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From a Pulitzer Prize winner, a new and eye-opening interpretation of the meaning of the frontier, from early westward expansion to Trump's border wall. Ever since this nation's inception, the idea of an open and ever-expanding frontier has been central to American identity. Symbolizing a future of endless promise, it was the foundation of the United States' belief in itsel From a Pulitzer Prize winner, a new and eye-opening interpretation of the meaning of the frontier, from early westward expansion to Trump's border wall. Ever since this nation's inception, the idea of an open and ever-expanding frontier has been central to American identity. Symbolizing a future of endless promise, it was the foundation of the United States' belief in itself as an exceptional nation--democratic, individualistic, forward-looking. Today, though, America has a new symbol: the border wall. In The End of the Myth, acclaimed historian Greg Grandin explores the meaning of the frontier throughout the full sweep of U.S. history--from the American Revolution to the War of 1898, the New Deal to the election of 2016. For centuries, he shows, America's constant expansion--fighting wars and opening markets--served as a "gate of escape," helping to deflect domestic political and economic conflicts outward. But this deflection meant that the country's problems, from racism to inequality, were never confronted directly. And now, the combined catastrophe of the 2008 financial meltdown and our unwinnable wars in the Middle East have slammed this gate shut, bringing political passions that had long been directed elsewhere back home. It is this new reality, Grandin says, that explains the rise of reactionary populism and racist nationalism, the extreme anger and polarization that catapulted Trump to the presidency. The border wall may or may not be built, but it will survive as a rallying point, an allegorical tombstone marking the end of American exceptionalism.


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From a Pulitzer Prize winner, a new and eye-opening interpretation of the meaning of the frontier, from early westward expansion to Trump's border wall. Ever since this nation's inception, the idea of an open and ever-expanding frontier has been central to American identity. Symbolizing a future of endless promise, it was the foundation of the United States' belief in itsel From a Pulitzer Prize winner, a new and eye-opening interpretation of the meaning of the frontier, from early westward expansion to Trump's border wall. Ever since this nation's inception, the idea of an open and ever-expanding frontier has been central to American identity. Symbolizing a future of endless promise, it was the foundation of the United States' belief in itself as an exceptional nation--democratic, individualistic, forward-looking. Today, though, America has a new symbol: the border wall. In The End of the Myth, acclaimed historian Greg Grandin explores the meaning of the frontier throughout the full sweep of U.S. history--from the American Revolution to the War of 1898, the New Deal to the election of 2016. For centuries, he shows, America's constant expansion--fighting wars and opening markets--served as a "gate of escape," helping to deflect domestic political and economic conflicts outward. But this deflection meant that the country's problems, from racism to inequality, were never confronted directly. And now, the combined catastrophe of the 2008 financial meltdown and our unwinnable wars in the Middle East have slammed this gate shut, bringing political passions that had long been directed elsewhere back home. It is this new reality, Grandin says, that explains the rise of reactionary populism and racist nationalism, the extreme anger and polarization that catapulted Trump to the presidency. The border wall may or may not be built, but it will survive as a rallying point, an allegorical tombstone marking the end of American exceptionalism.

30 review for The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America

  1. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen

    National Book Award Longlist for Nonfiction 2019. Historian Grandin poses an interesting argument that the United States has long lived under the illusion of an ever-expanding frontier—one that promised ultimate individual freedom. The American frontier ‘myth’ was powerfully put forward by Frederick Jackson Turner in 1893 who felt that “free land with an abundance of natural resources open to a fit people, made the democratic type of society in America.” [For white males, that is.] The frontier w National Book Award Longlist for Nonfiction 2019. Historian Grandin poses an interesting argument that the United States has long lived under the illusion of an ever-expanding frontier—one that promised ultimate individual freedom. The American frontier ‘myth’ was powerfully put forward by Frederick Jackson Turner in 1893 who felt that “free land with an abundance of natural resources open to a fit people, made the democratic type of society in America.” [For white males, that is.] The frontier was actually a zone of genocidal violence. Grandin recounts how our ‘Founding Fathers’ supported the right of white settlers to push onto Native American lands with impunity. [I knew about some of President Andrew Jackson’s actions regarding Native Americans, but Grandin expanded on my limited knowledge regarding just how despicable his actions were.] And when the frontier needed labor, they often turned to their wives and children to provide it. If they needed additional labor, they wanted it cheap—black slaves or low-wage brown workers. Intimidation tactics included widespread lynchings of African Americans and racial violence against Mexicans and Mexican Americans. These white men would also project their own class resentments on to race. I was not aware that veterans make up a number of white supremacist organizations—including border vigilantes. Having fought against people of color in far-flung regions, they view migrants and immigrants as not deserving of US citizenship. Instead, they want to close the border with a wall. The fact that we have had some sort of fence or wall for over 70 years is irrelevant. Of note, Grandin did illuminate how NAFTA has not been good for many Mexicans and only increased the pressure to immigrate to the US. Forget Lady Liberty! The new symbol for America is The Wall! Let’s hope we can learn how to live with one another without another frontier to escape to. Recommend.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Mikey B.

    This is a provocative book on United States history. It is a history told from the viewpoint that the “frontier” concept of the U.S. has detrimentally influenced their humanistic outlook. The perennial frontier of the early history of the United States (even before the revolution of 1776) allowed for endless expansion. It was an area where those who were peripheral to the Eastern settled regions could flee to – whether they be slavers, abolitionists, religious zealots… The frontier became a place This is a provocative book on United States history. It is a history told from the viewpoint that the “frontier” concept of the U.S. has detrimentally influenced their humanistic outlook. The perennial frontier of the early history of the United States (even before the revolution of 1776) allowed for endless expansion. It was an area where those who were peripheral to the Eastern settled regions could flee to – whether they be slavers, abolitionists, religious zealots… The frontier became a place where libertarianism and individualism could flourish (as per the author). Indians were removed and/or killed – and in some cases Indian tribes from the east were forcibly re-settled in the frontier. Andrew Jackson, President from 1829 to 1837 believed in less government and was for states rights to control laws. In his era that meant slavery, later it came to mean less civil rights, restricted voting rights, more gun rights… Page 124 (my book) Private property-based virtue exists prior to the state. And the state’s only legitimate function is to protect virtue… premises the virtue of freedom as existing independently of the state and restricts the role of the state to only guarding virtue. That premise makes possible the ongoing refusal of the United States to accept the legitimacy of social or economic rights. Individual, inherent rights, found in nature – to have, to bear, to move, to assemble, to believe, to possess – were legitimate, as was a state that protected them. Social rights – to receive health care, education, and welfare – made possible by state intervention were perverse. The frontier areas became free-fire zones. Indians were killed at will. When Mexican lands were acquired the same applied to them. The frontier became a society of “radical individualism” (page 99). When the Pacific was reached this frontier/border mentality became established at the U.S./Mexican border. As the author states the level of violence and brutality at the border has been in existence for several decades – with vigilante groups and the U.S. Border patrol co-existing as right-wing extremists working side by side. Many veterans of Vietnam, the Gulf Wars, and Afghanistan have joined these para-military groups. Conservative groups have used the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights to emphasize individual rights (life, liberty, property) instead of group social rights. All of this is to the detriment of health care, education, women’s rights – and to the benefit of gun rights, tax cuts, states’ rights, the Confederate flag… Page 217 A restored ideal of freedom as freedom from restraint was both an effective demagogic tactic… and a way to conjure an inclusive, boundless Americanism. Ironically the wars that Reagan started in Central America merely added to the migrant problem as it created thousands of migrants who wanted to get to the U.S. This is in addition to the flow of refugees from Mexico itself. There were a number of issues I had with this book – and certain aspects that were not elaborated on. Apparently, there are over ten million undocumented migrants in the U.S. – that is a tremendous number! This level of migration to the U.S. illustrates how bad the situation is south of the border. The level of violence at the Mexico/Guatemala border is far more lethal than that at the U.S. border. I am not saying that this justifies what goes on at the U.S. border. There is the conundrum that on the one hand migrants are persecuted and rounded up by the U.S. Border patrol and posse groups – and on the other hand these migrants are eagerly recruited by American employers as a source of cheap labour. I felt the author (or the writings) over emphasizes the individualism frontier myth. The frontier was a harsh, unforgiving environment – at -20C in the winter does not give much time to contemplate your individualism and liberty. Like much of the U.S. this book is U.S. centric. Migration is now a key issue in Europe (and in Canada too) with its porous boundaries. People want to leave their chaotic and deteriorating countries to find safety and stability in either Europe, the U.S. or Canada. Nevertheless, this book raises many interesting issues, particularly individual versus social rights.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Mehrsa

    This book is just brutal and beautiful and possibly the best book I've read in a while about history and politics. Grandin takes a wide sweep of American history and he links racism at home to the ever-expanding frontier, which he refers to as (h/t Cormac McCarthy) The Blood Meridian. Then he links war abroad to fueling racism at home, which would have been a crazy claim had I not recently read Katherine Belew's Bring the War Home which was so eye-opening. Then he brings it to today and the bord This book is just brutal and beautiful and possibly the best book I've read in a while about history and politics. Grandin takes a wide sweep of American history and he links racism at home to the ever-expanding frontier, which he refers to as (h/t Cormac McCarthy) The Blood Meridian. Then he links war abroad to fueling racism at home, which would have been a crazy claim had I not recently read Katherine Belew's Bring the War Home which was so eye-opening. Then he brings it to today and the border wall. It's a long history going back to Jackson and Jefferson and LBJ (and opposed by John Quincy Adams, and FDR, and MLK.) This is a beautiful book and it's a must-read

  4. 5 out of 5

    Clif Hostetler

    This book explores the evolution through history of the existence and myth of the frontier in the American self image and psychic. For some rhetoricians it was the frontier that ennobled America's can-do spirit of adventure and exploration into new things and places. This “safety-valve” allowed—according to some philosophers—the American experiment with representative democracy to survive the suppressed resentment of the working poor. This book also exposes the selfish greed that motivated those This book explores the evolution through history of the existence and myth of the frontier in the American self image and psychic. For some rhetoricians it was the frontier that ennobled America's can-do spirit of adventure and exploration into new things and places. This “safety-valve” allowed—according to some philosophers—the American experiment with representative democracy to survive the suppressed resentment of the working poor. This book also exposes the selfish greed that motivated those less memorable times in history when atrocities were committed in contradiction to the lofty statements of purpose upon which the nation was founded. Even after the physical reality of the frontier faded, the myth continued to carry on in the American imagination.The frontier, here and henceforth, was a state of of mind, a cultural zone, a sociological term of comparison, a type of society, and adjective, a noun, a national myth, a disciplining mechanism, an abstraction, and an aspiration. (p.116)However, this book's narrative builds to the conclusion that the latest Trumpian calls for a border wall indicates that the myth has reached its end—the American myth has finally arrived at the ultimate closed border. What this means is that the nation can no longer avoid coming to terms with issues of inequality and domination at home—problems that in the past were glossed over by redirecting attention to the myth of the frontier. Here's a LINK to a long thorough review of this book from The Nation magazine. Here are some quotations from the book to ponder: “Expansion would break up society “into a greater variety of interests and pursuits of passions, which check each other.” The amalgamation of power would be prevented, making it unnecessary to take government action, either to regulate concentrated wealth or to repress movements organized in opposition to concentrated wealth. “Extend the sphere,” Madison wrote, “and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests,” and you make it difficult for either a mob majority or a tyrannical minority to unite “to invade the rights of other citizens.” (p.29) ... ... ... Whatever one's take on any of the debates of the day (especially the debate over slavery), and whatever one's philosophical understanding of the relationship of republicanism to land, commerce, finance, and labor, most agreed on practicalities. Also wanted to remove Spain from the Mississippi; also wanted the capacities to pacify hostile native Americans and put down rebellions of poor people; and all wanted Great Britain to get out of the way of their commerce. All wanted “room enough,” as Thomas Jefferson would put it in his 1800 inaugural address, to be protected from Europe’s “exterminating havoc.” Expansion became the answer to every question, the solution to all problems, especially those two caused by expansion.” (p.29-30) ... ... ... “Many historians still consider Jackson’s two terms (1829–1837) the fulfillment of the promise of the American Revolution’s anti-aristocratic aspirations, a moment of boisterous egalitarianism in which restless white workers armed with the vote became a political force. (p.56) ... ... ... “The war in the Philippines gave English a successor word to “frontier,” used to refer to remoteness: “boondocks,” from the Tagalog, “a distant, unpopulated place,” adopted by U.S. soldiers fighting a shadowy war against hit-and-run enemies. Its usage was expanded in World War II and then shortened in Vietnam to “boonies.” (p.126) ... ... ... “Maybe after Trump is gone, what is understood as the political “center” can be reestablished. But it seems doubtful. Politics appears to be moving in two opposite directions. One way, nativism beckons; Donald Trump, for now, is its standard-bearer. The other way, socialism calls to younger voters who, burdened by debt and confronting a bleak labor market, are embracing social rights in numbers never before seen. Coming generations will face a stark choice—a choice long deferred by the emotive power of frontier universalism but set forth in vivid relief by recent events: the choice between barbarism and socialism, or at least social democracy.” (p.275)This book was a finalist for the 2020 Pulitzer Prize.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Jaffe

    Greg Grandin understands Trumpism--and how it predates Trump back to the founding of the US--better than anyone else. Highly recommended. (Also, I audiobooked it while driving west from New York, appropriately enough.)

  6. 4 out of 5

    Moonkiszt

    The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America Greg Grandin’s book is must-read information for every US citizen. Everything you think you know, well, you do, but this will put it in a naked-truth context that will not be comfortable. Hard nuggets to swallow, and there are chapters full in these pages. Starting at the beginning, and he shows how some of these selfsame battles have been fought in the past. America’s politics. Presidents and politicians, their favo The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America Greg Grandin’s book is must-read information for every US citizen. Everything you think you know, well, you do, but this will put it in a naked-truth context that will not be comfortable. Hard nuggets to swallow, and there are chapters full in these pages. Starting at the beginning, and he shows how some of these selfsame battles have been fought in the past. America’s politics. Presidents and politicians, their favorite issues and campaigns, their messages, their legacies. It’s time to take a look back to assess where we’ve been in order to see that where we are is no accident. As hard and painful as reading this was, the stunning part was the sense and truth it made of the rubik’s cube of history that is in my head. There was no arguing with it – all that happened. The author makes sure to show other parts of the “history” you may not have known, or affects that weren’t covered in our school books. His conclusions are sound and pedestals are swept away – leaving humans flawed and less than heroic. Grandin’s equation comes down to Trump (or his ilk. . .if it wasn’t him it would have been someone like him) and the wall . . . at the end of the never-ending violence and culture killing our quest for liberty has cost the peoples who occupied this land before us. . .Trump bumps up against the end of our Frontier and all the problems that entails. Past regimes were able to distract with other hot concerns, but now we are at the end of our expansion rope, and need to solve problems we have had from the very beginning and didn’t – we just moved on and rolled over someone new. Yes. This is a scary book. But it is crucial to anyone interested in the answer to the question: How did we get here? Make some time to look at the American Myth. Rethinking, reconsidering and examining your place in history is not disloyal, it is part of the job of citizen. Be brave. Having a clear view of what’s what is the best way to provide ourselves a hopeful place to start sorting the tangled present in which we daily weave. 5 crucial stars.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Ms. Lola

    It’s honestly stunning how Greg Grandin is able to pinpoint and historically root Trumpism in ever-evolving ideologies and ancient violences. A gorgeous, terrifying book that left me shaking with anger at points. Every American should read this. It’s honestly stunning how Greg Grandin is able to pinpoint and historically root Trumpism in ever-evolving ideologies and ancient violences. A gorgeous, terrifying book that left me shaking with anger at points. Every American should read this.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Leif

    One of the best books I have read this year. Greg Grandin's take on the United States is uncompromising, nuanced, and deeply enriched by his premise regarding the metaphysical concept of the ever-shifting "frontier" in US politics. Note: this isn't your US History 101's reference to the idea of Manifest Destiny, which comes up here only briefly. Instead, Grandin tracks how the frontier in the US has gradually expanded, shifting west and then north and south - and then conceptually into Europe - a One of the best books I have read this year. Greg Grandin's take on the United States is uncompromising, nuanced, and deeply enriched by his premise regarding the metaphysical concept of the ever-shifting "frontier" in US politics. Note: this isn't your US History 101's reference to the idea of Manifest Destiny, which comes up here only briefly. Instead, Grandin tracks how the frontier in the US has gradually expanded, shifting west and then north and south - and then conceptually into Europe - and then its constriction to the southern border with Mexico - all so that Grandin argues that, of the many nations of the world, only the United States has had a frontier, or at least a frontier that has served as a proxy for liberation, synonymous with the possibilities and promises of modern life itself and held out as a model for the rest of the world to emulate.If I could, one of my quibbles with the book is its self-limitation in not examining, even if briefly, places where that American advertisement was purchased and reproduced - albeit in a different key. Here I am thinking of Western Canada and the much different history that Alaska carries (which does not come up much here). Nevertheless, Grandin's comprehensive historical sketch begins with the Royal Proclamation Line of 1763 and concludes with the 2018 abuse of migrant peoples in massive order along the southern US border with Mexico. Throughout, he is an able tracker of violence and rationalizations, persons and concepts. Readers interested mostly in the contemporary politics of the USA should find their patience challenged productively, with the result an enriched vision of how much the Trumpian end politics owes and breaks a dominant American mythology; readers interested mostly in history will find themselves right at home and able to see contemporary politics anew and reinvigorated. Grandin's books are always worth reading. This one has a feel of the major text, a labour of need as much as anything else - a book he needed to read. It may not be the one I would necessarily ask for (there are some gaps, although a longer book wouldn't have as much of an influence, perhaps), but it's a hell of a book and one that demands readerly attention. Better: it is worth the accolades.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Randall Wallace

    Andrew Jackson was the ONLY U.S. President who personally drove slave coffles. In fact, he appeared at the time in an interview in Cart and Driver Magazine. When asked “What’s under the hood?” Andrew answered, “If I can get a good tailor, soon me and all my friends (veiled pre-KKK reference – ed). I would love to see a photograph of Andrew Jackson smiling on a beautiful sunny day while walking fellow human beings roped at the neck to their sale. AJ’s logic: If I can save enough money totally den Andrew Jackson was the ONLY U.S. President who personally drove slave coffles. In fact, he appeared at the time in an interview in Cart and Driver Magazine. When asked “What’s under the hood?” Andrew answered, “If I can get a good tailor, soon me and all my friends (veiled pre-KKK reference – ed). I would love to see a photograph of Andrew Jackson smiling on a beautiful sunny day while walking fellow human beings roped at the neck to their sale. AJ’s logic: If I can save enough money totally denying blacks basic rights now, then I can expand further my career later by also totally denying Native Americans basic rights later (Trail of Tears anyone?). It’s two, two mints in one. Andrew Jackson “kept the skulls of Indians he killed as trophies, and his soldiers cut long strips of skin from their victims to use as bridle reins”. On our twenty dollar bills, we should have those blood-caked native skulls and skin strips in the background behind Jackson’s green head. Nothing sick going on here folks! Jackson was the first test of what we call the “Madman Theory”. Jackson saw The Founders as cowards who pussyfooted around rather than rush into Native Lands and take everything with the unrestrained frenzy of today’s Black Friday shoppers – Jackson saw Jefferson in particular as failure of the will – he had the right wrong ideas but didn’t have stomach to carry them out. The Age of Jackson “entailed a radical empowerment of white men” who believed that freedom meant “freedom from restraint”. Many deep questions were asked by these Jacksonians who proudly signed their names with an X, such as “Why can’t we kill who we want?” and “Why won’t my heifer sleep with me?” Thomas Jefferson said of the Native Americans, “We presume that our strength & their weakness” is obvious to them: they “must see we have only to shut our hand to crush them.” Jefferson’s charming old threat of violence is as American as Apple Pie made from apples stolen from a Native orchard just before it was destroyed by invading whites under the command of George Washington. Simon Bolivar wanted Natives incorporated as citizens, Jefferson preferred mass murder, “the extermination of this race is to therefore to form an additional chapter in the English history.” What a perfect illustrative U.S. history book for entitled white children – Natives being shot and stabbed by settlers trying to steal their land in different national locations, all to the tune of “This is How We Do It” by Montell Jordan. Note that white expansion was seen as freedom – but freedom to whitey only meant the freedom to take away everyone else’s freedom. In the 1730’s the Scotch-Irish (the Paxton boys in particular) threw the Conestoga peoples off their ancestral lands after stating it was “against the laws of God and nature, that so much land be idle while so many Christians wanted it.” This was in fact the origin of Christian Charity. It was really helpful to see on Greg’s map, the Royal Proclamation Line of 1763 and then how much further west the 1783 border was after the opening of the settler-colonial floodgates. The Treaty of Paris ending the American Revolution (twenty years after the RPL of 1763) defined the U.S. as already double in size and also acknowledged all the land stolen from Natives during the war. John Quincy Adams was one of the few to express concern at the time and said, “we have scarcely given them time to build their wigwams before we are called upon our own people to drive them out again.” He knew the People would not allow assimilation and equal citizenship for natives even though he clearly thought it the best policy. Jackson’s voting base were often “illiterate and un-propertied” and so to keep them from screwing with property rights locally they were sent out West to play Cowboys and Indians. Empire was the #1 safety valve that made America; the nation had to keep moving/expanding or you would “force it back on itself” as Cushing said in 1850. Lest we think unfairness was applied only to Blacks and Native Americans in our history, note that the Mexican War was said by General Grant to be, “one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation.” Volunteers were paid for that turkey shoot. I’d love to see the enlistment poster: “Come invade another country, kill as much as you like, and return home to be paradoxically called a hero with a generous take-home package: yes, with your pay you’ll get either a complimentary sociopathic personality or severe PTSD (your choice). So come invade Mexico; where every day can be the Day of the Dead.” The first Anglo-governor of California said in 1851, “A war of extermination will continue to be waged between the races until the Indian race becomes extinguished.” That entitled white comment repurposed will later serve against Jews as the motto for the Third Reich. The inspiration for the loveable Teddy Bear, Teddy Roosevelt once said, “This great continent could not have been kept as nothing but a game preserve for squalid savages”. Teddy was an expert on not-so-coded racism. The Confederate Flag returns in 1961 as a resistance symbol to desegregation. After the Civil War, Northerners and Southerners would only agree on three things: 1. “The Army should pacify western tribes” (a.k.a. Manifest Destiny) 2. Damasks were indeed better than brocades. 3. That racial and economic entitlement worked perfectly at all latitudes. W.J. Cash noted that in US overseas battles that southerners enjoyed “replaying the dissonance of the confederacy again and again. They could fight for the loftiest ideals – liberty, valor, self-sacrifice, camaraderie – while putting down people of color.” Not few have noted that the War of 1898, “both re-legitimated the Confederacy and allowed resurgent racists to drape themselves in the high ideals of a now-reconciled national history.” The Mexican Revolution was the “first great third world uprising against American economic, cultural, and political expansion”. FDR said, “there is no safety valve in the form of a western prairie to which (those today in need) can go for a new start.” Did you know that in 1945, after the war, they dismantled the Japanese Internment camps (who wants Lefty photographers taking pictures of that stuff later?) and repurposed all 4,500 linear feet of chain link fencing ten feet high and “woven of No. 6 wire” to cover the Mexican Border as its first blatant physical barrier? “Clinton was Reagan’s greatest achievement. He carried forward the Republican Agenda.” With Clinton’s NAFTA, tariff-free junk food and soda flooded Mexico and its farming communities were hit hard. Fox News sells “racism and nativism”. Today we have come full circle with Andrew Jackson – Americans in border towns can still lead modern day slave coffles marching Mexicans joined at the neck to the Border Patrol just like their toothless great-grandparents would have done to the slave market. Southern tradition is so wonderfully admirable when you don’t look at it. Newsflash: The Mexican Border has nothing to do with National Security and everything to do with it being “the demarcation between desperate poverty and such massive wealth.” So, in the end this book is about people who “won a larger liberty by dispossessing and enslaving people of color”. That is the American Experiment and it still proudly tries to continue. But when you keep moving forward, while never taking time to tidy up behind you, “problems” or “stubborn stains” can accumulate. We used to pretend everyone could be free but now the present Wall fixation tells the world we’ve dropped the pretense. 400 years of pretending to be concerned about the freedom of all peoples is long enough.

  10. 5 out of 5

    James Murphy

    I'm drawn to books about the idea of America's westward movement as its foundation myth and reason for its greatness. It makes sense to me that these historical narratives of expansion taught to me in school as manifest destiny and essential purpose used to hide imperialism and the exploitation of peoples (and simpler tales taught to young minds) can be explained today in mythic terms. I like the history and the interpretation of realities I've known about my whole life, and I read everything on I'm drawn to books about the idea of America's westward movement as its foundation myth and reason for its greatness. It makes sense to me that these historical narratives of expansion taught to me in school as manifest destiny and essential purpose used to hide imperialism and the exploitation of peoples (and simpler tales taught to young minds) can be explained today in mythic terms. I like the history and the interpretation of realities I've known about my whole life, and I read everything on the subject as myth I can get my hands on. However, I had a love/hate relationship with Greg Grandin's The End of the Myth. Mostly it's what it says it is, a history of the idea of the American frontier and how it's been used by various factions, political and social. It introduced me to some new says of seeing, particularly in regard to the southern border and the attitudes of nativism clinging to it. I admired Grandin's discussion of the frontier and expansion as a safety valve, a way of letting the settled east free itself of the pressures of increasing population growth and the need for more land while also encouraging our more extreme elements to move west. Such issues as the Free Soil movement which made public land available to immigrants and the idea of moving freed slaves to Texas made for interesting reading. Also interesting was his explaining the idea of how North and South were reunited by the patriotic fervor created during the Spanish American War. In addressing how enthusiasm for this war and the new imperialism was generated at the expense of the civil rights of African Americans, this chapter probably began what I perceived as a shrillness in tone which became a piercing scream in the chapter devoted to the Vietnam War. I believe Vietnam blunted the progress of domestic social programs intended to improve civil liberties for racial minorities, but I don't believe his claim that the proliferation of the Confederate battle flag during that war and every subsequent war signifies that flag as the banner of Lost Cause white supremacy or that those sentiments were widely expressed in Vietnam. I've read many Vietnam War histories of all kinds--diplomatic, social, military, anti-war--in the past decade, 40+ at my rough count, but I've never encountered any discourse to even suggest Grandin's assertions of the war as a racial war, one that can be seen in terms of the Lost Cause rather than one of an extension of manifest destiny vaulting the Pacific to wash up on the shores of the Philippines, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. I've never read any views like those Grandin writes. They seemed bubble-headed and unnecessarily sensational to me. And because I feel myself so familiar with Vietnam and reacted so negatively to his analysis of the war as it relates to America's myth of westward movement, I wondered if I should question earlier chapters whose material I was less familiar with. And it caused me to question the chapters following. I think the shrillness, though not as piercing, continues in the final 4 chapters discussing such topics as the policies of Reagan, NAFTA, and the nativism, sometimes violent, at work today along our border with Mexico. Grandin's arguments are loud, that we have nowhere else to go and are imploding because we're losing the ability to channel extremism outward, that our resources are finite after all, and that we're closing the circle by building a wall which limits our expansion just as well as it tries to keep others out. And that, finally, the wall admits our disenchantment. In Grandin's notes on sources he acknowledges a particular debt to historian Richard Slotkin, an interpreter of the west and the frontier who has written that the single most important point of issue in American history is our relationship to race. And having read Grandin's book I realize I've read a book which explains our westward movement with that understanding. While I don't agree with everything he writes, the fascination of his arguments still merits 5 stars.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    This is was a really difficult book to read. It completely derails my idealistic view of America as a country forever attempting to better itself and the world. Grandin covers our entire history pointing out that racism has always been a huge part of it, which demoralizes me. By invading rather than colonizing as our history books taught us, and trying to eradicate the natives who occupied the land, by using the Bible to condone slavery and then Jim Crow laws to keep the negro from their new rig This is was a really difficult book to read. It completely derails my idealistic view of America as a country forever attempting to better itself and the world. Grandin covers our entire history pointing out that racism has always been a huge part of it, which demoralizes me. By invading rather than colonizing as our history books taught us, and trying to eradicate the natives who occupied the land, by using the Bible to condone slavery and then Jim Crow laws to keep the negro from their new rights after the Civil War, by slaughtering Mexicans after that war and again in California after having again invaded a land already legally occupied and owned by both Mexicans and Native Americans and steadily brutally using all 3 races as target practice or lynching them, this book shows a totally repulsive side of too many Americans. The frontier was considered a "safety valve" for these hideous emotions, giving those racists a place to move until the country was fully occupied and then the border became their playground to continue their immoral activities. The many wars also helped cover up racism for the short term until the racists came home and continued brutalizing people for their color, creating and manning the Border Patrol currently as well is initially. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden is my new hero and her words and actions of the past few days give me a little hope that America will one day change. And the words George W Bush spoke at a Naturalization recently that "immigration is a blessing and a strength" possibly will alter the terrible political climate America endures.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Bell

    One is the best books of the year. Essential reading to understand the historical antecedents to Trumpism and the deep roots of the mess we’re in. Not an especially hopeful book, but he’s an historian, not a therapist. It’s left to us to decide: socialism or barbarism? I cannot recommend this one highly enough.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Peter

    The End of the Myth by Greg Grandin is both an enlightening and disturbing book. On the one hand its thesis makes complete sense and Grandin is both methodical and thorough as he answers the question posed by Mae Ngai which is “What happens when expansion is no longer viable as a promise for the nation’s future and as a fix for its problems? Grandin’s book takes us through the moment the first settlers looked at the great expanse of the “Edenic utopia” that was America to the point where Donald The End of the Myth by Greg Grandin is both an enlightening and disturbing book. On the one hand its thesis makes complete sense and Grandin is both methodical and thorough as he answers the question posed by Mae Ngai which is “What happens when expansion is no longer viable as a promise for the nation’s future and as a fix for its problems? Grandin’s book takes us through the moment the first settlers looked at the great expanse of the “Edenic utopia” that was America to the point where Donald Trump announced on June 16th, 2015 that he would “build a Great Wall.” The book is disturbing because there is as yet no way one can project what will happen if this Wall is built, or, for that matter, what will happen as the projected wall is continually discussed and promised. Grandin’s book is, in a curious way, a study of the psychology of the founding fathers, who envisioned the glory of an ever-expanding America. This expansion was one of culture and colour. Whatever and whoever got in the way of the vision and the destiny of the country were brutally dealt with in no uncertain words or actions. Still, the book is not a rant. It is, rather, a very objective and thoroughly researched text. It is not easy reading. Sometimes I found myself re-reading paragraphs or sections, partly to comprehend more clearly what was said, and sometimes in disbelief as to what I had just read. Facts, letters, and a summary of what many of the founding fathers’ actions were are not sugar-coated. In an introductory page of the book appears this quotation by Anne Carson. “To live past the end of your myth is a perilous thing.” After reading this book I fear the myth of America might be gasping for its breathe. This is an important book that needs to be read, discussed and debated.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Katy

    As quoted from the cover by The Guardian, "A powerful and painful book, clear-sighted, meticulous, and damning." Greg Grandin places blame on both political parties for the hate that seems to run our country at the present time. As quoted from the cover by The Guardian, "A powerful and painful book, clear-sighted, meticulous, and damning." Greg Grandin places blame on both political parties for the hate that seems to run our country at the present time.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Doug

    Comprehensive history with an interesting focus and a strong bias. Every problem is attributed to white racist republicans, beginning with Andrew Jackson. If Clinton and Obama did the same things, he protects them by saying they were hemmed in by previous white racist republican decisions. He quotes individuals when they bolster his thesis that white racist republicans are the only kind of non-liberals and the liberals are the only ones who want what is right.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jan

    Grim but valuable context for understanding white supremacy, anti-immigrant hatred and other facets of the modern American mindset.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Leo Walsh

    An amazing, insightful, and complex look at the main driving forces of American politics. It goes without saying that race and racism permeate everything, inevitable considering America started as a slave country before adopting apartheid-like measures during the Jim Crow era. But it has other sources: WASP elites whose ancestors received royal charters created an arrogant elite, a violent war with Native Americans, protracted war with Mexico, who had long since outlawed slavery and inbred exten An amazing, insightful, and complex look at the main driving forces of American politics. It goes without saying that race and racism permeate everything, inevitable considering America started as a slave country before adopting apartheid-like measures during the Jim Crow era. But it has other sources: WASP elites whose ancestors received royal charters created an arrogant elite, a violent war with Native Americans, protracted war with Mexico, who had long since outlawed slavery and inbred extensively with native Americans. Greg Grandin does a great job observing these things, but through a special mirror: the myth of America. Which is, in essence, the myth of continuous growth. We grew from the original 13 colonies on the Atlantic, gradually expanding our empire to the Pacific. Which included empire-building forays into the Pacific (conquering Hawaii, Guam, and the Philippines) into South America and the Caribbean (conquering Puerto Rico and Panama). That myth created what he sees as a white culture centered on domination, made worse since it was so successful for so long. From the 1770s through the late 1970s, we had an unprecedented run of luck that made it FEEL like the world could give to us forever. And Grandin's main diagnosis rings clear: this expansionist, warrior mindset has finally hit a wall. America has nowhere to expand to. Since the 80s, though, we've hit a wall. There is nowhere to expand. Worse, despite our military might, our recent wars of expansion (Iraq, Afghanistan, and Vietnam) have been resolute failures. Instead, we've taken the frontier myth, where unbridled freedom to dominate the 'losers' from slaves to Native Americans to the poor is extolled, so that it applies ONLY TO THE ELITE BILLIONAIRES. This allows them to use and abuse the normal Americans and justifies our leaders in NOT giving us things that other advanced nations take for granted, like a strong and generous safety net, universal healthcare, worker protections, etc. All told, a captivating read. It's detailed, strikes me as historically accurate and insightful. though long, the pages fly by. And even though it;s factual, it often seemed more activating than a work of fiction. There is a reason, I suppose, it was longlisted for the National Book Award. Five-stars.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Donna

    In this excellent and conceptually unique book, Grandin looks at the role of the frontier - both a physically and symbolically - in shaping America’s history, its psyche, and it’s ability to forestall addressing it’s longstanding societal problems and inequalities. Grandin meticulously traces the various iterations of the frontier from the early days of continuous, almost manic westward expansion, to the waging of wars in “overseas frontiers”, to the market frontiers of global expansion and free In this excellent and conceptually unique book, Grandin looks at the role of the frontier - both a physically and symbolically - in shaping America’s history, its psyche, and it’s ability to forestall addressing it’s longstanding societal problems and inequalities. Grandin meticulously traces the various iterations of the frontier from the early days of continuous, almost manic westward expansion, to the waging of wars in “overseas frontiers”, to the market frontiers of global expansion and free trade. And throughout, these frontiers have served to perpetuate the foundational concepts of American exceptionalism, rugged individualism, and freedom (at least for some). They also have served as a “safety valve” for America’s societal pressures and a stop-gap for radical extremism. That frontier is now closed, according to Grandin, the safety valve is shut. And in its place we have a new symbol - the wall - carried in, but certainly not originated, by Trump and “trumpism” and exposing the extreme polarization now seen both in the populace and in politics. It remains to be seen if the center will hold. There is so much in this book and it is so well layed out that, as I finished, it left me a little stunned and very much in awe of Grandin’s skill as a thinker, writer, and historian.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Simmons

    A difficult read, for all the right reasons. Americans who are confused about the current toxicity surrounding immigration and the increasingly self-destructive currents within U.S. society could do worse than picking up Grandin's immensely informative and eye-opening book. A difficult read, for all the right reasons. Americans who are confused about the current toxicity surrounding immigration and the increasingly self-destructive currents within U.S. society could do worse than picking up Grandin's immensely informative and eye-opening book.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Darby Dixon III

    America sucks.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Anna

    The frontier mentality has been a part of the United States since the conception of the country - from the European settlers to the Founding Father's to modern America. The idea of the frontier seemed to promise citizens a never ending expanse of land with guaranteed personal freedoms. As long as the country was constantly expanding, any problems could be fixed. There was always going to be something past the horizon for people to strive for and possibly attain. People would be able to spread ou The frontier mentality has been a part of the United States since the conception of the country - from the European settlers to the Founding Father's to modern America. The idea of the frontier seemed to promise citizens a never ending expanse of land with guaranteed personal freedoms. As long as the country was constantly expanding, any problems could be fixed. There was always going to be something past the horizon for people to strive for and possibly attain. People would be able to spread out and do what they wanted to support their families ad infinitum. Except land isn't endless and the frontier at some point ends. Greg Grandin's concept of conquering the frontier is really just applying "Manifest Destiny" to the entire history of America on a much grander scale. It has all the White Supremacy and Capitalist tenets of Manifest Destiny, but also with a healthy dose of classism, Libertarianism, rugged individualism, and globalism - expanding far past the borders of America to the rest of the world. The last frontier wasn't Alaska, rather, the frontier shifted to Vietnam, to Iraq, to Afghanistan, to Central America, etc... Attempting to conquer the frontier involved genocide and war, fueled by leaders with a mix of nativism and racism. The results of these attempts became less tangible for the American people, but the fuel used to spur on the wars/conflicts had lasting effects. Grandin's over arching thesis is that the frontier mentality that gave birth to America would inevitably lead to Trumpism. Expanding into the frontier meant the genocide of indigenous people and anyone standing in the way. Now that there's nowhere else to expand to, the only logical conclusion is to keep people out by any means necessary. Using quotes, anecdotes, and historical examples, the book does a good job showing how the overall mindset of the nation hasn't really changed much since the 1700's. What struck me was the section on modern history and how the border crisis that we're seeing now had happened previously and how the modern media coddled White supremacists murdering people at the border. I thought this book was eye opening. I was initially skeptical of the point the author was trying to make. But he did a good job making his case and I learned a lot. I had known that there were a lot of White supremacists in the military and working at the border, but I didn't know the scope. There was a lot of the history from the 1800's that I either didn't learn or have no memory of. This book boils down to -the country was built on White supremacy and we're at a moment of reckoning. I highly recommend this book.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Porter Broyles

    Interesting idea, but didn't catch me. Interesting idea, but didn't catch me.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jo Stafford

    This elegantly-written exploration of the meaning of the frontier in US history deserves a wide audience. Whether he’s examining the 19-century safety-valve rationale for westward movement or assessing NAFTA, Greg Grandin never loses sight of his objective to unpack the ideologies and myths underlying and reinforcing America’s seemingly never-ending quest for expansion. The End of the Myth commanded my attention from its opening paragraph right through to its final sentence. It is a thoughtful, p This elegantly-written exploration of the meaning of the frontier in US history deserves a wide audience. Whether he’s examining the 19-century safety-valve rationale for westward movement or assessing NAFTA, Greg Grandin never loses sight of his objective to unpack the ideologies and myths underlying and reinforcing America’s seemingly never-ending quest for expansion. The End of the Myth commanded my attention from its opening paragraph right through to its final sentence. It is a thoughtful, probing, and essential study which addresses some painful truths about US history and power.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Carr

    They say people don't write big books anymore, but this is a big book. Big in the sense of its ambition and theme. And largely, it is a success. Grandin explores how the idea of a 'frontier' has shaped American attitudes. From the founders and cowboys, through the Cold War to Trump. He argues that expansion and space is the way the US has reconciled the tensions between liberty and social support. Rather than give up the former to gain the latter (as most social democratic countries have in some They say people don't write big books anymore, but this is a big book. Big in the sense of its ambition and theme. And largely, it is a success. Grandin explores how the idea of a 'frontier' has shaped American attitudes. From the founders and cowboys, through the Cold War to Trump. He argues that expansion and space is the way the US has reconciled the tensions between liberty and social support. Rather than give up the former to gain the latter (as most social democratic countries have in some form or another), acquiring space has allowed government's to re-direct anger and create opportunities, either moving unwanted populations or rewarding desired populations. In this way the US first became a continental sized country. Once the physical expansion of the US was complete by the late 19th century, Grandin suggests foreign wars played an important replacement role, and to a lesser extent, so has globalisation and market capitalism. This bargain has its costs. The Native Americans, South Americans and African Americans have all been victims of the expansion. Grandin details acts of Jacksonian barstardry at great length, a tradition that he easily links all the way through US history right up to the current president. He shows how the post-1945 tradition of sending so many southern boys to fight overseas has helped resurrect confederate ideas and racism at home. He argues that at the heart of America's current ills, is the breaking down and consequences of the myth of limitless expansion. There is not the space or capacity for limitless expansion, and the tensions have become too big to ignore. In this context, figures like Trump can spring up. Demanding walls and race-based favouritism to preserve the remaining spoils. The days of optimism and plenty are gone, the days of concrete and hate have arrived. This is a compelling analysis of how broad parts of America has thought and operated. Either in direct agreement with frontier themes, or in modifications (FDR) or rejection (King, Carter). Grandin is very strong on the 18th & 19th centuries intellectual debates, comparing various ideas and the debates about the US and its approach to the world. The idea of Frontier as a defining myth is demonstrated again and again. Unfortunately by the time the story reaches the mid-to-late 20th century, the quality becomes slightly uneven. Almost all foreign wars and trade deals are shoehorned roughly into the framework, even if the fit is not always clear. And the intellectual history seems to disappears, with less reference to competing ideas and big thinkers (though strangely the 'note on sources' in the end actually covers a lot of this missing ground). Finally, while I expected much more effort to place Trump in this context, he is only briefly identified in the rapid conclusion to the book. These concerns aside, this is an impressive and well written effort to detail one of the key ideas in America. It helps clear away the surface level issues and gets to the heart of one of the key intellectual and identity questions confronting the US today. A powerful book.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    Muddled my way through the introduction, not very impressed, but decided to give the book a try anyway. But the first two sentences of the first chapter: “The British colonies in North America were conceived in expansion. America was an aspiration, an errand, and an obligation, born out of violent Christlan schism and Europe's interminable religious and ímperial conflicts.” I read through the rest of the first paragraph - it didn’t get any better. OK this sounds like crap to me, sorry. “..,an asp Muddled my way through the introduction, not very impressed, but decided to give the book a try anyway. But the first two sentences of the first chapter: “The British colonies in North America were conceived in expansion. America was an aspiration, an errand, and an obligation, born out of violent Christlan schism and Europe's interminable religious and ímperial conflicts.” I read through the rest of the first paragraph - it didn’t get any better. OK this sounds like crap to me, sorry. “..,an aspiration, an errand, and an obligation” - is that really supposed to mean something or is it just an attempt to sound poetic? This book got a good review in the NYT last month: “fine, elegantly written.” The author is a Yale professor of history. I’m a high school dropout with a GED and a CS degree from a crappy college. So, odds are the fault is with me, not the book. I guess I’ll just leave it as another case of “not my kinda book.” PS- After writing this I leafed through the rest of the book. I didn’t see anything else that bugged me the way the first paragraph of the first chapter did. Maybe I’ll give it a try. Someday. I dunno.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Charles Fried

    Wow. This book really explains the partisanship in the US. And to a large measure, that is depressing. The author convincingly points out that the far-right (and not so far-right) racist extremism so rampant today is rooted in the earliest days of the republic, in slavery and in the frontier extermination of native Americans and Mexicans. The ghosts of slavery, the Confederacy, the Mexican-American war, Vietnam, etc. are with us still. This I find discouraging as these toxins will not be easy or Wow. This book really explains the partisanship in the US. And to a large measure, that is depressing. The author convincingly points out that the far-right (and not so far-right) racist extremism so rampant today is rooted in the earliest days of the republic, in slavery and in the frontier extermination of native Americans and Mexicans. The ghosts of slavery, the Confederacy, the Mexican-American war, Vietnam, etc. are with us still. This I find discouraging as these toxins will not be easy or quick to ameliorate. As they are getting worse, I am not optimistic. But the book is excellent. Recommended reading for anyone interested in the politics of the day.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Eli

    It's hard to overstate how much has changed in the world since I started reading this book in September. Right now it can feel like we're living in a new reality every day, yet Grandin's argument--that America has, over the years, resolved its many contradictions by projecting them outward towards the frontier, the closure of which has sent the country into a violent, reactionary, racist spiral--has only become more and more relevant. If that's not a reason to read this book then I don't know wh It's hard to overstate how much has changed in the world since I started reading this book in September. Right now it can feel like we're living in a new reality every day, yet Grandin's argument--that America has, over the years, resolved its many contradictions by projecting them outward towards the frontier, the closure of which has sent the country into a violent, reactionary, racist spiral--has only become more and more relevant. If that's not a reason to read this book then I don't know what is.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Heather

    This book is difficult in subject matter because the quest for superiority of the United States involved so much violence and deep contempt towards fellow man. Overall though well written. I’m deducting stars for the author interjecting political bias and for missing gaps in the history of frontier expansionism. To truly cover this subject would require a book double in length. I was surprised, for example, of the breezy coverage of the wars in Korea and SE Asia.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Larry Kunz

    Although Grandin's premise is interesting, he had a hard time holding my interest. In sweeping through the last 200 years of American history, he seems to cherry-pick events and quotations that support his point of view. Although Grandin's premise is interesting, he had a hard time holding my interest. In sweeping through the last 200 years of American history, he seems to cherry-pick events and quotations that support his point of view.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Natalie

    100% required reading. Get it NOW.

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