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Story Of American Freedom Paperback – Sep 1 1999


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: W W Norton (Sept. 1 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393319628
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393319620
  • Product Dimensions: 1.4 x 0.2 x 2.1 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 386 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #264,928 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Freedom, Eric Foner writes, is "the oldest of clichés and the most modern of aspirations." But what does it mean to be free? For the people of the United States, the concept of "freedom"--and its counterpart, "liberty"--have had widely differing meanings over the centuries. The Story of American Freedom, therefore, "is not a mythic saga with a predetermined beginning and conclusion, but an open-ended history of accomplishment and failure, a record of a people forever contending about the crucial ideas of their political culture."

Foner begins with the colonial era, when the Puritans believed that liberty was rooted in voluntary submission to God and civil authorities, and consisted only in the right to do good. John Locke, too, would argue that liberty did not consist of the lack of restraint, but of "a standing rule to live by, common to every one of that society, and made by the legislative power." Foner reveals the ideological conflicts that lay at the heart of the American Revolution and the Civil War, the shifts in thought about what freedom is and to whom it should apply. Adeptly charting the major trends of 20th-century American politics--including the invocation of freedom as a call to arms in both world wars--Foner concludes by contrasting the two prevalent movements of the 1990s: the liberal articulation of freedom, grounded in Johnson's Great Society and the rhetoric of the New Left, as the provision of civil rights and economic opportunity for all citizens, and the conservative vision, perhaps most fully realized during the presidency of Ronald Reagan, of a free-market economy and decentralized political power. The Story of American Freedom is a sweeping synthesis, delivered in clearheaded language that makes the ongoing nature of the American dream accessible to all readers. --Ron Hogan --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

Distinguished Columbia historian Foner frames American history as a continuing fight for freedom.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

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By A Customer on June 11 2003
Format: Paperback
Eric Foner's title - The Story of American Freedom - is well chosen. The word freedom is so central to our national creed and discourse that it is seldom examined closely. Freedom for who? Freedom for what? Freedom from what?
Foner shows that far from being a fixed concept, the story of freedom is an ever-changing one. In our nation's founding, freedom was only truly enjoyed by property-holding white males. The story ever since then has been the expansion of the meaning in two broad historical senses. One is the struggle of broad classes of people to gain freedom. The freeing of slaves is the most famous narrative in this sense, but it is only one of many. For example, before that was the broadening of the right for democratic participation to wage earners as well as property-holders
The other is the expansion of what freedom itself means. Foner is especially good at exploring this with respect to womens' movements to not only gain the right to vote, but also to exercise more control over their own bodies.
One star is deducted in this review for the last chapter, which shows the peril of historians writing "today's history." As other reviews have alluded, this is the most politicized part of the book. Foner's strong left bias shows a lttle too baldly. I say this as one who basically agrees with his politics.
Still, essential reading for anyone interested in who we are as a people.
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By A Customer on Sept. 7 2002
Format: Paperback
The author has chosen a topic - "freedom" - that has been prominent in discourse both public (political) and private (personal lives). In short, the topic - however variously defined, in specific historical contexts - is vital to our public and private lives. He deals with the material beautifully; I cannot say enough in his favor. The material is especially timely as we are being deluged (once again) with politically motivated, manipulative uses of "freedom" and "liberty". Read the book. I read a library copy,then bought three copies - one to keep, others for family members. One final note, a teaser: he makes a good case that our U.S. culture has elevated MATERIAL CONSUMPTION way up, perhaps to the very top of what is now seen as American "freedom." And this has not necessarily been voluntary; rather, many of what we might think of as more traditional and meaningful freedoms are no longer available, at least to folks lacking the $$$$ to buy consideration by political/corporate leaders. The best that many people can hope for is the attention of a salesperson in a store.
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By A Customer on Nov. 28 2000
Format: Paperback
Despite minor flaws, this is one of the better books on American history. The author combines serious and narrative styles to produce a surprisingly readable book on a subject that can be often too dry for casual reading by a non-specialist. As a libertarian I found the treatment to be fair, despite accusations to the contrary by many in the conservative block. Some troubling factual matters from the past, including the Reagan era, seem to strike raw nerves for many such people blinded by hero worship and virtual deification. The concluding chapter, correctly re-positions this evolving modern definition of liberty notwithstanding my disagreements with liberals (and the author on some issues). I was still able to easily distill core issues surrounding the development of the idea of liberty, beyond just rhetorical implications. Any rendering of history focusing on such an issue would be better expounded from an inclusive view. Compilations of conservative historians thus far, have been somewhat fragmentary.
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By Toby Joyce on Sept. 14 2000
Format: Paperback
I enjoy Foner's books, I think he a brilliant historian, however I think perhaps he has here strayed a bit too far from the period of expertise (the Civil War era). However, on the other hand, why shouldn't he move out of his comfort zone! But this means that the book is strongest when dealing with the pre- and post- Civil War period. I feel that Foner is less assured when writing about the twentieth century. His pro-60's style radicalism and anti-Reaganite biases show up too much to be entirely convincing. For all that, his writing is always forceful and interesting.I would have liked the book to be less 'one thing after another' e.g. there was the Abolitionists, followed by the Gilded Age, followed by Progressivism, followed by the Roaring Twenties, followed by the New Deal ...etc. etc. I cannot help but wonder if Progressivism was a liberal response to the depression of the 1870s and 1880s, and the New Deal to the Depression of the 1930s, what will happen when the 'Reagan Revolution' is tested by the winds of severe recession? Already, the 'Reagan Revolution' is looking threadbare in the light of G.W.Bush's 'Compassionate Conservatism', and if the Democrats regain the White House in 2000, who knows what will come next? It would be interested for Foner to update this volume in eight, or even four years time.
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By Toby Joyce on Sept. 14 2000
Format: Paperback
I enjoy Foner's books, I think he a brilliant historian, however I think perhaps he has here strayed a bit too far from the period of expertise (the Civil War era). However, on the other hand, why shouldn't he move out of his comfort zone! But this means that the book is strongest when dealing with the pre- and post- Civil War period. I feel that Foner is less assured when writing about the twentieth century. His pro-60's style radicalism and anti-Reaganite biases show up too much to be entirely convincing. For all that, his writing is always forceful and interesting.I would have liked the book to be less 'one thing after another' e.g. there was the Abolitionists, followed by the Gilded Age, followed by Progressivism, followed by the Roaring Twenties, followed by the New Deal ...etc. etc. I cannot help but wonder if Progressivism was a liberal response to the depression of the 1870s and 1880s, and the New Deal to the Depression of the 1930s, what will happen when the 'Reagan Revolution' is tested by the winds of severe recession? Already, the 'Reagan Revolution' is looking threadbare in the light of G.W.Bush's 'Compassionate Conservatism', and if the Democrats regain the White House in 2000, who knows what will come next? It would be interested for Foner to update this volume in eight, or even four years time.
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