Rating: 4 out of 5
So… This was a complex work, though still more an introduction given the span of time Mr Guelzo covered. It would be difficult to summarize four centuries no matter what the topic was, so the relative success achieved here is noteworthy. Also, I found that the author’s explanations for some modern philosophies were both good and helpful—that having previously been a topic I had tried to avoid.
We start with 17th century Puritans and the set-up of universities in New England. This is followed by the Enlightenment and the Revolution, into 19th century political philosophy, which again was a very interesting aspect of the development of American thought. The Post-Civil War period was similarly thorough, with a lot of emphasis on Dewey whose named I’d heard before but didn’t know much about.
In a similar vein, the passage of time continues into the late 1980’s and features Reagan’s rise as the Republican candidate. In a way, the story comes full circle, and Mr Guelzo does try to take advantage of this by highlighting the “six persistent truths” though only three of them were “constant” in time: the struggle between intellect and will, the importance of religious ideas, and the struggle between religion and enlightenment for the main ideas.
I’m sure some could find arguments to bring against such a simplified view, but I think it works as an introduction into American philosophy. The author is also likely to introduce the un-inducted to at least a few new names which can be helpful.