The Americans: The Democratic Experience

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Categories: Politics/Government
Publisher: RosettaBooks | Date published: 09/28/2002

Description


The third and final volume in Daniel Boorstin's award-winning trilogy, The Americans: The Democratic Experience wraps up his remarkable exploration of the American character. Beginning roughly from the time of the Civil War and ending with the moon landing, The Democratic Experience, like its two predecessors, spends remarkably little time with presidents, senators and famous battles. Indeed, in his account it is the leaders and their high-level dealings that are the footnotes to the experience of common people. Boorstin begins his book with an exploration of a distinctively American type, the "go-getter." The Western states, largely unexplored and unmapped, comprised a territory rich in opportunities for those willing to go find them, or, even better, to go make them. Boorstin provides fascinating looks into the formation of American society through the lens of these found and made opportunities. Oil, cattle, and gold are just a part of the story. His exploration extends across the whole web of social relations and business practices that were influenced and created by a nation's early experiences with its own vastness. We think of the typical go-getters, the prospectors and oil men striking out into the heart of the continent looking to make their fortune. But with this phenomenon comes a whole host of secondary effects that Boorstin examines in fascinating detail. For example, he points out that with a problematic lack of established knowledge of local customs and practices, businessmen seeking to establish themselves in the West had to find support and guidance. The role of intermediary, therefore, became a crucial one, giving birth to another industry, and a figure more enduring than the cowboy or the pioneer: the American lawyer. Along the way, Boorstin also tackles some more typical Western stories, discussing the cowboy, the frontiersman and the emigrant, bringing new clarity and discrimination to some old, familiar myths. He also looks into the growth of individual states, such as Nevada, the opportunities created through gambling and, oddly enough, divorce, and the rise of organized crime. As he did most interestingly in his other works, Boorstin describes the American experience, and the formation of the American character through the technology and the systems that spring up to meet certain needs and that become closely woven into the fabric of American life. The department store, mail order shopping, the sewing machine, IQ tests, and life insurance all arise as a result of needs to some degree peculiar to the American experience and go on to inform the way Americans think about abstractions like intelligence, poverty, income, consumption and class. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, The Americans: The Democratic Experience is essential reading for anyone who wishes to understand present-day American culture.

Also Available from Daniel J. Boorstin