Saturday, August 19, 2017

Booknotes: The Republic for Which It Stands

New Arrival:
The Republic for Which It Stands: The United States during Reconstruction and the Gilded Age, 1865-1896 by Richard White (Oxford UP, 2017).

The Oxford History of the United States series is a highly decorated one. In its ranks sit, among others, James McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom, Gordon Wood's Empire of Liberty, and Daniel Walker Howe's What Hath God Wrought, each title examining some grand epoch of American history. The latest is The Republic for Which It Stands. In it, "acclaimed historian Richard White offers a fresh and integrated interpretation of Reconstruction and the Gilded Age as the seedbed of modern America."

In the three decades since the end of the Civil War, "(t)he country was larger, richer, and more extensive, but also more diverse. Life spans were shorter, and physical well-being had diminished, due to disease and hazardous working conditions. Independent producers had become wage earners. The country was Catholic and Jewish as well as Protestant, and increasingly urban and industrial. The "dangerous" classes of the very rich and poor expanded, and deep differences -- ethnic, racial, religious, economic, and political -- divided society. The corruption that gave the Gilded Age its name was pervasive."

White examines at length the national response to this dizzying pace of change. More from the description: "These challenges also brought vigorous efforts to secure economic, moral, and cultural reforms. Real change -- technological, cultural, and political -- proliferated from below more than emerging from political leadership. Americans, mining their own traditions and borrowing ideas, produced creative possibilities for overcoming the crises that threatened their country."

Coming in at nearly 1,000 pages of text, the volume's physical girth matches its breadth and ambition. There are numerous maps and illustrations, and readers will appreciate the employment of footnotes vs. endnotes so they can avoid having to constantly flip this book's massive text block back and forth. Instead of a full bibliography, you get an extensive bibliographical essay.

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