Waking Giant: America in the Age of Jackson

David S. Reynolds, Author . Harper $29.95 (466p) ISBN 978-0-06-082656-7

Bancroft Prize–winning historian Reynolds (Walt Whitman's America ) offers a fine addition to the literature on pre–Civil War American history in this account of the years 1815–1848. Exhilarated after defying Britain in the War of 1812, Americans redirected their energy into moving west, making money and wiping out every trace of elitism in their leaders. This resulted, after four aristocratic Virginians and two scholarly Adamses as president, in the election in 1828 of the uneducated frontiersman Andrew Jackson, who launched the unique American tradition of leaders who boast that they are no smarter than the electorate. While the politics of the era are familiar to many, even knowledgeable readers will relish the chapters on social history, in which Reynolds explains how a rapidly growing economy spurred both “prudishness and prostitution,” and the enormous consumption of alcohol that spawned the temperance movement. Most, according to Reynolds, took for granted that anyone not like them (blacks, Indians, perhaps even Canadians) belonged to subhuman races. Although less opinionated than Sean Wilentz and Daniel Walker Howe on this period, Reynolds delivers a straightforward, insightful history of America during its bumptious adolescence. 44 b&w illus. (Oct.)

Reviewed on: 08/18/2008
Release date: 10/01/2008
Genre: Nonfiction
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