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The Americans: The Colonial Experience [Paperback]

Daniel J. Boorstin
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
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Book Description

March 12 1964 Vintage (Book 1)
Winner of the Bancroft Prize. "A superb panorama of life in America from the first settlements on through the white hot days of the Revolution." - Bruce Lancaster, Saturday Review

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The first book in a trilogy--and in many respects the best of the bunch--The Colonial Experience is an essential interpretation of how the habits of people who lived more than two centuries ago shaped the lives of modern Americans. Boorstin shows how an undiscovered continent shattered long-standing traditions and utopian fantasies with the hard demands of everyday life far from the sophisticated centers of European civilization: "Old categories were shaken up, and new situations revealed unsuspected uses for old knowledge," writes Boorstin. He starts with a series of penetrating essays on the Puritans of Massachusetts, the Quakers of Pennsylvania, the philanthropists of Georgia, and the planters of Virginia, then tackles a set of diffuse topics that range from astronomy to language to medicine in fascinating vignettes.

The Colonial Experience is must reading for anybody interested in the development of the American character. --John J. Miller

About the Author

Daniel J Boorstin was born in 1914 and educated at Harvard, Yale, and Oxford. He is Librarian of Congress Emeritus, having directed the US national library from 1979-1987. He had previously been Director of the National Museum for History and Technology and of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC. He taught at the University of Chicago for twenty-five years. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Americans Before America May 16 2004
By Vincent
Format:Paperback
When Boorstin named his epic trilogy The Americans rather than American History or History of the American People, he greeted the reader with a different approach to history. He arranged his brief chapters thematically rather than chronologically, while maintaining a high level of detail, and thus created a masterwork of compression, a talent Boorstin repeated later in The Creators and The Discoverers.
Volume One covers the American experience from the New England colonies through the War for Independence. The thematic approach might suggest that the question, "What is an American?" can be answered by a grocery list of ideas. Yet if there is one truth about Americans it is that they reveal themselves more in doing than in philosophizing. Unburdened by the systematizing of the European ideologue, they demonstrate repeatedly that they are among the most tolerant people who have inhabited the earth.
For Massachusetts Puritans, orthodoxy and tradition had solved most theoretical questions, freeing them from the theological debates of their European counterparts. The Virginia aristocrats, a remarkable pool of talent, applied the practical skills of running a plantation to running a colony, creating a haven of toleration and rapid growth. By contrast, the fanaticism, utopianism, and pacifism of the Quakers failed to protect Pennsylvania from Indian attacks and drove the Quakers from power. Good intentions did nothing to fix the failed humanitarianism of the Georgia colony.
Americans were great naturalists, learning by experience, experiment, and the evidence of the senses. Where books existed at all, they were more likely to be farming almanacs or medical manuals than heavy tomes in literature or metaphysics.
Americans were least likely to wage war over sacred land or a Bible verse.
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5.0 out of 5 stars History at it Best Aug. 15 2003
Format:Paperback
This is a young work of Boorstin and even years later it still lives up to its greatness. The first book of a trilogy, it sets the tone for the two to follow. We are not given a dry reading of dates and places and wars and settlements. Instead it is a readable story of movements, nations but most the individuals - both known and unknown - whose influence continues with us to this day.
This mix of biographies and historical happenings makes for an enjoyable, entertaining and enlightening work.
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2.0 out of 5 stars an uneven hodgepodge July 1 2003
Format:Paperback
This is not a coherent history, but a series of disjointed stories, all related to the original settlements in the US. THere is virtually no analysis, only poorly documented anecdotes. SOme of them are very good - the chapter on the export of ice from New England to the Caribbean will stick in my mind for the rest of my life - and some much less. From the reviews, it would seem that people liked Boorstin's approach very much. It grated on me as I expected something more from a writer and historian of Boorstin's reputation.
REcommended as pass time reading rather than serious historical research.
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5.0 out of 5 stars This is why Boorstin is one of my favorites Aug. 9 2001
By Bill
Format:Paperback
I love to read American history and Daniel Boorstin is one of the best. After reading this book, I had a much better understanding of the American colonial experience. I also understood to a greater degree the affects that Christianity has had on our culture. In this book, Boorstin compares three colonies. It is interesting to read the cultural differences. I strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in the origins of our nation.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The Colonial Experience Sept. 19 2000
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
I was assigned to read this book for AP History over the summer. There is a lot of interesting and accurate information in this book, however, at some points there is far too much inforamtion and the book seems to have a very dry effect. It should be read little, by little so you have time to absorb all the information thrown at you.
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3.0 out of 5 stars informative but tedious Sept. 17 1999
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
this book was assigned reading for an AP US history class. It had a lot of information -- more than was neccessary -- and lots of tiny details that seemed unimportant. I would read sections of it at a time, but I don't recommend tackling the entire thing at once!
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3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting perspectives Aug. 27 1999
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
This portrait of different aspects of colonial American social and governmental tendencies is a very interesting read. Mr. Boorstin's theses are well supported with historical information. His arguments made me reexamine some of my preconceptions about the colonial period and consider in a new light the impact of early American history on the present. That said, the author is not the most scintilating writer among historians. Also, the book ends abrubtly without a summary chapter, which would have been useful. It appears Boorstin performed surgery on a larger _The Americans_ work, slicing it in thirds, without gathering up the entrails and applying a suture.
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