Paul Mellon Professor of American History at the University of Cambridge

Author of Liberty and Coercion: The Paradox of American Government, and historian of the twentieth-century United States speaking and writing on issues of American politics, immigration, and inequality


A new edition of my 2001 book, American Crucible, will be published late this month by Princeton University Press, with a new chapter on race and nation in the age of Obama, 2000-2016. The chapter is one of the first efforts in book form to analyze the entirety of Obama’s presidency and to grasp the meaning of the Trump victory in November. I have presented this new Obama-Trump material at two November 2016 conferences, one on the Obama presidency at Princeton (a conference written up in the New York Times), and the other at the annual seminar sponsored by the Center for American Studies in Rome. I will do so again twice in January, first at Oxford on January 18 and then at the University of Heidelberg on January 24. On January 30, I will moderate a session on the Trump presidency for the Cambridge American History seminar, and on March 10 I will participate in a debate at the Cambridge Union on Trump’s First Hundred Days. And then, maybe, it will be time to take a break from the Trump present and return to an investigation of the politics of America’s past.


My seventh book, Liberty and Coercion: The Paradox of American Government from the Founding to the Present, an interpretive history of the uses (and abuses) of public power in the United States from the Revolution to the present, is now available via Princeton University Press. An Updated Edition of American Crucible: Race and Nation in the Twentieth Century, with a new chapter, “Race and Nation in the Age of Obama,” is forthcoming from Princeton University Press, February 2017.


December 15, 2016

“Liberty and Coercion: The Paradox of American Government from the Founding to the Present,” Serious Times Lecture, School of the Visual Arts, New York City

January 18, 2017

“Race and Nation in the Age of Obama,” The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities, University of Oxford

January 24, 2017

“Race and Nation in the Age of Obama,” Baden-Wurttemberg Seminar, University of Heidelberg, Germany

More events

Liberty and Coercion


Winner of the 2016 Ellis W. Hawley Prize of the Organization of American Historians, for the best book-length study of the political economy, politics, or institutions of the United States, in its domestic or international affairs, from the Civil War to the present.

"A masterful overview of the dynamics that have shaped American politics."

–James Kloppenberg, Commonweal

full review

“Liberty and Coercion is a towering achievement, bristling with stimulating arguments and historical erudition.”

–Desmond King in the Financial Times, 12/11/2015

full-text PDF

"Terrific, engaging and deeply analytical. . . . An ambitious reinterpretation of American political history from the founding to the present."

–Beverly Gage in the New York Times Book Review, 01/24/2016

full review

"[A] brilliant work of American political history."

–National Book Review

full review

"[A] triumph."

–Charles Petersen in Bookforum, February/March 2016 (full-text PDF)

full-text PDF

"Liberty and Coercion is a pitch-perfect analysis of the contradictions built into America’s federalist system. It’s serious and disciplined yet piquant, provocative, and highly readable."

–Mark Joseph Stern, Slate, 03/08/2016

full review

"Gary Gerstle's complex book shines a light down countless twisted alleyways and switchbacks of America's past....[an] enlightening, alarming analysis."

–Elizabeth Cobbs in Times Higher Education, 01/14/2016

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"A tour de force account of American governance."

–Thomas Rodgers, Reviews in History, 05/2016

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Editors' Choice, New York Times Book Review, 2016

"Historians, politicians, and the public all seem to agree that Americans, especially when compared with their counterparts abroad, are libertarians at heart. Cambridge historian Gary Gerstle offers a provocative rejoinder to this assumption in his new history of the American state....[A] new way of thinking about the past and future of American politics."

–Best Books of 2015, Yale Center for History Enquiry and the Social Sciences, 01/25/2016

full review

"[A] pathbreaking interpretive approach."

–James M. Banner Jr., The Weekly Standard, 05/02/2016

full review

American Crucible, Updated Edition

An Updated Edition of American Crucible: Race and Nation in the Twentieth Century, with a new chapter, “The Age of Obama,” forthcoming from Princeton University Press, February 2017.

From Princeton UP: “This sweeping history of twentieth-century America follows changing and often conflicting ideas about the fundamental nature of American society: Is the United States a social melting pot, as our civic creed proclaims, or is full citizenship somehow reserved for those who are white and of the “right” ancestry? Gary Gerstle traces the forces of civic and racial nationalism, arguing that both profoundly shaped American society.”

Copyright Gary Gerstle © 2016. All Rights Reserved.

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