What God Hath Wrought

images-1What God Hath Wrought
by Daniel Walker Howe
Oxford University Press, USA; 2009
928 pages
Rating:  9.5

I was hesitant about getting the book because on a first and very cursory glance it looked pretty dry and tedious.  Not so!  This is the history of a very short time period – 33 years – during which America was transformed.  The author is a social historian and the book won a Pulitzer.   It’s well worth reading.

From the Editor’s Introduction we very deliberately see the main thrust already:

“The railroad and the telegraph were both the principal causes and the most conspicuous emblems of the deep transformations that are Howe’s principal subjects.”

In the first paragraph of Howe’s Introduction we are informed as to the significance of the title in terms of the theme:
“Morse… on a device of cogs and coiled wires” 
_ as well as the meaning of the phrase “what God hath wrought”  in a very religious America.

In the Prologue we are reminded of how undeveloped the state of communications/transportation was in this era.  News of the War of 1812 didn’t reach some of the armies until well after it was over.   I knew that, but putting the information into the context of Howe’s major theme is what makes it interesting.

There are lots of details, some of which tickled me:

“Americans affirmed a resolute egalitarianism among white men. The custom of shaking hands, a gesture of social reciprocity, replaced bowing.”   (p. 37) 

The maps are excellent although there could be a few more.

Howe says there is no particular theme – he wants to tell a story.  That’s pretty much what it is – the story of what happened in and to the US between Jefferson’s presidency and the Women’s Conference in Seneca Falls.  From Jacksonian agrarian democracy to massive economic developments.   In the South attitudes toward slavery hardened while the North became industrialized.  The churches were involved in all sorts of progressive change.  The country expanded by leaps and bounds, as a result of wars and treaties and outright theft.   The railroad and the telegraph united us.

There is no way any review by me adequately covers this book.  Go look at:

The New Yorker

US Intellectual History Blog  



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