The American experiment Dialogues on a dream

David M. Rubenstein

Book - 2021

Pulitzer Prize-winning historians, diplomats, music legends and sports giants explore the grand American experiment in democracy, culture, innovation and ideas, revealing the setbacks, suffering, invention, ingenuity, and social movements that continue to shape our vision of what America is and what it can be.

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New York : Simon & Schuster 2021.
Main Author
David M. Rubenstein (author)
First Simon & Schuster hardcover edition
Physical Description
xii, 450 pages : illustrations (black and white) ; 25 cm
Includes index.
  • Introduction
  • 1. Promise and Principle
  • Jill Lepore on 400 Years of American History
  • Danielle S. Allen on the Declaration of Independence
  • Catherine Brekus on Religious Freedom
  • Donald E. Graham on the First Amendment and Freedom of the Press
  • Michael Beschloss on the Presidential Election of 2020
  • 2. Suffering and Sorrow
  • Philip J. Deloria on Native American History
  • Drew Gilpin Faust on Death and the Civil War
  • Ken Burns on the Vietnam War
  • Jack Jacobs on Military Service
  • 3. Restoration and Repair
  • Henry Louis Gates Jr. on Reconstruction
  • David W. Blight on Frederick Douglass
  • Elaine Weiss on Women's Suffrage
  • Jon Meacham on John Lewis and Civil Rights
  • 4. Invention and Ingenuity
  • Bhu Srinivasan on 400 Years of American Capitalism
  • Walter Isaacson on American Innovation
  • David McCullough on the Wright Brothers
  • Douglas Brinkley on the Race to the Moon
  • Dr. Francis S. Collins on the Human Genome Project and Scientific Research
  • 5. Creation and Culture
  • Wynton Marsalis on Jazz, America's National Art
  • Rita Moreno on the Actor's Life
  • Mark Bradford on the Visual Arts
  • Billie Jean King on Tennis and Activism
  • Cal Ripken Jr. on Baseball
  • 6. Becoming and Belonging
  • Lillian Faderman on the Struggle for Gay Rights
  • Jia Lynn Yang on the History of Immigration
  • Madeleine K. Albright on Being an Immigrant
  • Sonia Sotomayor on Civics and Civic Education
  • Acknowledgments
  • About the Contributors
  • Appendix I. Citizenship Test
  • Appendix II. Full Harris Poll Survey Results
  • Index
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Rubenstein follows The American Story with another stimulating collection of interviews with prominent historians and public figures. Focusing on 13 "key genes," including freedom of speech, immigration, and the American dream, that have "enabled the American Experiment to blossom," Rubenstein and his interview subjects touch on a wide range of topics, including whether U.S. capitalism would have developed differently without slavery, and the crucial role Al Gore played in "open up the Internet to people who want to dial in and use it for personal or commercial reasons." Other notable discussions include Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor on the need for better civic education in the U.S., West Side Story star Rita Moreno on her life, and Henry Louis Gates Jr. on Reconstruction. In one of the book's most memorable conversations, Medal of Honor recipient Jack Jacobs discusses his parents' horror at his decision to enlist and fight in the Vietnam War after graduating from college, and describes the Viet Cong ambush from which he rescued several wounded colleagues, despite taking shrapnel to the head ("the least significant portion of my body," Jacobs quips). Enriched by the diversity of its interviewees and Rubenstein's simple yet illuminating prompts ("Explain the Tet Offensive"; "When there were just thirteen colonies, did any let women vote?"), this is a rewarding survey of what makes America tick. (Sept.)

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

Influential Americans talk about the nation's past and future. Rubenstein, co-founder and co-chair of a private equity firm and an award-winning philanthropist who sits on the board of many arts, medical, educational, and historical associations (Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Council on Foreign Relations, the National Gallery of Art, and the Brookings Institution), follows a volume of conversations with noted historians with a similar collection featuring prominent intellectuals and cultural figures, including Walter Isaacson, Jill Lepore, David McCullough, Henry Louis Gates Jr., and Philip Deloria; sports figures Billie Jean King and Cal Ripken; filmmaker Ken Burns; musician Wynton Marsalis; and Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. These conversations--warm, engaging, and informative--help Rubenstein point up America's particular qualities ("America's Thirteen Key Genes") that "have made the whole American Experiment work" even though, facing significant challenges, the country has fallen short. Among these genes are democracy itself, voting, equality (which, he admits, is still aspirational), freedom of speech, rule of law, separation of powers, peaceful transfer of power, capitalism and entrepreneurship, immigration, diversity, the enduring American dream, and a culture in which individuals must be allowed "to pursue their talents and ambitions, largely unfettered by central control or government interference, with merit and skill prevailing to the greatest extent possible." When Rubenstein asked acclaimed actor Rita Moreno, a Puerto Rican immigrant, to define her legacy, she responded, "I would like people to think of me only in one way: she never gave up. Perseverance." Likewise, according to Sotomayor, "People only follow those they think are passionate. So you have to possess passion and, second, commitment driven by dedication and hard work. You do not get anywhere unless you work hard." Rubenstein offers a largely uncritical, celebratory view of America, as did most respondents to a 2020 Harris Poll (included as an appendix) that the author solicited. Friendly talks with exceptional individuals. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.