... stimulating ... Many histories of this important interregnum period have been written, but none emphasizes the fragility of the American experiment as strongly as Taylor’s book does ... Taylor, acutely sensitive to such strains on the national fabric, traces the continuing conflict between competing visions of democracy ... Taylor’s special contribution in American Republics is his capacity for panning out to capture major historical trends. Not only does he cover about five decades in a relatively concise 384 pages of text, but he discusses events and people in various sections of the nation and in Canada and Mexico as well. The result of this broad-spectrum approach is, as Taylor’s subtitle indicates, a truly continental history ... he shows his skill in producing an expansive overview that synthesizes discoveries by historians, including himself ... Whether as a gloss of received historical wisdom or as an overview whose originality lies in its comprehensiveness, American Republics succeeds admirably.
Taylor augments his analysis of war politics, including the conflict’s impact on the slavery question, with an unvarnished look at the war as it was actually conducted and, even at the time, condemned—not only by its political opponents but by voices within the American military ... It’s plainly important to Taylor that his books stand as accounts of all the blood we’ve let seep through the cracks ... [The American] habit of self-deception can imbue the reading of work like Taylor’s with the thrill of accessing illicit knowledge. And one of the most subversive and challenging ideas all good works of history offer is a sense that history can also move backward ... The generalization that our predecessors couldn’t have known or done better is challenged by the examples of those who did ... One leaves Taylor’s work understanding this fully—this isn’t Great Man history, but Some Guys history. The political leaders and famous personages that tower over our imaginations are condensed to life-size. They make grubby, horrid choices; they bumble, fumble, and scheme their way through moments of import alongside the extraordinary supporting cast of madmen, buffoons, and grifters that Taylor brings to life.
... a refreshing survey of our country’s tumultuous early years ... For Americans used to the comforting myth of an exceptional union boldly leading humanity in a better direction, this account may sting. Taylor doesn’t seek to salve such pain, but neither has he written a polemic. Diligently researched, engagingly written and refreshingly framed, American Republics is an unflinching historical work that shows how far we’ve come toward achieving the ideals in the Declaration—and the deep roots of the opposition to those ideals.