like to believe is purely American.
Simon Schama can be forgiven if he occasionally gets it wrong. Teddy Roosevelt was nowhere near Buffalo, NY when he received word of McKinley’s death: He was in the Adirondack Mountains on the opposite end of the state and was sworn in as the new president near my hometown in North Creek, NY, at the railroad station when word of the former president’s death reached him.
The author ends on an optimistic note although I don’t see how he suddenly got there. Maybe he should have included a map for us to follow along with him to that place.
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LibraryThing member pierthinker
America has always been the land of the future, whether that be where we see political, social and scientific visions of how life will be, or where we go when we want a personal vision of happiness and prosperity to come true. Just because America has had a short history lived in the spotlight of global comment does not mean that America’s future is not shaped and driven and even haunted by its past.

Simon Schama has written an important book that looks at America today and where America may go in the next decades. He does this by reflecting on where America has come from and how past events have shaped the way Americans think and the way American institutions act today.

Schama is a lifelong academic and can be a difficult read. His latest string of books has him on a roll of readability and engagement that makes this volume a minor triumph. A positive view of the America we live with today and the future of that state is not fashionable. I believe this will minimise the readership and reach of this book, which is a shame. Schama has a lot to say about America’s past and America’s future and he does it in a very readable way.
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LibraryThing member rivkat
This kind of seemed like Schama’s “stuff I like about American history” book; I understand it’s based on a four-part documentary, and maybe it worked better that way. As a book, it moved backwards and forwards through American history connected by broad themes (and occasionally by family histories, especially the Meigs family): military service, slavery and its legacy, religion, immigration, optimism about the promise of the West. Maybe my reaction was also influenced by Schama’s immediate-post-Obama optimism that he’d just seen an amazing revitalization of the American dream, but I didn’t get much of a sense of coherence.… (more)
LibraryThing member danoomistmatiste
A whirlwind tour of American History narrated through the portrayal of some of it's famous and important personalities. Though the backdrop is the 2008 election, the story starts with the Revlolutionary war and progresses on through the other important timelines such as the civil war, the late 80s and the 20th century.
LibraryThing member ldmarquet
The American Future
Simon Schama’s new book, The American Future: A History, is an attempt to interpret the watershed election of 2008 through the longer lens of American history.
Schama’s approach, however, is rambling, weaving episodic historical and personal anecdotes in a sort of time-machine kaleidoscope of thoughts. Whatever unifying themes he was attempting to convey were obscured by this approach.
In addition, Schama’s writing reveals that he was caught up in the political rhetoric, resulting in a biased and unbalanced perspective.
In time, we’ll understand the political currents at play during what seems at this point a key juncture in American politics – but we’ll need to wait a bit longer for that.
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