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The Sum of Our Dreams

A Concise History of America

Louis P. Masur

Publication Date - 01 September 2020

ISBN: 9780190692575

384 pages
6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

In Stock


In The Sum of Our Dreams, Louis P. Masur offers a sweeping yet compact history of America from its beginnings to the current moment. For general readers seeking an accessible, single-volume account, one that challenges but does not overwhelm, and which distills and connects the major events and figures in the country's past in a single narrative, here is that book. Evoking Barack Obama's belief that America remains the "sum of its dreams," Masur locates the origin of those dreams-of freedom, equality, and opportunity-and traces their progress chronologically, illuminating the nation's struggle over time to articulate and fulfill their promise. Moving from the Colonial Era, to the Revolutionary Period, the Early Republic, and through the Civil War, Masur turns his attention to Reconstruction, the Gilded Age, the Progressive Age, World War One, the Great Depression, World War Two, the Cold War, Civil Rights, Vietnam, and Watergate, and then laying out clearly and concisely what underlies the divisiveness that has characterized American civic life over the last forty years-and now more than ever. Above all, however, Masur lets the story of American tell itself. Inspired by James Baldwin's observation that "American history is longer, larger, more beautiful and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it," he expands our notion of that history while identifying its individual threads. The Sum of Our Dreams will be the new go-to single volume for anyone wanting a foundational understanding of the nation's past, and its present.


  • Written by a well-known American historian and educator
  • The most concise one volume history of the United States
  • Evaluates the origins and meanings of the country's founding ideals, offering fresh and comprehensive perspectives but letting the story tell itself

About the Author(s)

Louis P. Masur is Distinguished Professor of American Studies and History at Rutgers University. He is the author of many books, including The Civil War: A Concise History, The Soiling of Old Glory, and Lincoln's Last Speech. His essays and reviews have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Slate and he lectures around the country for One Day University.


"General readers will find Masur's book interesting, but its greatest value may be in its use as an undergraduate textbook, whose 11 well-written chapters, prologue, epilogue, and 36 well-chosen images (all well worth unpacking) make it easily accessible." -- B. F. Le Beau, CHOICE

"Louis Masur has written the concise, informed, and fluid history of the United States that the nation, indeed, the world, has needed for decades. Persuasive about the big things, Masur still invites argument, on the principle that history is argument without end. Learned yet unpretentious, his book is essential is every sense, an indispensable account of the fundamentals in our past." --Sean Wilentz

"With an ambitious project like a single volume history of the United States, sweep and scope is a given. But precision, wit and wisdom are what makes Louis Masur's The Sum of our Dreams really stand out. From the foundation of our founding to the tumult of our still-young century, Masur illuminates our common history and its recurring themes, providing an invaluable resource and a great read." --John Avlon, CNN Senior Analyst and author of Washington's Farewell

"A robust retelling of the American story, aptly suited to our time. Louis Masur neatly captures the contradictions at the heart of the American experience, and does so with the confidence and panache of the experienced teacher and insightful historian he is." --H. W. Brands, University of Texas, Austin

"In our bitterly divided 21st-century republic, it is easy to forget that the United States of America has always been a messy, wildly partisan, and deeply violent experiment. It never wasn't. That is the central message of Louis Masur's marvelous tour through American history. He reminds us of how hard our road has been, while proclaiming his frank admiration for our dreams and our democracy. As we plunge into the 2020 election season, I can't imagine a more relevant book. Bravo." --S. C. Gwynne, author of the New York Times Bestsellers Rebel Yell, and Empire of the Summer Moon

"A parade of colorful characters, memorable quotations, stunning moments, painful ironies, and fleeting victories fill these pages, as do the dreams-met and unmet-of the country's various striving populations. Engaging, accessible, and broadly informative, The Sum of Our Dreams seamlessly connects and contextualizes hundreds of key historical figures, events, and places, helping readers to make sense of this young country's complex past and challenging present." --Tiya Miles, author of The Dawn of Detroit: A Chronicle of Slavery and Freedom in the City of the Straits

Table of Contents

    Prologue: "Land of Hope and Dreams"

    Chapter 1: To Plant and to Conquer

    New York
    Native Americans
    Seven Years War

    Chapter 2: If Men Were Angels

    Political Parties
    War of 1812
    Missouri Compromise

    Chapter 3: Empire of Liberty

    Mexican-American War
    Westward Course of Empire

    Chapter 4: A Higher Law

    Bleeding Kansas
    Dred Scott
    John Brown's Raid

    Chapter 5: Government of the People

    Civil War
    Home Fronts

    Chapter 6: Survival of the Fittest


    Chapter 7: Land of Promise

    World War I

    Chapter 8: This New Battle

    Dust Bowl
    New Deal
    WW II

    Chapter 9: Blowin' in the Wind

    Cold War
    Civil Rights

    Chapter 10: Government is the Problem

    The Great Inflation
    New Right
    New Democrat
    New World Order

    Chapter 11: The Change That We Seek

    War on Terror
    Vote for Change
    Social Media
    American Ideals

    Epilogue: "Let America Be America Again"

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