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American Colossus: The Triumph of Capitalism, 1865-1900 Paperback – Illustrated, October 4, 2011
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“A superb new history. . . . A big, brash narrative.” —Bloomberg News
“A first-rate overview of one of the most important periods in American history. . . . Brands is a terrific writer who commands his material, handles this sprawling, complicated story with authority and panache.” —The New York Times
“Colorful. . . . Sweeping. . . . Brands masterfully chronicles this transformation. . . . His account serves admirably as a survey history of Gilded Age America.” —The Plain Dealer
“An excellent book. . . . Brands is a smart, lively writer. . . . He demonstrates, as the best historians do, that past is prologue.” —The Dallas Morning News
About the Author
H. W. BRANDS holds the Jack S. Blanton Sr. Chair in History at the University of Texas at Austin. A New York Times bestselling author, he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in biography for The First American and Traitor to His Class.
- Publisher : Anchor; Illustrated edition (October 4, 2011)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 686 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0307386775
- ISBN-13 : 978-0307386779
- Item Weight : 1.55 pounds
- Dimensions : 7.8 x 5.2 x 1.4 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #84,841 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from the United States
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The summary I read before ordering i felt indicated that there would be an in-depth analysis of Rockefeller, Morgan, Carnegie and other men who helped shape the time in American history. This was in fact not the case. Too much of the book was spent skirting around these men and their impact on American finance. I appreciate the stories Brands inserted that showed the impact the “barons of steel, rail, and finance” had on individuals but too much time was spent on that than on what I felt should have been the foundation of the book - the men who created and grew the “American Colossus” of the late 19th century.
His use of decades, years and months as the divisions for sections and chapters allowed continuity to the story he was telling. That did make it a much more enjoyable read. He did introduce some essential characters directly related to the “barons” that I felt could have been fleshed out in greater detail simply because of the influence they had with the principals.
Overall, it was an interesting book but I do not believe it to be one of Brands’ best.
In sections that are organized more thematically than chronologically, Brand examines how the shifting dynamics between democracy and capitalism gave rise to our first titans of industry and money politics; swayed presidential elections and caused the creation and splintering of political parties; and informed the conversation on race, immigration and culture. “By the century’s end,” Brand observes, “the imperatives of capitalism mattered more to the daily existence of most Americans than the principles of democracy.”
Brand’s laser focus on the push and pull between democracy and capitalism does somewhat limit the book’s scope and prevents it from being a comprehensive history of the era. The nascent women’s rights movement is mentioned only tangentially and the groundbreaking innovations in American literature not at all. Even the lives of black Americans in the post-Civil War South is couched mostly in terms of the economic impact of slavery’s abolishment.
That said, this is a compelling, well-researched history book that makes the reader appreciate how democracy and capitalism aren't necessarily the same thing – and for much of the latter half of the 19th century, capitalism was the driving principle of American life, business and politics.
By design a sketch book, Brands does a good job of introducing major personalities like Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, Morgan, Carnegie, Gould and Fisk and their economic dynamism that built and defined the industrial age. In addition to the industries the above represented, Brands discusses the growth of the cattle ranching and other economic sectors that changed our lifestyles and continue to inform the American way of living. This book examines the age within which industrial capitalism grew and flourished and Brand delves into the South and its oppression of freedmen, the Indian Wars, immigration, foreign adventurism, and the Chicago World's fair. Federal politics also are covered with a focus on the intersection of government and economics.
Brands seems to present the era as a struggle between capitalism and democracy, which is the William Jennings Bryan view of the period. I think that's too simplistic. The period saw what had been a libertarian polity struggling with how to legislate and regulate a new era in which most people ceased to be small owners (farmers) and instead were hirelings without productive assets to call their own (save their labor). It could also be presented as an era in which government began to accommodate the demands of large numbers of voters who favored the practical (intervention to protect their wage rates as a class, regulation of common carriers) over the ideal (constitutionally protected property rights). This struggle continues to this day and it's birth is witnessed in Brand's work.
This big book is a lively series of sketches that are tied together by the economic transformation that swept our country during the Gilded Age. While of necessity not a detailed study of any one topic covered, it defines and weaves together the chapters into a satisfying whole.
Top reviews from other countries
H W Brands once more shows his unique skill to teach american history in an easy and pleasant way. American Colossus draws a once in a lifetime period that made the US what it is today.