This short, four episode look at America is an insightful reflection done by historian Simon Schama, a British man who has spent more than half his life in America. If one is familiar with Schama's other works, including his excellent written texts (e.g., his volume on the French Revolution and his critically acclaimed text on The Netherlands during its wealthy period of the 17th century), this series will remond one of the similarities in thinking which make Schama such an insightful and reflective reviewer of history. While I cannot say this series, made by the BBC during the 2008 American election cycle which saw the rise of the Obama presidency, rises to the level of Schama's previous series (e.g., Simon Schama: A History of Britain (Special Edition)), it nevertheless is a window on Schama's thoughts as he watched this historic election and reflected on what it might portent for America's future. And if one approaches this series with that in mind - that this is a reflection on a historic election and what it might mean for the future of America - then one should not be disappointed.
The four episodes are a bit uneven, with the stronger episodes being the last. Where the show may falter a bit is in the attempt to pull together what is an extensive and multi-faceted history of a large country into a short episode of only about an hour. This is essentially an impossible task, and when the series attempts to do so in one of the earlier episodes, anyone familiar with some of the details of American history will immediately see the issues in attempting to do so. But as in most of all Schama's works, the strength of the episodes lies in Schama's approach of taking a theme and then working the narrative around the theme to draw out both large and also more nuanced conclusions, leaving the observer to ponder some of the unanswered questions surrounding the theme.
If you are a Schama fan, there is the added benefit of watching a British man who has invested so much of his life in (and about America) coming to the conclusion that, in spite of the difficulties, America's future does indeed look bright, and perhaps can be even brighter with the right amount of effort and a correct approach towards moving forward. There are moments when it is truly touching to see Schama's feelings show forth on this most interesting of experiments, America.
Here's some Schama works not to be missed:
Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution
Landscape And Memory
Simon Schama's Power of Art
A History of Britain - The Complete Collection
The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age
Landscape And Memory