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By Alexis de Tocqueville / Sever and Francis / 1864
In 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville and Gustave de Beaumont were commissioned by the French government to study America’s prison system. The two took a nine-month tour of the country studying prisons, but also the character of American religion, politics, and society. Tocqueville noted the lack of regard for social class, the high regard for labor, and the equality of economic opportunity. Two years later they’d published their official report on penitentiaries, but it was Tocqueville’s Democracy in America the stores could not keep in stock.
In Democracy in America, Tocqueville examines why democracy flourished in America, while having disastrous effects elsewhere. Tocqueville admires the American constitution, but gives most of the credit to American “habits of mind.” He credits America’s Puritan foundations for creating a climate of equality, with a dominant middle class and an emphasis on religious and political liberty. Throughout the massive work, Tocqueville becomes the first to identify the ideology of separate spheres for men and women, and he makes many accurate predictions about slavery and industry—anticipating both the Civil War between North and South, and the Cold War between Russia and the United States.
Marking a new era of social science, Tocqueville’s classic work is a necessity in the library of any student of politics, sociology, or history.
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At once the best book ever written on democracy and the best book ever written on America.
—Harvey Mansfield, William R. Kenan Jr., Professor of Government, Harvard
Alexis de Tocqueville (1805–1859) was a French political philosopher and historian, best known for his works Democracy in America and The Old Regime and Revolution. He was a pioneer in modern political science and sociology, famously analyzing the societal changes provoked by democratic society. Actively engaged in French politics most of his life, he retired after Napoleon’s 1851 coup and focused on his writing. He died of tuberculosis in the spring of 1859.