19th Century American Intellectual History Top Ten Booklist

The Metaphysical Club by Louis Menard

Intellectual history is an intriguing field because it is by its very nature cross-disciplinary. While these books may be in arguably different fields (History of Sex, History of Religion, Legal History, History of Technology, Political History, etc.) they are all, at their core, deeply concerned with the history of ideas. Intellectual history is not the history of old, white philosophers stroking their beards behind mahogany desks.

One of the books on this list, The Metaphysical Club, has already appeared on one of our lists in the past because not only is an outstanding book exploring the philosophical concept of pragmatism, but it helped illuminate the history of the Gilded Age. Nathan Hatch's book The Democratization of Christianity looks at the Second Great Awakening and is a preeminent book of American Religious History. Still, the Second Great Awakening was not just a religious movement because contained important intellectual ideas that changed the course of American history. Each of these books, in their own way, accomplish this delicate balancing act.

As with all of our lists, if you disagree with the lists feel free to create a new and better version of it.

  1. Louis Menand, The Metaphysical Club (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2002)
  2. Irving H. Bartlett, The American Mind in the Mid-Nineteenth Century (Wiley-Blackwell, 1982)
  3. Anne C. Rose, Voices of the Marketplace: American Thought and Culture, 1830-1860 (Rowman & Littlefield, 2004)
  4. Kenneth Cmiel, Democratic Eloquence: The Fight Over Popular Speech in 19th Century America (University of California Press, 1991)
  5. Nancy Isenberg, Sex and Citizenship in Antebellum America (UNC Press, 1998)
  6. Lewis Perry, Boats Against the Current: American Culture Between Revolution and Modernity, 1820-1860 (Oxford University Press, 1993)
  7. Rosalind Rosenberg, Beyond Separate Spheres: Intellectual Roots of Modern Feminism (Yale University Press, 1983)
  8. Leo Marx, The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America (Oxford University Press, 2000 - 35th Anniversary Edition)
  9. Nathan O. Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity (Yale University Press, 1989)
  10. Jeffrey Sklansky, The Soul's Economy: Market Society and Selfhood in American Thought, 1820-1920 (UNC Press, 2002)