In this sequel to his prize winning The Americans: The Colonial Experience and The Americans: The National Experience, Prof....

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THE AMERICANS: The Democratic Experience

In this sequel to his prize winning The Americans: The Colonial Experience and The Americans: The National Experience, Prof. Boorstin examines the last hundred years' development of American culture, his theme being the rise of ""consumption communities"" and the modern perpetuation of the ""New World dissolving of distinctions."" The book starts with the story of how Americans became ""the world's greatest meat eaters"" and sketches the regimented life of the cowboy and the moral ambiguities of the codes of the West. The evolution of a range of technologies and commodities (sewing machine, greeting card, candy bar) is combined with the evolution of new marketing institutions (poignant stories about the letters Montgomery Ward used to get from remote farmers, a rather softened account of the spread of franchise businesses). Mid-20th-century suburban culture is rendered experientially in terms of homogenization, attenuation, dispersal, and the ""decline of the unique and secret."" When Boorstin ventures social criticism on other levels it is to tote up human costs in an offhand way -- yes, Rockefeller was brutal but his philanthropy deserves respect; yes, there have been sweatshops but one could easily stop being an employee. Certainly the achievement of a decent standard of living for the large portion of Americans is a legitimate emphasis, but the way Boorstin dismisses recent failures of social reform as ""the frustration of paternalistic utopias"" remains questionable. Some readers will respond most to his troubled undertone about the present, others to the more nostalgic parts -- a skillful and extensive job free of sentimentality and full of descriptive strength.

Pub Date: June 25, 1973

ISBN: 0394710118

Page Count: -

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1973