American Colossus

  • by H. W. Brands
  • Narrated by Robertson Dean
  • 23 hrs and 33 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

From best-selling historian H. W. Brands, a sweeping chronicle of how a few wealthy businessmen reshaped America from a land of small farmers and small businessmen into an industrial giant.
The three decades after the Civil War saw a wholesale shift in American life, and the cause was capitalism. Driven by J. P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, and oth­ers like them, armies of men and women were harnessed to a new vision of massive industry. A society rooted in the soil became one based in cities, and legions of immigrants were drawn to American shores.
H. W. Brands’ American Colossus portrays the stunning trans­formation of the landscape and institutions of American life in these years. Brands charts the rise of Wall Street, the growth of a national economy, the building of the railroads, and the first sparks of union life. By 1900, America was wealthier than ever, yet prosperity was precarious, inequality rampant, and democ­racy stretched thin. A populist backlash stirred.
American Colossus is an unforgettable portrait of the years when a recognizably modern America first took shape.

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What the Critics Say

"Effectively, excerpts from the first-person accounts of Booker T. Washington, Black Elk, Jacob Riis, and others convey the drama of the time.... [A] fast-paced, engrossing narrative." (Publishers Weekly)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

8 Thoughts on 'American Colossus'

1. Maybe the best way to understand the first third of the 21st century is to learn about the last third of the 19th.

2. Is the Internet more or less consequential than the trans-continental railroad, the transatlantic telegraph table and Bell's invention of the telephone? Is our new post-industrial way of organizing work as big a change as the transition to the industrial organization of labor?

3. Would someone living in 1910, who was born in 1869, have experienced more or less change than someone born in 1969 and alive today? (Like me).

4. American Colossus is long - 23 hours and 33 minutes (624 pages). Took 3 kids' soccer games, one college hockey game, two weekends of yard work, a basement clean-out, and various runs, dish washing/laundry folding sessions, and about 10 commutes to finish. Multitasking is the only way (at least for me) that a book as colossal as Colossus gets finished.

5. Rockefeller (oil), Carnegie (steel), Vanderbilt (railroads), Morgan (money, finance) - it is these men who created our foundational industries. Brands' thesis is that capitalism and democracy are always in tension, that the concentration of capital necessarily requires the erosion of democratic ideals.

6. It's possible that one reason I enjoyed American Colossus so much is that if is performed by Roberston Dean, my favorite Audible narrator. Anybody who questions the quality of an audiobook experience should spend some time with Roberston Dean.

7. Part of the reason I love to read history is that it takes me so many damn times to get all the facts straight in my head. I have this "5 times" rule. I need to read about something 5 times before it begins to stick. Only after about 5 books on the brain, or 5 books on behavioral economics, or 5 books on the on the 19th century do things start to come together.

8. American Colossus is a great companion piece to Bryson's At Home: A Short History of Private Life, as the both cover about the same time period but from opposite vantage points. Bryson explains the impact of the agrarian to industrial transition from the perspective of the home and its residents, Brands from the personalities and big events that drove this great transition.

What books on the past are necessary to understand the future?
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- Joshua Kim

Very good, not quite great.

This was my third H.W. Brands book, and I'm becoming a fan of his work. He does a great job of telling history via interesting storylines. I had just finished Battle Cry Of Freedom, and the Oxford US History Series doesn't yet have a volume about this period. I read somewhere that this book was originally going to be that book. I don't know if that's true, but American Colossus is certainly of equal quality to the other Oxford books. The Age Of Gold was a more engaging H.W. Brands book to me, but American Colossus is on a similar level.

The reviewer who argued that Professor Brands doesn't understand economics might make a correct point technically, but is denying the fundamental truth in the narrative. Democracy is the rule of the people, one vote for each person. In a prominently capitalist economy, the owners of industry hold far more power than one vote could get them. Brands Illustrates how this period, more than any before it in America, saw that balance of power swing strongly in favor of the prominant capitalists of the day. Brands does not take sides in this struggle, however. He merely shows how this shaped the America we live in today.

I think he tends to treat American presidents kindly, and this seems to be the case in his treatment of Grover Cleveland. His biography of Andrew Jackson also played things fairly safe.

Overall, a very enjoyable read and an excellent addition to an American history buff's collection.
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- Blake

Book Details

  • Release Date: 10-12-2010
  • Publisher: Random House Audio