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Tocqueville's Discovery of America

Leo Damrosch

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

0374532591

9780374532598

Trade Paperback

304 Pages

$15.00

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In Tocqueville’s Discovery of America, the prizewinning biographer Leo Damrosch retraces Tocqueville’s nine-month journey through the United States, illuminating how his enduring ideas were born of imaginative interchange with America and Americans while painting a vivid picture of Jacksonian America. Drawing from documents and letters that have never before appeared in English, Tocqueville’s Discovery of America brings the man, his ideas, and his world to startling life.

REVIEWS

Praise for Tocqueville's Discovery of America

“Damrosch is an acute observer of Tocqueville.”—David S. Reynolds, The New York Times Book Review

“The appeal of Democracy in America is that of any good coming-of-age story: We see the possibilities of youth struggling against the realities of adulthood, and even as we slide toward old age, we reimagine all that we might have been. Leo Damrosch, in the best book on this subject in 70 years, deftly depicts the fateful encounter between the young Tocqueville and adolescent America.”—H.W. Brands, The Washington Post

“Leo Damrosch narrates [Tocqueville and Beaumont’s] journey through salons and saloons, the beautiful Hudson River Valley and the trackless Wisconsin forest, clouds of merciless mosquitoes and flocks of gorgeous parrots . . . The result is neither another biography of Tocqueville . . .  nor another study of ‘Democracy in America,’ but rather a genial and colorful portrait, on a modest scale, of an astonishing young country and the likeable young man who first interpreted it to Europe.”—George Scialabba, The Boston Globe

“[A] scintillating new book . . . Remarkably, given the excitements and reach of Tocqueville’s nine-month American trip, it is seventy years since the last full account of the itinerary. Leo Damrosch is well qualified to do the renovation. A distinguished specialist of eighteenth-century literature at Harvard . . . he is deeply familiar with Tocqueville’s literary and intellectual contexts . . . Damrosch contagiously enjoys himself, and happily enters into the enthusiasms of the two young Frenchmen, as they let the strange, loud, free, placeless society disturb and excite them.”—James Wood, The New Yorker

“Leo Damrosch has provided a perfect accompaniment to [Democracy in America] . . . This lovely book ought to delight those who already love Tocqueville's great work, for showing how it came to be. But it can also serve as a fine introduction for those just coming to Democracy in America.”—Keith Monroe, The Virginian-Pilot

“In Tocqueville’s Discovery of America, Leo Damrosch, who teaches literature at Harvard, has seized an opportune moment to scratch the polished surface and explore what lay behind the oracular pronouncements. At a time when generalizations about the American soul seem risky at best, it is somehow reassuring to learn that even the great Tocqueville was often winging it . . . Rather than rely on the book published years after his return to France, as most scholars do, Damrosch draws on the letters Tocqueville wrote home to friends and family, as well as various unpublished notes he took during his trip. The material gives a life and freshness often absent from drier academic tomes.”—François Furstenberg, Slate

“This entirely fresh book, about one of the most fateful, significant and profound journeys ever taken in modern times, is lavishly readable and compelling and illuminating.”—Jeff Simon, The Buffalo News

“Helping to humanize as well as historicize the young Tocqueville while he was discovering America is the main achievement of Damrosch’s concise and absorbing new book . . . [It] ought to make a more nuanced appreciation of both the man and his great work accessible to a wide readership . . . The human young Tocqueville is much more impressive than the cold abstraction, and for helping to bring him to life we are in Leo Damrosch’s debt.”—Sean Wilentz, The American Prospect

“Leo Damrosch applies the perspective and strengths of an outstanding literary scholar to narrating Alexis de Tocqueville’s famous visit to the United States—its motives and outcome along with its daily course. Damrosch places Tocqueville’s famous book about America securely in its French context and enriches our understanding with fascinating personal insights. The reader’s pleasure is enhanced by the many charming illustrations.”—Daniel Walker Howe, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815–1848

“In this deft and original book, Leo Damrosch helps us rediscover Tocqueville and the nation the Frenchman chronicled so brilliantly and enduringly. What Tocqueville found in Jacksonian America resonates anew in our own time, and Damrosch’s engaging account of a world at once remote and familiar is invaluable—and entertaining.”—Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of American Lion

“In 1831, Tocqueville and his fellow French aristocrat Gustave de Beaumont traversed a burgeoning, teeming America in the grip of territorial expansion and commercial explosion . . . The author traces this journey, familiar to readers of Tocqueville but always wonderfully entertaining, while lending his own astute observations . . . Damrosch effectively demonstrates why Tocqueville proved ‘a superb interpreter of American culture.’”—Kirkus Reviews

“[Damrosch] constructs a lively narrative of [Tocqueville and Beaumont’s] eye-opening journey. Their arduous travel; their reactions to Americans’ informality; their foiled flirtations with young women—de Tocqueville and de Beaumont entertained their folks in France with these experiences, which Damrosch weaves into a flowing account.”—Gilbert Taylor, Booklist
 
“[Damrosch] presents an insightful update to Alexis de Tocqueville’s 1831 tour of young America . . . Insightful and sometimes witty, [Tocqueville’s Discovery of America] is a useful companion for all who are reading Tocqueville or want to learn more about him.”—Robert Moore, Library Journal

Reviews from Goodreads

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BOOK EXCERPTS

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Leo Damrosch is the Ernest Bernbaum Professor of Literature at Harvard University. He is the author of several works, including Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Restless Genius, a finalist for the 2005 National Book Award in nonfiction.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  • Leo Damrosch

  • Leo Damrosch is the Ernest Bernbaum Professor of Literature at Harvard University. He is the author of Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Restless Genius, a finalist for the 2005 National Book Award in Nonfiction and winner of the PEN New England/Winship Award.

  • Leo Damrosch © Nicholas Damrosch
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