The mountain-top volleys from any scholarly set-to among social historians concerning the elusive roots of American democracy do reach our ears from time to time, and this rather formidable cannonade just may strike off some sparks, although it is hardly leisure reading. The author’s efforts seem to have been spurred on by academics past and present (including historians Elkins and McKitrick) who have examined frontier communities and others more current and have concluded that democracy is a process of peaceful decision-making in a self-contained, homogeneous community. Dr. Dykstra, taking umbrage, has moved through the years 1867-1885 in five “”frankly ambitious frontier settlements,”” and has plowed up enough evidence in the social, political, economic, etc. areas to state with confidence that instead of the traditional view of conflict hindering progress, one should brace conflict with cooperation on an equal basis. Conflict, Dykstra insists was “”normal . . . inevitable . . . a format for community decision . . . change.”” A shift in focus that just might–in an undoubtedly popular interpretation–cheer our chaotic days. A thorny, difficult book but worthy.
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Published by Knopf Jul 10, 2013| 352 Pages| ISBN 9780307830852