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A timely and masterful history of the world's most controversial superpower, by one of the nation's most popular and prestigious historians.

In November 2008 the United States elected a new President. But the collapse of twenty years of Republican conservativism means the country is already conducting an intense self-examination about the trajectory of its history; how it came to find itself in multiple crises and how an America that began as ‘the last best hope for mankind’ came to be so suspected and vilified around much of the world.

The American Future: A History, written by an author who has spent half his life there, takes the long view of how the United States has come to this anguished moment of truth about its own identity as a nation and its place in the world.

In each of the chapters devoted to the most compelling issues facing Americans now – the projection of power (“American war”) ; race, immigration and the problematic promise of e pluribus unum (“American skin”); the intensity of religious conviction in public life (“American fervour”) ; the mystique of American land (“American Space”) and its battles with the imperatives of profit - Schama traces the deep history of the present crisis.

Cumulatively the chapters build into a history of American exceptionalism – the ‘American difference’ that means so much to its people but which has led it into calamities as well as triumphs. The American Future: A History argues that if you want to know what is truly at stake, you need to absorb these stories and understand this history – for understanding is the condition of hope.


Schama has a masterly ability to conjure up character and vivify conflict.

Ben Rogers, Financial Times

He remains a master storyteller, admirably and sceptically well read in current revisionist histories.

The Times

A brilliant antidote to anti-Americanism... his prose is unfailingly entertaining

Simon Jenkins, Sunday Times

Schama is scrupulous in matters of fact ... Schama is a genius of storytelling ... Obama, like Schama, is an intellectual filled with knowledge, pride and optimism .... A historian who radiates such anticipated pleasure is a rare thing. We are lucky to have him

The Times

The words tumbling delightfully across the page, the sentences as playfully ornate as the Charlie Parker saxophone solos that Kerouac so adored...also an inspiring and illuminating work of history, a reflection on the essence of America with a bedrock of deep knowledge behind the bebop prose. A more inspiring evocation of the spirit of liberal America - past, present and future - does not exist

Financial Times

This is the most exhilarating book that has been written about America for at least eight years...instantly engaging account...Schama has delivered a glittering tale of America's past


Simon Schama is many things: widely ranging historian, art critic, public intellectual, television don... This ragged, brilliant, hopscotching volume of vaguely connected essays is largely about America's myth of its own exceptionalism

The Guardian

The master storyteller takes on the greatest story of our time, America ... Britain's foremost historian comes to a greater understanding of its present and future. Essential reading


Schama remains the subtlest of story-tellers... fans of Schama will wish the book were twice as long... What makes this book so bracing is the way Schama shows how unlike itself America has become

Daily Telegraph

The American Future accompanied Schama'a BBC2 series and is organised in sections corresponding to the TV chronicle's four episodes. But it would be wrong to think of it as a secondary project: the historian is able to add more detail in print, his eloquence can be savoured without visual distractions, and his approach is arguably better served by a medium where it's easy to flick backwards.

John Dugdale, Guardian

There is something irresistible about Simon Schama's writing

Jon Swaine, Saturday Telegraph

Treating American history as a temporal skating rink, Schama zips back and fourth, exploring the civil war and then the evangelical attack on slavery that played a part in igniting the conflict..Schama talks and writes - a blue streak. This gung ho work is wholly in tune with its subject

Christopher Hirst, The Independent

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Formats & editions

  • EBook


    December 1, 2010

    Vintage Digital

    416 pages

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  • Paperback


    September 1, 2009


    416 pages

    RRP $39.99

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