Americans, a Collision of Histories: A Collision of Histories

Edward Countryman, Author Hill & Wang $25 (294p) ISBN 978-0-8090-2593-0
If its conclusions are unoriginal, this effort to define the American identity is dazzling in its scope and vision. Countryman, the 1982 Bancroft Prize-winning historian (A People in Revolution) and author of a classic text (The American Revolution), focuses on the disparate racial, economic and cultural backgrounds of the people whom a maturing capitalism sought to use and control. He emphasizes how the American economy exacerbated and perpetuated the exploitation of blacks and Native Americans, and the ""almost pornographic quality that racially focused violence has possessed within American culture."" From pre-Revolutionary to post-Civil War times, Countryman connects this theme with the development of cities and regions, the roles of women, the frontier ethic and North-South divisions. He admires the Constitution but also notes that, regarding slavery, it was, as the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison said, ""a covenant of death and a document from Hell."" Yet, while smashing many romantic myths of American identity, this powerful and stimulating book confirms the strengths in its diversity. ""Do I contradict myself?"" Countryman quotes Walt Whitman, ""Very well, I contradict myself."" (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 04/01/1996
Release date: 04/01/1996
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