Alistair Cooke's America
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Alistair Cooke's America

Ratings: 6.41/10 from 29 users.

Alistair Cooke's AmericaA classic from what now seems like the Golden Age of TV documentaries, Alistair Cooke’s America (America: A Personal History of the United States) was first broadcast in 1972-3 and it remains, along with the contemporary The World at War, an example of how documentaries should be made.

There’s none of the flashy editing, wobbly camera-work, over-intrusive music or costumed actors prancing around in the mode of Simon Schama’s fussy History of Britain for example.

Here there is just scenery, the odd map or illustration and - most importantly - Cooke himself talking directly and unhurriedly to camera.

1. The First Impact is a personal memoir of Cooke's infatuation with the United States - through early contacts as a child and as a visiting fellow after university - and its effect on his life.

2. The New Found Land follows the lives, settlements, and influence of the Spanish in the west and the French in the east.

3. Home from Home relates the settlement of America by English dissenters and adventurers in the 16th and 17th centuries, from the Jamestown Settlement to the Pilgrim Fathers.

4. Making a Revolution looks at the War of Independence, the struggle to break free of British control.

5. Inventing a Nation chronicles the forging of the nation through the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and the great debate between the national and individual state governments.

6. Gone West is about the pioneers, from Daniel Boone to the "Forty-Niners"; expansion through the Louisiana Purchase; and the dispossession of Native Americans.

7. A Firebell in the Night tells of slavery and life in the Southern states and of the events, causes, and effects of the Civil War.

8. Domesticating a Wilderness deals with the great push westward by the settlers, including the Mormons; the crossing of the continent by railroad; the myth of the cowboy; the domestication of the land by settlers local and foreign; and the final conquest of the Native Americans after much warfare.

9. Money on the Land addresses the rise and effects of business and technology, touching Chicago, the reaper, Edison, oil, Rockefeller and Carnegie, and the moneyed classes.

10. The Huddled Masses covers the rise and influence of mass immigration in the 19th and 20th centuries, and the current "melting pot".

11. The Promise Fulfilled and the Promise Broken surveys life, prosperity, and politics in the 1920s, leading to the Great Depression and the rise of the New Deal.

12. Arsenal examines the rise of the reluctant United States to world military power, the growth of the United Nations, and the United States as a nuclear power.

13. The More Abundant Life concludes the series by looking at contemporary America in the 1960s and early 1970s, and how it had diverged from the original aims of the settlers, and its hope for the future.

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John H Hummer
7 years ago

Chris, a '1st year film 'student' ' wouldn't be fractional as knowledgeable as Allistar Cooke. Had you watched the series with interest in learning about your country, much of which, is NOT in the 'rubber stamped' school books, high school or otherwise we are/were taught, you 'might' have learned much.......The series is/was very informative n revealing in so many ways, I wouldn't know how to put it all in one measly paragraph.
I've watched the series many times, n not only enjoy doing so, but gain so much knowledge about American History I was never taught in school!! Allistar Cooke put it best himself. 'The truth was sugared."

Linda Young
10 years ago

The first episode is Cooke's personal recollection of coming to the US in the 1930s and about the things that impressed him most about the country. The rest of the series focuses on US history. Saw this for the first time on NBC in 1972 (still have the poster from the series which was sent to all high-school history teachers which I begged from my 11th grade history teacher at the end of the school year; it's framed and mounted in my foyer)--liked history then, but this made me a lifelong history buff. Heads and shoulders above modern programs like THE STORY OF US, which appear to think we need "celebrities" commenting on events in history. Yuck.

12 years ago

I have to agree that i found this to be a messed. A little biased and overwhelmingly distracting from any of the points he was trying to make. Overall leaving me confused.Speaking personally it actually seemed to me to e something a first year film student made. And I should know I work as a tech at a film school.

12 years ago

agreed. A definite one to watch. Well done.

12 years ago

Epic, amazing, insightful, and punctuated with charming prose and memories from it's well spoken narrator. Truly a classic. One of the best documentaries about America of all times. Watch the entire thing to understand.

12 years ago

This documentary series is awesome, entertaining and educational.

12 years ago

@ ponderman

You should have kept watching. The first part is about his first visit to America and as you said is somewhat sporadic. But, then it launches into a very ordered and sequential history of the US. This is a great documentary in my opinion, and a refreshing change from the usual bashing Western culture always gets.

12 years ago

This doc is a mess. First he talking about the depression, a few minutes later he's in New Orleans talking about the blues, moments later he's discussing how the trees in Appalachians change colors...I couldnt take

12 years ago

This series is brilliant!