Democracy Awakening: Notes on the State of America (Hardcover)
“Engaging and highly accessible.”—Boston Globe
“A vibrant, and essential history of America's unending, enraging and utterly compelling struggle since its founding to live up to its own best ideals… It's both a cause for hope, and a call to arms.”--Jane Mayer, author Dark Money
From historian and author of the popular daily newsletter LETTERS FROM AN AMERICAN, a vital narrative that explains how America, once a beacon of democracy, now teeters on the brink of autocracy -- and how we can turn back.
In the midst of the impeachment crisis of 2019, Heather Cox Richardson launched a daily Facebook essay providing the historical background of the daily torrent of news. It soon turned into a newsletter and its readership ballooned to more than 2 million dedicated readers who rely on her plainspoken and informed take on the present and past in America.
In Democracy Awakening, Richardson crafts a compelling and original narrative, explaining how, over the decades, a small group of wealthy people have made war on American ideals. By weaponizing language and promoting false history they have led us into authoritarianism -- creating a disaffected population and then promising to recreate an imagined past where those people could feel important again. She argues that taking our country back starts by remembering the elements of the nation’s true history that marginalized Americans have always upheld. Their dedication to the principles on which this nation was founded has enabled us to renew and expand our commitment to democracy in the past. Richardson sees this history as a roadmap for the nation’s future.
Richardson’s talent is to wrangle our giant, meandering, and confusing news feed into a coherent story that singles out what we should pay attention to, what the precedents are, and what possible paths lie ahead. In her trademark calm prose, she is realistic and optimistic about the future of democracy. Her command of history allows her to pivot effortlessly from the Founders to the abolitionists to Reconstruction to Goldwater to Mitch McConnell, highlighting the political legacies of the New Deal, the lingering fears of socialism, the death of the liberal consensus and birth of “movement conservatism.”
Many books tell us what has happened over the last five years. Democracy Awakening explains how we got to this perilous point, what our history really tells us about ourselves, and what the future of democracy can be.
About the Author
Heather Cox Richardson is a professor of history at Boston College and an expert on American political and economic history. She is the author of seven books, including the award-winning How the South Won the Civil War. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Guardian, among other outlets. Her widely read newsletter, Letters from an American, synthesizes history and modern political issues. She is the cohost of the Vox Media podcast Now & Then.
“Heather Cox Richardson’s Democracy Awakening is an important addition to the burgeoning literature and scholarship on what I have characterized as America’s Third Reconstruction…she is at her best simply telling us the story of how we came to be living on the brink of ending our nearly 250-year democratic experiment.”
–Peniel Joseph, Democracy
"A fresh historical interpretation of American democracy and its many challenges...It’s an unusual but effective structure, allowing Richardson to do what she does best: show her readers how history and the present are in constant conversation. Reminding us that 'how it comes out rests…in our own hands,' Richardson empowers us for the chapters yet to come."
—Kirkus *Starred Review*
“Engaging and highly accessible.”—Boston Globe
“This is a vibrant, and essential history of America's unending, enraging and utterly compelling struggle since its founding to live up to its own best ideals. From yesterday's enslavers to today's authoritarians, it shows how bad actors have always tried to twist history to serve their own purposes, but again and again, less powerful challengers have risen and often won. It's both a cause for hope, and a call to arms.”
—Jane Mayer, author Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right
“With her characteristic powerful prose, Heather Richardson explores the raging (in every sense of the word) political, cultural, and social forces that an elite minority has fostered to divide Americans, erode democracy, and rise to power. By reclaiming this history, she reminds us that democracy is a process, not an endpoint -- and that it demands our efforts now, more than ever.”
—Joanne Freeman, Professor of History at Yale University and author of Field of Blood
"No one understands the warp and woof of the complicated tapestry that is the United States, no one apprehends the undertow and disparate forces that have directed the tides of American politics, no one forges the connections between then and now better than Heather Cox Richardson does. The result is a cogent, challenging, thoughtful, riveting and beautiful narrative. Brava!"
—Ken Burns, Filmmaker
“For the last several turbulent years, millions have looked to Heather Cox Richardson’s daily letters for vital historical perspective, wisdom, and moral clarity. In Democracy Awakening, Richardson goes beyond the news cycle to explain how we got here, placing our current political crisis against the age-old struggle to expand civil rights and economic opportunity. What emerges is a brilliant and honest account of our nation’s past and present. If you care about American democracy—and are engaged in the fight to preserve it—this book is a must-read.”
—Preet Bharara, former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York