“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
These familiar words, written by Emma Lazarus in 1883 to honor the Statue of Liberty, expressed an American attitude of the time. The golden door—the harbor of New York City—was open to thousands of European immigrants, immigrants who were more than welcome to contribute their efforts to the rapidly developing country. In his fourth book on the history of the United States, Isaac Asimov takes up this period of dynamic growth and explores the fifty years stretching from the end of the Civil War to the end of World War I, when the United States had become the strongest nation in the world. As in his other books, he demonstrates his genius for making history exciting and human and for presenting the interweaving threads of history in a clear and understandable pattern.
As with the other books on United States history, particularly Our Federal Union, this book isn’t so much bad as not as good as the others, for the same reasons—the narrative is choppy (for Asimov), and the competition is too fierce.
Moreover, as Asimov gets closer and closer to his own time, he becomes less and less objective. He is never one to be terribly sympathetic to social injustice, but he becomes increasingly hostile as he reaches the 20th century, and this tends to detract from the book as well.
One note, however, about this book—I actually found an error in it. I sent Asimov a letter pointing it out, and he sent a very nice post card replying—but, of course, he never had a chance to correct it.