Perhaps never before has the writing of American history seemed so much an arena of diverse claims and discord. Scholars explore areas of the past that once seemed hidden from view. Newly assertive groups in the American population draw attention to their own distinctive pasts. The "story" of America sometimes seems to be many different stories, with nothing to tie them together.
In The Unfinished Nation, Alan Brinkley provides a clear and intelligent account of the American past that strikes a balance between the new diversity in scholarship and the narrative unity that any general history must have. He makes clear that one can incorporate the rich and varied experiences of America's many cultures into a coherent and compelling story and at the same time retain a sense of what ties Americans together as members of a perpetually troubled but remarkably successful nation.
Beginning with the "discovery" by Europeans of a "New World" that was already the home of millions of people and highly developed civilizations, The Unfinished Nation chronicles the growth of new societies in America and the survival and transformation of old ones. It traces the development of political ideas and political institutions in the American colonies and, later, in the American nation. It examines the emergence of a society divided into distinct regional cultures, each with a highly developed system of class relations, gender roles, and racial norms. It explores the great crisis of American nationalism in the mid-nineteenth century and the emergence of a more consolidated nation out of the Civil War and Reconstruction. And it describes the dazzling changes that industrialization and the rise to world power have brought in the twentieth century -- and the host of social and cultural transformations that have come with them.
The Unfinished Nation offers anyone interested in American history a picture of how new scholarship has changed our understanding of our past. It also shows how, despite these important changes, the story of America remains just that: a "story," made newly complicated perhaps, but no less remarkable and compelling for those complications.
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Alan Brinkley is professor of history at Columbia University. His Voices of Protest was the winner of the American Book Award in History in 1983.Review:
The story of the American past, which is the subject of this book, is as contested today as it has been at any moment in its history. As the population of the United States becomes ever more diverse and as groups that once stood outside the view of scholarship thrust themselves into its center, historians are revealing the immense and, until recently, inadequately understood complexity of their country's past. The result has been the slow emergence of a richer and fuller history of the United States, but also a more fragmented and contentious one....
This book is an effort to tell this newer story of America for students of history and for general readers in a concise volume. It has its origins in a considerably larger book by Alan Brinkley, Richard N. Current, Frank Freidel, and T. Harry Williams, American History: A Survey, now in its eighth edition. But it is not simply an abridgment of that longer work. I have tried here to craft a new, more thematic, and more selective narrative that preserves the central elements of the larger text but presents a clearer and more readily accessible story.... I hope [the book] will serve to introduce readers to enough different approaches to and areas of American history to make them aware of its extraordinary richness and diversity.
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