Monday, June 9, 2008

2008 Pulitzer Prize

A couple of weeks ago, the 2008 winners of the Pulitzer Prize were announced to the public, and though this year's winner in the history category is not a historian of the American Revolution, I still believe that his book is worth mentioning here. Historian Daniel Walker Howe is this year's recipient for his work, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848. In recent years, Howe has become one of the foremost historians of the Jacksonian Era, which is essentially an extension of the American Revolutionary era. You could easily make the claim that the study of the American Revolution extends into the early parts of the 19th century, which would make Howe's work a valuable resource for those that are interested in this time period.

Howe's book was published by Oxford University and is part of the Oxford series on American history (which is arguably the most respected multi-volume series of American history ever published). Mark Noll, one of the most respected religious scholars of our day, stated that Howe's book is, "probably the most culturally sensitive political history as well as the best politically informed social history ever written for this transformative period in American history." The publishers for Oxford University had this to say about Howe's breakthrough work:

The Oxford History of the United States is by far the most respected multi-volume history of our nation. The series includes two Pulitzer Prize winners, two New York Times bestsellers, and winners of the Bancroft and Parkman Prizes. Now, in What Hath God Wrought, historian Daniel Walker Howe illuminates the period from the Battle of New Orleans to the end of the Mexican-American War, an era when the United States expanded to the Pacific and won control over the richest part of the North American continent.

Howe's panoramic narrative portrays revolutionary improvements in transportation and communications that accelerated the extension of the American empire. Railroads, canals, newspapers, and the telegraph dramatically lowered travel times and spurred the spread of information. These innovations prompted the emergence of mass political parties and stimulated America's economic development from an overwhelmingly rural country to a diversified economy in which commerce and industry took their place alongside agriculture. In his story, the author weaves together political and military events with social, economic, and cultural history. He examines the rise of Andrew Jackson and his Democratic party, but contends that John Quincy Adams and other Whigs — advocates of public education and economic integration, defenders of the rights of Indians, women, and African-Americans — were the true prophets of America's future. He reveals the power of religion to shape many aspects of American life during this period, including slavery and antislavery, women's rights and other reform movements, politics, education, and literature. Howe's story of American expansion culminates in the bitterly controversial but brilliantly executed war waged against Mexico to gain California and Texas for the United States.

By 1848 America had been transformed. What Hath God Wrought provides a monumental narrative of this formative period in United States history.
Though lengthy in his prose, Daniel Walker Howe's What Hath God Wrought is, without question, a must-read for those interested in the history and development of early America, and the role that religion played in that history. The book deserves a resounding five stars!

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