In November 2008 the United States elected a new President. But the collapse of twenty years of Republican conservativism means the country is already conducting an intense self-examination about the trajectory of its history; how it came to find itself in multiple crises and how an America that began as ‘the last best hope for mankind’ came to be so suspected and vilified around much of the world.
The American Future: A History, written by an author who has spent half his life there, takes the long view of how the United States has come to this anguished moment of truth about its own identity as a nation and its place in the world. In each of the chapters devoted to the most compelling issues facing Americans now – the projection of power (“American war”) ; race, immigration and the problematic promise of e pluribus unum (“American skin”); the intensity of religious conviction in public life (“American fervour”) ; the mystique of American land (“American Space”) and its battles with the imperatives of profit – Schama traces the deep history of the present crisis. Cumulatively the chapters build into a history of American exceptionalism – the ‘American difference’ that means so much to its people but which has led it into calamities as well as triumphs.
The American Future: A History argues that if you want to know what is truly at stake, you need to absorb these stories and understand this history – for understanding is the condition of hope.