The American Future, By Simon Schama

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The Independent Culture

The Jiminy Cricket lookalike who pops up on virtually a daily basis to explain America for the BBC is Professor of Art History and History at Columbia University. Schama talks – and writes – a blue streak.

No wonder he can offer such insight into the tidal verbosity of the current president: "Listen to me, says Obama, check out my Cicero, my measured cadence, now legato, now staccato."

Treating American history as a temporal skating rink, Schama zips back and forth, exploring the civil war and then the evangelical attack on slavery that played a part in igniting the conflict.

Occasionally, the figure of Schama intrudes. His buttonholing of George Bush at a reception ("Your policy on immigration is about the only policy I've agreed with") induces sympathy for the former president. This gung-ho work is wholly in tune with its subject.