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The End of the Myth

From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America
Narrated by: Eric Pollins
Length: 13 hrs and 27 mins
Categories: History, American
5 out of 5 stars (1 rating)

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Summary

From a Pulitzer Prize finalist, 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 US 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.

©2019 Greg Grandin (P)2019 Macmillan Audio

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  • MJ
  • 21-04-19

The chickens are coming home to roost

This is American history viewed through the lens of expansionism, from the Western frontier to the many wars (military, ideological, economic) the US has fought at home and abroad. The thesis of the book is that seemingly endless expansion allowed the US to shore up the country at critical junctures by projecting outward many of its worst inclinations (violent racism, rampant greed/corruption, right-wing extremism) until relatively recently. Now that the US is contracting in power and influence with no new frontiers left to exploit, quagmires/losses in most wars since Vietnam, and serial economic disasters taking their toll, those historically destructive impulses have nowhere "out there" left to go and are being redirected internally. A sweeping, fascinating, and profoundly unsettling listen. Very highly recommended.

11 of 14 people found this review helpful

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  • Scott
  • 22-09-19

Exceptionally broad and insightful analysis of the role of frontier and limitless “freedom” in US social history.

This book described in detail a long and fundamental array of social and political movements all rooted in “the myth” of limitless expansion and privileged, often savage freedom. And it is not only the myth of limitless opportunity (of land and ingenuity) that has served as a safety valve for white frustrations and resentment, but also unbridled savagery (towards African Americans, Native Americans, Mexican Americans and others) that Grandin shows with a wealth of examples and overwhelmingly clear patterns, US institutions - cultural as well as political and economic - have and still do not only allow but encourage. The documentation presented is thorough and well- explained, making further research accessible. Yet the question remains: how do we overcome this Myth has been rooted and continues to be central to our history.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Stephen J. Hill
  • 22-09-19

Tre story of the frontier in American history

It’s been a week or two since I finished this and what remains is this: the book tells the story of the myth of the frontier as both the essence of and “safety valve” to the American character, and what happened when no physical frontier remained - the Wall, white supremacy, etc. On the on hand it’s provides interesting analysis of a lot of threads in American history. On the other, explains too much. This has been nominated for the National Book Award, so it obviously is well-regarded, but I thought it reduced a lot of complexity to a polemic that isn’t especially helpful in understanding or bridging the current American political divide, especially where political trends similar to those in the US are emerging in places as disparate as the UK, Germany Turkey, and Brazil.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful