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About this book

A broad-ranging and lively introduction to all aspects of life in America which combines original insights on history, politics, sociology and cultural studies. Fully revised, the fourth edition includes analysis of the 2012 election results, and has been updated to take account of key domestic and international developments.

Table of Contents

1. History

Abstract
American history is long, reaching back to at least 10,000 years ago when the first group of humans struggled into the interior of a continent to become Native Americans. United States history is short — just 225 years old — and it is possible for someone alive today to talk with people who remember the 1930s, who, in turn, had known ex-slaves who could tell them firsthand about the 1860s, and who had known people who had traded with Native Americans or who had shaken hands with Thomas Jefferson. Five people linked together cover the entire lifespan of the United States, a nation born in modern times with a fast and furious history. Writer William Faulkner succinctly described this notion in Intruder in the Dust: “yesterday today and tomorrow are Is: Indivisible: One” (Faulkner, 1948: 194). Historian Bernard Bailyn’s assessment and accusation that “Americans live remarkably close to their past” is a good starting point for understanding the contours of America’s belief in history-as-present-tense (quoted in Rothschild, 2004).
Russell Duncan, Joseph Goddard

3. Government

Abstract
Although Americans disagree over how strong government should be, they expect action in a crisis. Signaling a gung-ho pragmatism, in 2009 President Obama stated that “The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works” (Obama, 2009b). Four years earlier, President George W. Bush had sketched a more minimal role for government and more responsibility for individual people: “By making every citizen an agent of his or her own destiny, we will give our fellow Americans greater freedom from want and fear, and make our society more prosperous and just and equal.” Navigating between these conceptions of activist or minimalist government, in 2012 Americans seemed undecided whether President Obama’s experiment with strong government had succeeded. Overcoming these doubts, voters once again put Obama in the White House.
Russell Duncan, Joseph Goddard

6. Religion, Education, and Social Policy

Abstract
The American experience displays an uneasy tension between individual advancement and a belief in equality. Religion, education, and government services are marked by this tension, and each of these institutions helps to reconcile personal success and failure with ideas of the work ethic. These institutions work to strengthen civil society — the soft human center between the influence of government and business. In the United States, secular and religious faiths remain strong and the re-election of Barack Obama strengthened the feeling that the nation will continue to develop a program of general welfare for those who “deserve” it. Religion, education, and social policy provide avenues by which Americans maintain their faith in uplift, advancement, individualism, and equality.
Russell Duncan, Joseph Goddard

8. The Economy

Abstract
For three decades, the US economy has been shifting from industry to information and services. At the same time, America has tightly integrated into the global marketplace of products, investment, and labor. The US economy is inseparable from the global economy. In 2013, the world remained stuck in the worst economic slowdown since the Great Depression of the 1930s. In this “Great Recession,” banks failed, nations teetered on bankruptcy, popular protests arose, and many millions of people remained jobless. Growing economic integration, global instability, and rising nationalism threatened security and peace. Although the American economy had improved markedly since 2008, growth remained halting and the nation still suffered high unemployment. The deficit remained large. Still, an activist president promised a contract across generations to ensure funding so that seniors retained health care and so that the young would receive the education necessary to drive the high-tech economy. In “this world without borders,” the task for the future remained to spread prosperity and broaden the middle class (Obama, 2013).
Russell Duncan, Joseph Goddard

10. Future Prospects

Abstract
In January 2013, Barack Obama delivered his second inaugural address in front of a crowd less than half the size of the one that converged to hear him four years earlier (Obama, 2013). The man at center stage was not the same man as the one sworn in January 2009. Back then, American history redeemed itself a bit by celebrating a black politician rising to take control of the world’s superpower. The first incarnation had promised bipartisanship, hope, and economic resilience; the second challenged the nation to make its creed communal.
Russell Duncan, Joseph Goddard
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