Zakaras makes a powerful argument that the Jacksonian era (1820–50), generally treated by historians as a politically unimportant interlude between the founding of the United States and the Civil War, was instead a seminal time that saw the formation of the narrative of a uniquely American individualism, which still shapes politics today. Three overlapping myths—of the “independent proprietor” (think of the striving farmer, the small businessman, and other enterprising, hard-working individuals); of the “rights bearer” (a definition of Americanness that imagined Americans as exiles united against political oppression and religious persecution); and of the “self-made man”—emerged during those decades, describing related ideas of personal freedom and American exceptionalism. Although Americans embraced these notions as self-evident truths, they were in fact idealized stories of a country whose people, economic institutions, and enormous tracts of land made it uniquely favorable to individual independence. But these myths also made personal failure the fault of the individual rather than in part the result of wider forces or lack of support; struggling people had only themselves to blame. Unlike with most political ideas, liberals and conservatives jointly subscribed to these myths. Then and now, these ideas defined “a shared terrain on which anyone hoping for a broad audience was constrained to argue.” In his closing chapter, Zakaras leaves history for a compelling exploration of how these individualist myths still shape American political thought and societal expectations, especially regarding the appropriate role of the state and acceptable levels of inequality.