Tocqueville and the American Experiment : The Great Courses: Intellectual History

  • by The Great Courses
  • Narrated by Professor William R. Cook
  • Series: The Great Courses: Intellectual History
  • 12 hrs and 22 mins
  • Lecture

Publisher's Summary

Participate in a spirited exploration of Alexis de Tocqueville and his unique observations of this young nation that resulted in the two volumes of Democracy in America. How is it possible that perhaps the greatest book about U.S. democracy ever written was penned by a Frenchman visiting this country 175 years ago? Why is it still relevant in today's ever-changing political landscape?
Tocqueville, a 25-year-old French nobleman who journeyed here in 1831, wanted to observe firsthand the successful political experiment that was evolving in the United States and take his findings home to France, which was itself trying to shape its own young democracy. The remarkable book that resulted has been called both the best book ever written about democracy and the best book ever written about America.
Published in two parts, one in 1835 and the second in 1840, it reveals, in its 700 pages, insights about democracy and the American character that have led both liberals and conservatives to claim Tocqueville as their own, often by citing the very same passages, and often out of context. Over the course of 24 spirited lectures, Professor Cook leads you on an engaging and energetic discussion on Tocqueville, his journey, his writing of Democracy in America and, most of all, his thoughts on the young nation he was observing.
You'll learn what Tocqueville had to say about the meaning of family in a democracy, race and the damage done by slavery, the crucial role of women, religion as a moral guide, the dangers of turning religion to political ends, and more. Today, Tocqueville can be both a guide and a reminder of the cultural context in which democratic institutions can develop and flourish.


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Great introduction to Tocqueville

The author took up Tocqueville prior to running for office a few years prior. If what you are looking for is an understanding of Tocqueville's visit, impressions of America and their relation to democracy as understood by the author and Tocqueville, the author does an admirable job.

It is only natural to ask questions about the Tocqueville visit in relation to the founding or in relation to today's society, but the author is focused solely on Tocqueville's firsthand account of his experiences in America. For the author to have veered off into these tangents, would have detracted from the focus, clarity of the book. Tocqueville spent almost a year in America and seems to have been an exceptionally insightful young man. This book will certainly challenge and inform your views of the Republic, democracy, and America in the early 1800s. Highly recommended.

This is a long book (24 courses) and that is perhaps the only criticism I had of the course. Much of what Tocqueville wrote is of interest to today and/or in context of the founding, but almost all readers will find their interest during the course to wax and wane. For me there were only a few topics where I just didn't have much of interest. Women in America, the sciences and education in America. Its not that the points weren't of interest but I feel as if the 1830 ish view and today's view are not an interesting juxtaposition, which is a big reason why I read courses / books like this.

Book is highly recommended for anyone looking to understand Tocqueville's visit and its relation to democracy. This is a cornerstone course. It won't answer any of your burning questions but it will certainly lay a strong foundation for understanding the roots of democracy in America. With democracies failing all over the world I think a course like this should be required reading for old and young alike as we are almost certain to live to see whats old come new again.
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- Lance

What we used to call "Civics" done right!

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

I've already bought this as a gift. There is no greater compliment to an author/lecturer than to say that they've changed your thinking and these lectures have surely changed mine. I wish I had heard these lectures 40 years ago in college. They would have made me a better citizen and prepared me to be a better member of a democratic society.

Who was your favorite character and why?

Not applicable. De Tocqueville is the central character, obviously.

What about Professor William R. Cook’s performance did you like?

I've (finally) started reading Democracy in America after hearing these lectures. I've seen the book quoted over and over in the past. I'm very glad that I had Dr. Cook's guidance before tackling the book. The structure that he provides and the way he "stitches" together the various strands of De Tocqueville's thinking make approaching the book easier ... perhaps even possible!

Any additional comments?

Should be required reading for every graduating high school senior. Dr. Cook's lectures should form the syllabus of the class.I don't normally do reviews. If I had met Dr. Cook, I'm sure he would have (gently) reminded me that reviews and discussion are part of our cherished First Amendment rights and that I weaken our democracy (ever so slightly) when I fail to engage with my fellow citizens in sharing and debating ideas. THIS is the major way that this lecture series has changed my thinking: active participation in non-political forums is of critical importance in these overly politicized times.

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- Roger W. Rogers "rogerr"

Book Details

  • Release Date: 07-08-2013
  • Publisher: The Great Courses