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Three Years in America, 1859-1862, by I. J. Benjamin

- Abstract

A century ago, when the foreign correspondent was almost unheard of and the social scientist was an armchair philosopher, America swarmed with scribbling travelers. Above all, they were curious about the kind of society that was developing in the New World. Their observations formed part of that second discovery of America which was one of the important concerns of 19th-century Europe; for the American social order seemed as portentous to 18th-and 19tlh-centurv Europeans as the untapped resources of the continent had been to the first age of discovery. The best of these amateur sociologists appraised American life with a verve and penetration that their professional successors often lacked; and their books retain an informal freshness that earnest scholarship may well envy.

Democracy in America, de Tocqueville’s great classic, has, of course, always been popular, and some of the early European commentaries on America have received a deservedly wide audience in recent years through anthologies and new editions. Many more, however, have never reached an American public and have rarely been consulted even by scholars. The present book, published originally in Germany in 1862, was very little known until Oscar Handlin seven years ago included a selection from it in an excellent anthology, This Was America. Now the whole work appears in English for the first time. Although much inferior to the more celebrated travel narratives of the period, it has a certain interest as the earliest such book by a Jew.

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