AMERICAN SOUL by Franz Schurmann


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 Eloquent and occasionally touching reflections on the meaning of America by the son of immigrants. Historian and sociologist Schurmann, recently retired from the University of California at Berkeley, ruminates in nine loosely linked essays on the history, personality, promise, and prospects of the United States. He begins with America's inhabitants, whom he sees as molded by the sheer size of the continent they conquered. For him, Americans are a people constantly on the move: expanding westward, leaving cities for suburbs, spreading their influence around the globe. Discussing the American Dream in his second chapter, Schurmann argues that this ideal of immense and limitless opportunity is really the California Dream, since that state ``promises wealth and comfort to all who come.'' In Part II, he considers the upheavals of the 1960s and the legacy of the Vietnam era. The most cherished precepts of our life as a nation are probed as Schurmann scrutinizes individual freedom, economic liberty, and liberal democracy. He questions the power and place of the United States at the end of the ``American Century'': Has the country become decadent and impotent? Will it recover a vision of itself that will allow it to survive and thrive? Has history essentially come to an end, with all basic principles discovered and now simply working themselves out? In his ``new personal journey,'' which has a strong religious component, Schurmann finds himself looking south toward Latin America, just as when he was a child he looked east to the Europe his parents had chosen to leave. The work bears a marked similarity to the writings of Reinhold Niebuhr (The Irony of American History, 1952), another first- generation American of German descent and pronounced spiritual inclinations. Like Niebuhr, Schurmann can be both insightful and critical but is ultimately seduced by the very myths of the national character he seeks to critique.

Pub Date: Jan. 9th, 1995
ISBN: 1-56279-068-4
Page count: 248pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1994