People of Paradox

People of Paradox : Inquiry Concerning the Origins of American Civilization

3.8 (30 ratings by Goodreads)
  • Paperback
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Product details

  • Paperback | 352 pages
  • 134.62 x 200.66 x 17.78mm | 362.87g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • 0195028031
  • 9780195028034

Review Text

In the author's words, "a slender volume concerning a large and complex subject - a book of 'significant trifles.'" Kammen examines American culture from the 1600's to the present, with the emphasis on 17th and 18th-century textures. The book is a panopticon of images and metaphors, a rehash of the old "paradoxes of national character" approach, freshened by a certain earnest charm and a thorough weighting of scholarly references. Kammen sketches problems - the relative weight of British and endogenous influences on American civilization, the instability of pluralism, crises of political legitimacy - but the latter two in particular remain excessively abstracted from both the felt needs of the population and the general material developments of each period. Instead he plays with opposing concepts, antinomies, dualities, what he calls "biformities," and too often he settles for facile paradoxes. After awhile you can predict them for yourself - "conformist diversity," "collective individualism," "bourgeois aristocracy," "practical moralism, humble pride, and ostentatious austerity," - though you might not come up with "religion in America has meant both tedium and Te Deum," "Emerson relentlessly pursued both a monistic dualism and a dualistic monism," or "It seems as though America's salad days were drenched with a mix of oil and vinegar." Obviously any one of these polar telescopings might be fruitful for some readers, but as conceptual tools they represent superficial fusions of tenuous inconsistencies - a complaint hinted at by Kammen himself when he observes, "Perhaps so many American shibboleths seem to generate their very opposites because they are often half-truths. . . ." A Cornell University history professor and student of colonial America, Kammen will command a specialized audience which may respond with tickled ennui. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

Rating details

30 ratings
3.8 out of 5 stars
5 30% (9)
4 33% (10)
3 23% (7)
2 13% (4)
1 0% (0)
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