cover image What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815–1848

What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815–1848

Daniel Walker Howe, . . Oxford Univ., $35 (904pp) ISBN 978-0-19-507894-7

In the latest installment in the Oxford History of the United States series, historian Howe, professor emeritus at Oxford University and UCLA (The Political Culture of the American Whigs ), stylishly narrates a crucial period in U.S. history—a time of territorial growth, religious revival, booming industrialization, a recalibrating of American democracy and the rise of nationalist sentiment. Smaller but no less important stories run through the account: New York’s gradual emancipation of slaves; the growth of higher education; the rise of the temperance movement (all classes, even ministers, imbibed heavily, Howe says). Howe also charts developments in literature, focusing not just on Thoreau and Poe but on such forgotten writers as William Gilmore Simms of South Carolina, who “helped create the romantic image of the Old South,” but whose proslavery views eventually brought his work into disrepute. Howe dodges some of the shibboleths of historical literature, for example, refusing to describe these decades as representing a “market revolution” because a market economy already existed in 18th-century America. Supported by engaging prose, Howe’s achievement will surely be seen as one of the most outstanding syntheses of U.S. history published this decade. 30 photos, 6 maps. (Sept.)