Tocqueville by Alexis de Tocqueville
Democracy in America (Library of America)

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Synopsis

Democracy in America (1835–40) is arguably the most perceptive and influential book ever written about American politics and society. This volume presents Alexis de Tocqueville’s masterpiece in an entirely new translation, the first to capture fully the precision and grace of his style while providing a rigorous and faithful rendering of his profound ideas and observations. 

A young aristocratic lawyer, Tocqueville came to the United States in 1831 with his friend and fellow magistrate Gustave de Beaumont to study American penitentiary systems. During their nine-month visit they conducted interviews with more than 200 ­people on American politics, law, and social practices. After returning to France, Tocqueville read hundreds of books and documents while reflecting on what his trip had revealed about the “great ­democratic revolution” that was transforming the Western world. 
In Democracy in America he vividly describes the unprecedented “equality of conditions” found in the United States and explores its implications for European society in th­e emerging modern era. His book provides enduring insight into the political consequences of widespread property ownership, the potential dangers to liberty inherent in majority rule, the importance of civil institutions in an individualistic culture dominated by the pursuit of material self-interest, the influence of the press and the judiciary in American politics, and the vital role of religion in American life, while prophetically examining the widening differences between the northern and southern states. In “the ideal toward which democratic peoples tend,” Tocqueville writes, men “will be perfectly free, because they will all be entirely equal, and they will all be perfectly equal because they will be entirely free.” But, he warns, their passion for liberty and their passion for equality are unequal: “They want equality in liberty, and if they cannot have it, they want it still in slavery.”
 

About Alexis de Tocqueville

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French writer and politician Alexis de Tocqueville was born in Verneuil to an aristocratic Norman family. He entered the bar in 1825 and became an assistant magistrate at Versailles. In 1831, he was sent to the United States to report on the prison system. This journey produced a book called On the Penitentiary System in the United States (1833), as well as a much more significant work called Democracy in America (1835--40), a treatise on American society and its political system. Active in French politics, Tocqueville also wrote Old Regime and the Revolution (1856), in which he argued that the Revolution of 1848 did not constitute a break with the past but merely accelerated a trend toward greater centralization of government. Tocqueville was an observant Catholic, and this has been cited as a reason why many of his insights, rather than being confined to a particular time and place, reach beyond to see a universality in all people everywhere.
 
Published May 11, 2012 by The Library of America. 939 pages
Genres: Political & Social Sciences, Law & Philosophy. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Tocqueville

Publishers Weekly

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It's hard to think of a work that has so influenced our understanding of the United States as this—still the most authoritative, reflective set of observations about American institution

Feb 09 2004 | Read Full Review of Tocqueville: Democracy in Ame...

The New York Times

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Two new books on Tocqueville, who was an unlikely student of democracy, and an even less likely voyager to the American wilderness.

Jul 08 2007 | Read Full Review of Tocqueville: Democracy in Ame...

The Wall Street Journal

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Tocqueville's "Democracy in America" is a book that every American who reads should read.

Feb 05 2011 | Read Full Review of Tocqueville: Democracy in Ame...

The Washington Times

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Harvard political scientist Harvey C. Mansfield begins this thematic survey with a question: "What sort of man was Alexis de Tocqueville?" He toys with several answers before fastening onto Tocqueville's own self-description as "a new kind of liberal."

Sep 27 2010 | Read Full Review of Tocqueville: Democracy in Ame...

The New York Review of Books

“Democracy in America is at once the best book ever written on democracy and the best book ever written on America.” So claim the editors of this new edition of Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America.

May 17 2001 | Read Full Review of Tocqueville: Democracy in Ame...

The New York Review of Books

“Democracy in America is at once the best book ever written on democracy and the best book ever written on America.”.

Apr 29 2004 | Read Full Review of Tocqueville: Democracy in Ame...

The American Conservative

Mr. Rich also wrote an essay for the Sunday Book Review, with many references to that novel, “Odds Against Tomorrow.” In addition, the Editors’ Choice section of the Sunday Book Review listed Mr. Rich’s novel second on its list.

Apr 24 2013 | Read Full Review of Tocqueville: Democracy in Ame...

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