INVESTORS OF THE PROMISED LAND by Lawrence J. Friedman

INVESTORS OF THE PROMISED LAND

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

Friedman surveys 19th-century America in terms of the 1960's themes of narrow-minded patriotism, anti-feminism, and white chauvinism. ""Viable interpersonal relationships"" were inhibited because insecure American males solaced themselves by holding down women and black people. Journalists and other promoters of national spirit are treated at interesting length but approached as warped curiosities, like Reader's Digest heroes with their costumes rumpled. American women, Friedman maintains, became less forceful with each generation; this judgment seems dubious even for middle-class women, but Friedman barely considers the mill workers or pioneers, and tends to bracket immigrants as not ""American."" There is a great emphasis on race which does far less justice than other recent historical surveys to the complexities of relationships among whites, slaves, Indians and free blacks. Friedman suggests that campaigns for ""white nationhood"" arose as ""cure-alls,"" focused, racist manias. He never deals with the dominant view that so long as the continent was expanding, white supremacy outside the slave sector was chiefly a byproduct of socioeconomic interplay. Friedman alludes to attempts to ""salve racial guilt,"" but if Americans were such insensitive fanatics to begin with, whence the guilt? The book tends to contrive its own simplifications and impose them on the past. And, in its appraisal of the push for patriotism, it exaggerates differences of language, national origin, etc. after the War of Independence in what was then a relatively homogeneous population; at the same time it underplays the stubborn regional and local loyalties which (as during the Revolution itself) make the attempts to create a ""national"" spirit more intelligible. Perhaps worst of all, its patronizing attitude toward Americans' genuine joy in escaping the castles, dungeons and stultifications of the Old World betrays a lack of historical empathy.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1975
Publisher: Knopf