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Behold, America

Behold, America

The Entangled History of "America First" and "the American Dream"

The unknown history of two ideas crucial to the struggle over what America stands for

In Behold, America, Sarah Churchwell offers a surprising account of twentieth-century Americans’ fierce battle for the nation’s soul. It follows the stories of two phrases–the “American dream” and “America First”–that once embodied opposing visions for America.

Starting as a Republican motto before becoming a hugely influential isolationist slogan during World War I, America First was always closely linked with authoritarianism and white supremacy. The American dream, meanwhile, initially represented a broad vision of democratic and economic equality. Churchwell traces these notions through the 1920s boom, the Depression, and the rise of fascism at home and abroad, laying bare the persistent appeal of demagoguery in America and showing us how it was resisted. At a time when many ask what America’s future holds, Behold, America is a revelatory, unvarnished portrait of where we have been.

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Genre: Nonfiction / History / United States / 20th Century

On Sale: October 9th 2018

Price: $32 / $42 (CDN)

Page Count: 368

ISBN-13: 9781541673403

What's Inside

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reader reviews


"Lifting up haunting voices that speak truth to the Trump era, Sarah Churchwell exposes a century-deep contest between egalitarian democracy and a quest to preserve corporate dominance and white rule under the banner of "America First." The climactic clash between the gutsy journalist Dorothy Thompson and the anti-Semitic aviator Charles Lindbergh reads like an anticipatory allegory for today's Resistance to the heirs of Lindbergh's authoritarian vision."—Nancy MacLean, author of Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America
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"If we're to ever exorcise America's past demons, we'll first have to learn from them. Churchwell's Behold, America is a vital and unflinching look at our country's inherent contradictions that have hampered our aspirations since its founding. Bold, fearless, and above all beautifully written, this book is a must-read for anyone looking to understand our past, present, and future."—Jared Yates Sexton, author of The People Are Going to Rise Like the Waters Upon Your Shore
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"Behold, America is an enthralling book, almost a primer for the ferocious dialectic of US politics, inspired by the events of 2015/16. It will no doubt take an influential place on a teeming shelf of Trump-lit. Much of its force derives from the echoes of the present it finds in the thunderous caverns of the past, blurred by the distortions of history. Passionate, well-researched and comprehensive, it is both a document of our times and a thrilling survey of a half-forgotten and neglected dimension of the American story."—Guardian
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"[A] fascinating history of the two intersecting tropes of modern America. ... The complex history of these two ideas, and the personalities of their various admirably told in Professor Churchwell's book."—Simon Winchester, New Statesman
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"[A] bold first step towards the necessary reassessment of the American past in the light of Trumpism."—Eric Rauchway, Times Literary Supplement (UK)
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"[A] richly engaging account of the expressions "the American Dream" and "America First"... BEHOLD, AMERICA is enormously entertaining. Churchwell is a careful and sensitive reader, writes with great vigour and has a magpie's eye for a revealing story."—Dominic Sandbrook, Sunday Times
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"The most intriguing aspect of the book is Churchwell's charting of how 'The American Dream' in the past connoted something less materialistic and more collective than is now the case... a fascinating history."—Independent
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