A visionary nation

Perceptive, edgy and articulate, Karabell embodies the voice and perspective of millions of 20- and 30-something intellectuals and professionals.
— Publishers Weekly
A competent history of what America thinks of itself.
— Amazon.com


"By writing A Visionary Nation, Zachary Karabell has moved from the modestly narrow to the breathtakingly broad. Karabell proposes that the United States has experienced five complete historical cycles, all of them linked by varying forms of utopian dreaming. The current manifestation of this pattern — the sixth cycle — is the New Economy of technological transformation, and it won't last forever. It will pass away like all the other cycles before it, from the Puritan vision for a City on a Hill (the first cycle) to the New Deal and Great Society eras of government activism in the 20th century (the fifth cycle). This is, to say the least, an ambitious thesis--and yet Karabell is a good enough writer to make it worthwhile for history buffs intrigued by his notion, even if they are not ready to endorse it. In fundamental ways, the spirituality and communitarianism Karabell foresees in the seventh stage will be a direct response to the materialism he sees in the sixth one. Readers attracted to this idea ought to find it fascinating."
 — John Miller, Amazon.com Review

"[Karabell] traces the visionary drive behind U.S. evolution from the Puritans' city on a hill to westward expansion and Carnegie's "Gospel of Wealth"; governmental growth precipitated by Teddy Roosevelt and realized under the New Deal; and the 1990s New Economy. Lastly, Karabell predicts three possible global scenarios: more people will make more money until "the rewards will be diffused throughout society"; the stock market will collapse, with all the attendant losses; or "the New Economy doesn't collapse but also doesn't fulfill its incredible promise." Perceptive, edgy and articulate, Karabell embodies the voice and perspective (tempered by considerable historical research) of millions of 20- and 30-something intellectuals and professionals."
— Publishers Weekly | read full review >

"Karabell positions the New Economy's Internet-based, market-driven utopia as only the latest fevered dream to consume the U.S. More an essay on steroids than an intellectual tome, this book skims American history from the Pilgrims to the present, as the writer recounts six great vision stages that forged today's United States. What's needed are not new visions, Karabell writes, but a more-grown-up way of handling the existing ones."
— Chicago Tribune | read full review >

Read the review from The Los Angeles Times.




America is a nation based on an idea. For nearly four centuries, Americans have shared the conviction that a perfect world is within reach. Running through our history is the presumption that we can have it all.

In A Visionary Nation, Zachary Karabell shows how this utopian impulse forms a continuous thread in the tapestry of the American experience and represents who we really are. In this penetrating volume, he brings the core of American history to life by examining its successive stages, each promising utopia and none delivering it. Karabell reveals that during every stage, there have been men and women who strove to transform the world. These are the visionaries who have defined American culture. Part history, part essay, part prediction, this profoundly original work tells the stories of visionaries past and present, from Anne Hutchinson to FDR, Alexander Hamilton to Bill Gates. It shows that if our history has proven one thing, it is that no era lasts forever. In striving for the ideal, we have achieved much, but never have realized our dreams of spiritual fulfillment and material prosperity. And so we are chronically plagued by disappointment that we have not achieved everything.

Along with this distinctive view of American history, Karabell offers his own vision of where our nation is heading. Just as the Puritan vision of a City on a Hill was supplanted by the Founding Fathers' vision of individuality, and just as the expansive vision of a government-led Great Society was eclipsed by the New Economy in the 1990s, so too will the New Economy be replaced in our near future by a period when community and spirituality will occupy center stage. Provocative, intelligent, and deeply engaging, A Visionary Nation provides a framework for understanding America's past while preparing us for the next phase of the nation's growth.