This brief history of America will span the earliest migrations to the present, reflecting Paul S. Boyer's interests in social, intellectual, and cultural history, including popular culture and religion. It will reflect his personal view of American history, in which a sense of paradox and irony loom large. While noting positive achievements-political, economic, social, and cultural-he will also discuss the United States's failures to live up to its oft-stated ideals; although America has figured in the world's imagination (and its own self-image) as a "land of opportunity" offering "liberty and justice for all," the reality has often fallen short.
For example, the establishment of the North American colonies had very different meanings for colonists from the British Isles and Europe, for Native peoples, and for enslaved Africans brought against their will. The late nineteenth century saw not only impressive industrial expansion and the creation of vast fortunes but also appalling conditions in urban-immigrant slums and a degraded, exploited labor force. The twentieth-century emergence of a suburban society of consumer abundance meant a better life for many and laid the groundwork for impressive cultural creativity, yet left behind crime-ridden inner cities and spawned a stultifying mass culture. The immigrants who have renewed and revitalized the nation have also stirred hostility and resentment. While American popular culture has demonstrated global appeal, the projection of U.S. military power abroad, from the Philippines early in the twentieth century to Iraq early in the twenty-first, has sometimes failed in its purpose and damaged the nation's international standing. Although this book will not be a muckraking exposé or anachronistic moral tract, neither will it be a celebratory panegyric or a bland recital of facts.
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Paul S. Boyer, Merle Curti Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, earned his Ph.D. from Harvard University. An editor of NOTABLE AMERICAN WOMEN, 1607-1950 (1971), he also coauthored SALEM POSSESSED: THE SOCIAL ORIGINS OF WITCHCRAFT (1974), for which, with Stephen Nissenbaum, he received the John H. Dunning Prize of the American Historical Association. His other works include URBAN MASSES AND MORAL ORDER IN AMERICA, 1820-1920 (1978), BY THE BOMB'S EARLY LIGHT: AMERICAN THOUGHT AND CULTURE AT THE DAWN OF THE ATOMIC AGE (1985), WHEN TIME SHALL BE NO MORE: PROPHECY BELIEF IN MODERN AMERICAN CULTURE (1992), and PROMISES TO KEEP: THE UNITED STATES SINCE WORLD WAR II. He is also editor-in-chief of the OXFORD COMPANION TO UNITED STATES HISTORY (2001). His articles and essays have appeared in the "American Quarterly," "New Republic," and other journals. He has been a visiting professor at the University of California, Los Angeles; Northwestern University; and the College of William and Mary.