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Kenneth Ellman Reviews Max Lerner America As a Civilization

America As a Civilization by Max Lerner. Oct. 7, 2013. The one volume hardcover 1957 edition reviewed by Kenneth Ellman,email:, Newton, New Jersey 07860
Maxwell “Max” Alan Lerner the author of “American As A Civilization” and many other works died on June 5, 1992. He was born in Russia and came to the United States with his parents in 1907. He was a graduate of Yale University, Washington University in St. Louis, and earned a doctorate from the Brookings Institution in 1927. To a certain extent his life was a study of America and his many writings, including his thousands of columns for the New York Post reflect that. America as a Civilization was published in 1957 but the thinking and views expressed therein are a valuable insight into the United States.

His perspectives cover as many measurements of America as can be reached for a modern history text. This 1036 page work, including the Index ranges over a vast territory of views covering creation of the nation to developing social structures, legal concepts, economics, religious beliefs and practically any historical measurement of a culture. In a work of a nation it is difficult to address the very many ideas, facts and observations to portray what life is like in that place and time. But as an example this book even addressed concerns of medical care and health insurance which as I write this review now in October of 2013 we are in the midst of the House of Representatives refusing to approve certain budgetary demands of the President until this issue is again addressed.

As written by Lerner in 1957 on page 125: “One of six Americans suffers from some chronic illness, and from six to seven million of them suffer seriously…” . “The greater difficulty thus far, however, has been the high cost of medical care especially for the lower middle classes who fall between the free public facilities and the expensive private ones.”

Lerner has an extensive discussion of provision of heath care, as most everything else you can think of and it is quite amazing.
In discussing the American Legal System his views are far ranging and bring out realities of the institution. On page 436 he states: ” Unlike the Continent, there is no specialized training for the judicial profession as such. The judges come up from the ranks of lawyers and go back to legal practice when their terms are up or when they find a judge’s salary inadequate.” “But it is hard to respect the dignity of the Court when it is presided over by a man who you knew only yesterday as your legal competitor and perhaps even inferior, since it is not always the lawyer of ability or integrity who achieve the judicial robes.”

On Page 438, Lerner reminds us of what we have created: “Thurman Arnold pointed up the paradox of Americans’ calling for law enforcement at the same time that they multiply laws beyond the point of enforceability and violate them from day to day.”

It is not possible to do justice to this well known modern classic in a short review. I remember it being on my parents bookshelf when I was growing up. It should be on your bookshelf today. You need not agree with Lerner to get value from his work. The ideas and views here provide ample opportunities for debate and discussion. That is the point and goal, to stimulate the mind and learn history at the same time. It should be read and used in every high school to enrich the thinking of our students. Lerner reminds me of those ancient Greek and Roman Historians or of men such as Edward Gibbon who would try in their writing to capture their time in a massive picture and keep it for posterity. He does so.
Kenneth Ellman, 18 ,Newton, New Jersey 07860