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Simon Schama's the American Future - A History

5.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Product Details

  • Actors: Various
  • Directors: Various
  • Format: Color, DVD-Video, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (US and Canada This DVD will probably NOT be viewable in other countries. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Canadian Home Video Rating : Parental Guidance (PG)
  • Studio: BBC Home Entertainment
  • Release Date: Jan. 20 2009
  • Run Time: 240 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review
  • ASIN: B001L67A7S
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #76,643 in DVD (See Top 100 in DVD)
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Product Description

Product Description

Simon Schama's The American Future - A History (DbL DVD)


The election of Barack Obama serves as both touchstone and framework for The American Future: A History, a four-hour, four-part documentary hosted by historian Simon Schama. In fact, title notwithstanding, Schama actually doesn’t say a lot about the our nation’s future, other than the obvious (noting that water shortages will increasingly be an issue, particularly in the western states, is hardly stop-the-presses stuff); his main point here is that Obama represents the country’s best chance to regain its stature in the world and reverse what he calls "the nationwide loss of faith in government" that festered throughout the George W. Bush years. Not a very original thesis, but what Schama, a Brit who has lived half his life in the States, has in spades is a flair for providing information in a manner that’s engaging and entertaining but rarely pedantic or excessively scholarly. Each of the program’s four segments--entitled "American Plenty," which addresses the water issue in the context of the history of Western expansion; "American War"; "American Fervour" (sic), in which Schama discusses on the nature of religious freedom; and "What is an American?", which deals with race and immigration--provides not only a great deal of history but a revealing focus on individuals, both celebrated and otherwise. Thus we learn about the deeds of Montgomery Meigs, an engineer and Union Army officer who was a Civil War hero, or about the opposite stances taken by the pacifist Mark Twain and the gung-ho Theodore Roosevelt at the time of the Spanish-American War. We all know about Martin Luther King, Jr., but who has even heard of Fannie Lou Hamer, a cotton picker and folk singer who became a mid-'60s civil rights leader? And while the black mark of slavery informs so much of our country’s history, how many know about the plight of the Chinese workers who helped build the first transcontinental railroad in the 1800s? Schama’s ability to find the small, personal components of the big picture helps make The American Future both worthwhile and compelling. Bonus material includes an intro recorded by Schama on November 5, 2008, and a photo gallery. --Sam Graham

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I found this to be a very interesting program. Simon Schama can be counted on to give a new and informative view to any subject he chooses.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0xa0399198) out of 5 stars 15 reviews
31 of 37 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa01dd768) out of 5 stars A brilliant and emotional look at the American past, its troubled present and its hopeful future Jan. 21 2009
By Michael Birman - Published on Amazon.com
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Simon Schama has repeatedly proven himself a profound student of history, offering clear-eyed looks at the past in his books and on television programs such as this one. Citizens, his history of the French Revolution, is one of the finest ever written on the subject. His books on Rembrandt and the 17th Century Dutch golden age wear their analytical depth lightly: Schama is always sensitive to the human story that is often obscured behind the marmoreal nature of most art history. It is the unabashedly emotional aspect Schama often exhibits in his personal views of history that is most attractive. History devoid of humanity lacks dimension and Schama knows this instinctively. He brings that humanity to this video gloss of the American past, present and future, its contradictions and its hopes, its broken promises and its deferred dreams, and reveals the underlying American truths that constitute the marrow of its greatness as a nation.

His view of the American past - especially its treatment of its Asian, African and Latino minorities - is clear-eyed and often heartbreaking with its carefully researched and simply elucidated tales of cruelty, abuse and neglect. But with every new sorrow he balances his sadness with tales of brilliance, courage, honesty and truth from the likes of Thomas Jefferson, Montgomery Meigs (Quartermaster General under Lincoln) and John Wesley Powell, the geologist-explorer of the Colorado River and Grand Canyon. It is through these tales of moral courage and intellectual honesty that the true greatness of the unfinished American experiment reveals itself and in which its future hopes reside. Schama examines the difficult immigrant experience and as an immigrant himself he embodies all of its poignant dreams for a better future. But it is a future challenged by our ever-increasing panoply of problems. This unique moment in history, symbolized by the election of Barack Obama as President, is a profound shift in the American landscape. For Schama it is an example of the transformative possibilities that are inherent in the framework of liberty as constructed by Jefferson as early as 1779 in his Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. It is in the genius of its construction that all of Schama's hopes for the American future reside. This documentary is brilliant in its presentation of a complex story and Mr. Schama is equally brilliant in its presentation. Strongly recommended.

Mike Birman
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa01e3618) out of 5 stars An excellent and insightful examination of America's strengths and weaknesses July 5 2009
By Robert Moore - Published on Amazon.com
The central idea in this series -- as in his book, which I actually read first -- is that if you want to gain insight into America's future, look at its past.

We today are struggling with division on religious matters, on racial issues, on the notion of what it means to be an American, on the use of our national resources, and when and why we go to war as a nation. On each of these matters, Schama examines our past, sees that we have struggles with these things before, and suggests the national resources that we've employed to deal with them in the past.

Schama shows how we have deeply ingrained national suspicions of other races, not merely blacks and Hispanics, but the Chinese and others. He also shows our amazing resilience in assimilating new ethnic and racial groups, and how this has perpetually enriched us and empowered us as a nation.

Schama examines the roles that religion has played in American life both as a liberalizing and reactionary force. I was especially happy about this, because as a religious person who is also very liberal in my politics, I'm proud of the way that evangelical religion has historically been at the forefront of progressive, liberal causes, only moving to the right in the past generation. Religion played a major role in denouncing and eliminating slavery, and later in promoting civil rights and racial equality. (Schama could have likewise have explored the role of religion in the furthering of public health, women's rights, public education, and ethnic tolerance.)

The role of the military and the militarization of national policy has been one of the most disturbing changes in American life since WW II and it remains the one area of American culture that I remain most concerned about. The truth is that if we were able to reduce the size of the military and the amount of military spending to a level that reflects our actual national needs, we would have enough money in the national budget to take care of a complete reformation of our national health programs, fix social security funding (which is not in fact in all that much trouble), and even establish a greatly needed national pension system (needed primarily because most corporations no longer offer pensions), all while reducing federal spending and dramatically lowering the national debt. That we don't take this necessary step is a result of the role that Eisenhower's military-industrial complex has come to play in American life. In the book version of this series, Schama shows how this vision of America as a martial society was very much that of Hamilton, and was one of the major sources of contention between him and Jefferson. I hope that America can rediscover its nonmilitaristic roots. While I'm optimistic that we will be able to deal with many of our other major national problems, such as immigration, natural resources, and the role of religion in our nation, I'm not so optimistic about our immense need to reduce the role of military solutions in national policy.

OK, book versus DVD series. Which do I prefer? The book, definitely. There are two reasons for this. First, the book covers far more issues than the show can even remotely hope to. There is just more stuff in the book. Second, the show has a perplexing number of shots of Simon Schama for no apparent reason. Schama driving his car, Schama standing and listening to a speaker, Schama filling his car at a gas station, Schama gazing about at a memorial of one sort or another. I saw no real reason for this. But perhaps someone doesn't want to read a book. In that case, I don't discourage someone from watching the show. Neither do I discourage someone from watching the TV series as well. But the book is in my opinion the better of the two forms THE AMERICAN FUTURE takes.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa01e37b0) out of 5 stars Historian Simon Schama Turns His Insightful (and Personal) Gaze at America April 29 2010
By Ray - Published on Amazon.com
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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
16 of 21 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa01e3c60) out of 5 stars Most illuminating Jan. 24 2009
By Saunders - Published on Amazon.com
I don't know what documentary the disappointed reviewer was watching but the Simon Schama "The American Future" I saw was anything but America-hating. It was realistic about America's very ambivalent past concerning racism, immigration and immigrants, depletion of natural resources, war, religion and the American dream but its basic message was almost invariably positive (maybe a tad too much so) in its conclusion. For example, the segment on natural resources ends with him talking about the resourcefulness of the American people when times get tough, and the one on the American dream ends with him talking about why he became an American citizen.Even the segment on America and war is designed to puncture European myths about the U.S. being a militaristic country. His take on the 2008 election which is a theme that runs through all the segments is both even-handed and uplifting. The series, as its title suggests, also has an uncanny knack for taking up contemporary and future American problems and issues and taking us on an interesting tour how the issue has been dealt with (poorly or well) through our past. Schama is one of the most insightful and intelligent of historians whether he turns his attention to art, British, or American history and discusses the latter with a down-to-earth, insightful, and wise eye for the evil as well as the great dimensions of the American character. Highly recommended.
12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa01e3ae0) out of 5 stars A fresh, loving look at America Jan. 29 2009
By GhostDeep - Published on Amazon.com
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I disagree with one of the other reviewers here who seems to take great offense at some of Schama's observations about America. As a non-native born American citizen, and as a European-born Jew, he has some sober assessments of our society. But in the main, I found him to be mostly singing our praises and getting at the real heart of what makes this country great, despite its contradictions and sometimes ugly past. It's that perspective that makes the series so refreshing and good, and most importantly, thought-provoking.