LIBERTY AND FREEDOM: A Visual History of America's Founding Ideas

David Hackett Fischer, Author . Oxford Univ. $45 (851p) ISBN 978-0-19-516253-0

English-speaking people have distinct words for the concepts of freedom and liberty. But that doesn't mean everyone agrees on what they mean, as Fischer (author of the bestselling Washington's Crossing ) reveals in this exhaustive study of how the two have been defined in words and images from colonial times to the present. Short chapters supply the backstories of familiar symbols like the Liberty Bell, the Statue of Liberty and Uncle Sam, and also reintroduce forgotten figures like Brother Jonathan, an early 19th-century representation of America as a country bumpkin that was popular in Europe. In a precursor to today's "salad bowl" image of cultural diversity, artists of the Revolutionary era portrayed America as "a flight of birds, a flock of sheep, even a kettle of fish." As the modern age approaches, photography becomes increasingly important, as seen in a triptych of riveting images from the Civil Rights movement. But the record also becomes somewhat muddled, Fischer finds, with Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix appearing as images on nearly equal footing with Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King. In the end, the oversize, beautifully illustrated book shifts subtly from a rich graphic survey, incorporating painting, flags and sculpture, to a broader chronicle of the many ways Americans have articulated their most cherished ideals. Over 400 illus., 250 in color. ( Nov.)

Reviewed on: 11/15/2004
Release date: 10/01/2004
Genre: Nonfiction
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