A Nation Forged by Crisis: A New American History

Jay Sexton. Basic, $28 (256p) ISBN 978-1-5416-1723-0
Sexton, a historian of American politics, organizes his astute history around “the greatest periods of crisis in each century of its existence,” which he describes metaphorically as “violent earthquakes that forever altered the nation’s political landscape.” First, Sexton emphasizes the skill with which the founding generation allowed the newly independent U.S. to engage economically with European nations while remaining aloof from their political machinations. He then moves on to explore the international context that informed the sharpening tensions over slavery in the mid-19th century, particularly the rise of a British ideology of free trade and the influx of Irish immigrants into the cities of the northern U.S. After arguing that Union victory and the abolition of slavery allowed the U.S. to profit from an increasingly globalized economy, Sexton offers a lengthy and detailed discussion of the nation’s turn away from the isolationism of the 1920s to internationalism in the 1940s, along with the belief that, as an economic dynamo that had avoided both communism and fascism, the country was “exceptional.” Claiming that, in the current unsettled times, Americans should “revisit [these] previous moments of crisis,” Sexton’s book offers an insightful roadmap of how the country got here. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 08/27/2018
Release date: 10/16/2018
Genre: Nonfiction
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