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Tocqueville's Discovery of America

by Leo Damrosch

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For anyone who has read "Democracy in America" this is a wonderful companion book. I knew almost nothing about Tocqueville but have very much enjoyed reading and rereading "Democracy in America" over the years for his incredibly accurate and insightful observations of my country. "Tocqueville's Discovery of America" provided me with a lot of insight into Tocqueville's life pre-American visit and post. It also gives valuable historical information on what was going on in France and across Europe at the time of Tocqueville's life. It is well-written, very accessible without being easy or simple. Damrosch cites many previously unpublished letters and journal entries from Yale's Tocqueville collection. He also writes a lot about Tocqueville's travel companion Gustave de Beaumont who I previously knew nothing about and who of course influenced and helped Tocqueville greatly. After finishing it I just want to reread "Democracy in America" again with my new knowledge of what Tocqueville was thinking, feeling and experiencing when he took the notes that would eventually become the great two part book. ( )
  Clare.Davitt | Aug 5, 2013 |
Leo Damrosch's new book Tocqueville's Discovery of America (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010) draws on previously-unpublished sources and the last several decades of historical scholarship to illuminate the nine-month journey that ultimately resulted in the publication of Tocqueville's Democracy in America. In doing so he effectively both updates and abridges George Wilson Pierson's Tocqueville and Beaumont in America (first published by Oxford University Press in 1938 and reissued as Tocqueville in America by Johns Hopkins University Press in 1996).

While Pierson's 850-page behemoth remains the most detailed reconstruction of Tocqueville and Beaumont's trip across America, Damrosch's much more compact book will certainly prove more accessible to the general reader, and his analysis of what Tocqueville got right (and wrong) in his treatment of American society and politics is both interesting and instructive.

The trip itself cannot fail to impress - Tocqueville and Beaumont experienced much of America during their visit, even if some (mostly in the South) was seen mostly through stagecoach windows (Tocqueville long lamented not having spent enough time in that region to gain a real sense of it). From Boston to Niagara Falls to the Michigan wilderness, New Orleans, and the capital at Washington, America was observed, even if it was not entirely understood.

Damrosch's comparison of Tocqueville's reactions to things American with those of other European travelers (Marryat, Dickens, Trollope) was very useful, and throughout he keeps a good narrative pace and style. An enjoyable read.

http://philobiblos.blogspot.com/2010/04/book-review-tocquevilles-discovery-of.ht... ( )
  JBD1 | Apr 20, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374278172, Hardcover)

Alexis de Tocqueville is more quoted than read; commentators across the political spectrum invoke him as an oracle who defined America and its democracy for all times. But in fact his masterpiece, Democracy in America, was the product of a young man’s open-minded experience of America at a time of rapid change. In Tocqueville’s Discovery of America, the prizewinning biographer Leo Damrosch retraces Tocqueville’s nine-month journey through the young nation in 1831–1832, illuminating how his enduring ideas were born of imaginative interchange with America and Americans, and painting a vivid picture of Jacksonian America.

Damrosch shows that Tocqueville found much to admire in the dynamism of American society and in its egalitarian ideals. But he was offended by the ethos of grasping materialism and was convinced that the institution of slavery was bound to give rise to a tragic civil war.

Drawing on documents and letters that have never before appeared in English, as well as on a wide range of scholarship, Tocqueville’s Discovery of America brings the man, his ideas, and his world to startling life.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:46:50 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Retraces Alexis de Tocqueville's nine-month journey through a young United States in 1831 and 1832, during which he was impressed by America's dynamic society, but was convinced that slavery would lead to civil war.

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