Freedom Just Around the Corner: A New American History, 1585-1828

In This Review

Freedom Just Around the Corner: A New American History, 1585-1828

By Walter A. McDougall
HarperCollins, 2004
656 pp. $29.95
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The theme of this engaging and fresh book, the first of a projected three volumes in Pulitzer prize-winner McDougall's new history of the United States, echoes a famous Woody Guthrie folksong of the 1930s: "The Policeman Is a Dodger"-or, as we would say now, a hustler. The explorer is a dodger, the settler is a dodger, the general is a dodger, and the historian is a dodger, too. This approach to American history-showing the selfish motives and misjudgments of important historical figures-used to be the province of muckraking journalists and left-wing historians. That it can become a guiding conceit in the work of a conservative historian says much about how pervasive the social theories of Adam Smith and Bernard de Mandeville have become. In McDougall's view, it is precisely the openness of the nascent American society that enabled the growth of a republic that would come one day to dominate and transform the world. As in Mandeville's Fable of the Bees, the private vices of the early Americans ultimately produced the public goods that we enjoy today. As always, McDougall's writing is spellbinding.