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Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-59) came to America in 1831 to see what a great republic was like. What struck him most was the country’s equality of conditions, its democracy. The book he wrote on his return to France, Democracy in America, is both the best ever written on democracy and the best ever written on America. It remains the most often quoted book about the United States, not only because it has something to interest and please everyone, but also because it has something to teach everyone.
When it was published in 2000, Harvey Mansfield and Delba Winthrop’s new translation of Democracy in America—only the third since the original two-volume work was published in 1835 and 1840—was lauded in all quarters as the finest and most definitive edition of Tocqueville’s classic thus far. Mansfield and Winthrop have restored the nuances of Tocqueville’s language, with the expressed goal “to convey Tocqueville’s thought as he held it rather than to restate it in comparable terms of today.” The result is a translation with minimal interpretation, but with impeccable annotations of unfamiliar references and a masterful introduction placing the work and its author in the broader contexts of political philosophy and statesmanship.