Democracy Awakening: Notes on the State of America
A New York Times Bestseller
A vital and urgent call to action about the precarious state of American democracy, charting its historical challenges and current threats, from one of our era’s most important and insightful historians.
“Magisterial.” –The Washington Post
“An excellent primer for anyone who needs the important facts of the last 150 years of American history–and how they got us to the sorry place we inhabit today.” –Guardian
At a time when the very foundations of democracy seem under threat, the lessons of the past offer a roadmap for navigating a moment of political crisis. In Democracy Awakening, acclaimed historian Heather Cox Richardson delves into the tumultuous journey of American democracy, revealing how the roots of Donald Trump’s “authoritarian experiment” can be traced back through the earliest days of the republic. She examines the historical forces that have led to the current political climate, showing how modern conservatism has preyed upon a disaffected population, weaponizing language and promoting false history to consolidate power.
With remarkable clarity and the same accessible voice that brings millions of readers to her newsletter, Letters from an American, Richardson wrangles a chaotic news feed into a coherent story that singles out what we should pay attention to and what possible paths lie ahead. Her command of history and trademark plainspoken prose allow her to pivot effortlessly from the Founders to the abolitionists to Reconstruction to Nixon to the January 6 insurrection, highlighting the political legacies of the New Deal, the lingering fears of socialism, the death of the liberal consensus, and the birth of “movement conservatism.”
An essential read for anyone concerned about the state of America, Democracy Awakening is more than a history book; it’s a call to action. Richardson reminds us that democracy is not a static institution but a living, evolving process that requires constant vigilance and participation from all of us. This powerful testament to the resilience of democratic ideals shows how we, as a nation, can take the lessons of the past to address today’s challenges and secure a more just and equitable future.
Praise for Democracy Awakening: Notes on the State of America
The Washington Post's "50 Best NonFiction Books of 2023"
Kirkus Review's "2023 Best NonFiction Books of the Year"
“[Democracy Awakening] is the most lucid just-so story for Trump’s rise I’ve ever heard. It’s magisterial.” –Virginia Heffernan, Washington Post
“Necessary U.S. history ... an excellent primer for anyone who needs the important facts of the last 150 years of American history – and how they got us to the sorry place we inhabit today.” –Guardian US
“Heather Cox Richardson’s Democracy Awakening is an important addition to the burgeoning literature and scholarship on what I have characterized as America’s Third Reconstruction…she is at her best simply telling us the story of how we came to be living on the brink of ending our nearly 250-year democratic experiment.”
–Peniel Joseph, Democracy
"A fresh historical interpretation of American democracy and its many challenges...It’s an unusual but effective structure, allowing Richardson to do what she does best: show her readers how history and the present are in constant conversation. Reminding us that 'how it comes out rests…in our own hands,' Richardson empowers us for the chapters yet to come."
—Kirkus Review (starred review)
“Engaging and highly accessible.”—Boston Globe
“This is a vibrant, and essential history of America's unending, enraging and utterly compelling struggle since its founding to live up to its own best ideals. From yesterday's enslavers to today's authoritarians, it shows how bad actors have always tried to twist history to serve their own purposes, but again and again, less powerful challengers have risen and often won. It's both a cause for hope, and a call to arms.”
—Jane Mayer, author Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right
“With her characteristic powerful prose, Heather Richardson explores the raging (in every sense of the word) political, cultural, and social forces that an elite minority has fostered to divide Americans, erode democracy, and rise to power. By reclaiming this history, she reminds us that democracy is a process, not an endpoint -- and that it demands our efforts now, more than ever.”
—Joanne Freeman, Professor of History at Yale University and author of Field of Blood
"No one understands the warp and woof of the complicated tapestry that is the United States, no one apprehends the undertow and disparate forces that have directed the tides of American politics, no one forges the connections between then and now better than Heather Cox Richardson does. The result is a cogent, challenging, thoughtful, riveting and beautiful narrative. Brava!"
—Ken Burns, Filmmaker
“For the last several turbulent years, millions have looked to Heather Cox Richardson’s daily letters for vital historical perspective, wisdom, and moral clarity. In Democracy Awakening, Richardson goes beyond the news cycle to explain how we got here, placing our current political crisis against the age-old struggle to expand civil rights and economic opportunity. What emerges is a brilliant and honest account of our nation’s past and present. If you care about American democracy—and are engaged in the fight to preserve it—this book is a must-read.”
—Preet Bharara, former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York