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Hardcover The Age of Reform: From Bryan to F.D.R. Book

ISBN: 039441442X

ISBN13: 9780394414423

The Age of Reform: From Bryan to F.D.R.

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At the heart of poetic tradition is a figure of abandonment, a woman forsaken and out of control. She appears in writings ancient and modern, in the East and the West, in high art and popular culture produced by women and by men. What accounts for her perennial fascination? What is her function- in poems and for writers? Lawrence Lipking suggests many possibilities. In this figure he finds a partial record of women's experience, an instrument for...

Customer Reviews

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One of Hofstadter's best.

This is a really seminal work. Hofstadter's writing is the first thing that struck me. It is fluid, crisp, and devoid of the florid verbosity that so often fills scholarly treatments (let's face it, good historians are rarely good writers). The parallels between the bust-and-boom of Western commercial real estate in 1880s and the modern economic crisis are eerily similar. In addition, a lot of the rhetoric that emerged from the Progressive movement (railing against the securitization of finance, corporate greed, etc.) is resurfacing now, over 100 years later. It's really an essential work for anyone interested in the Populist and Progressive movements. I look forward to reading more Hofstadter.

Richard Hofstadter: An Enduring Influence

Richard Hofstadter (1916-1970) was a prolific writer and commentator on the Gilded Age and Progressive Eras, a founding member of the "Consensus School" of American history, and a scathing critic of the conservatism of his day. Often portrayed, in his day and since, as the "finest and also most humane historical intelligence of our generation", Hofstadter was one of the most distinguished historians of the twentieth century . Over the course of his too brief life, Hofstadter the DeWitt Clinton Professor of American History at Columbia University, was the author of several groundbreaking books including, `The Age of Reform (1955) and Anti-intellectualism in American Life (1963), both of which won the Pulitzer Prize in non-fiction . A vigorous champion of the liberal politics that emerged from the New Deal, Hofstadter fought public campaigns against liberalism's most dynamic opponents from McCarthy in the 1950s to Barry Goldwater and the Sun Belt Conservatives in the 1960s. His distaste of the extreme politics of post war America, expressed in his books, essays and public lectures, marked him as one of the nation's most important and prolific public intellectuals. The range of his interests was unusual, extending from the earliest phases of the American Experience through to the concerns of his day. A `specialist' he was not, a master of the subjects he covered he was; which was widely acknowledged and respected. Hofstadter's principle theme of the importance of ideas in history, more precisely the relation between the way people behaved, in politics and other realms of effort, and the use they made of their mind, along with the idea that history is akin to literature, had an immense impact on his students, colleagues and the entire academic world. Extremely active, Hofstadter was continuously embarking on new thought provoking work right up to his death, caused by leukaemia on October 24, 1970, which caught him, as he himself had written of one of his favourite politicians many years before very much "in the midst of things" . Hofstadter's "The Age of Reform: From Bryan to FDR" played a significant role in establishing his influence and reputation. The book received critical acclaim when published in 1955 and won the Pulitzer Prize the following year. "The Age of Reform" many are inclined to agree, even its detractors of which are many "is the most influential book ever published on the history of twentieth century America" . This landmark book in American political thought is a study of American political culture from the Populist Movement of the 1890s through the Progressive Era ending with the New Deal of the 1930s. "The Age of Reform" is an evaluation of the reform associations from Bryan to F.D.R., and analyses the ideas of each participant, rather than the legislative or political philosophies, and does not regurgitate the number of details of each reform movement. Hofstadter's analysis of the reformations in a modern perspective and the d

Very well written but historically unjust

Hofstadter ranks with Bancroft, Beard, and Tuckman as one of the great scholars of American history. AGE OF REFORM definitely shows why; his scholarly, permeating style impresses his words into your mind, changing both your scope and sense of American history. In this book, he tracks various reformist groups that shaped America, starting with the Populists of the late 19th century and ending with the New Deal reforms of FDR. Hofstadter's thoughts on the early 20th century Progressives and New Dealers conform with the writings of most other historians. It is Hofstadter's section on the Populists that has always generated the most controversy, both in the past and still today. In the first third of the book, Hofstadter writes of the American "agrarian myth" and how the Populist farmers sought the "lost agrarian ideals" of Jefferson and Jackson. He emphasizes how the Populists were basically reactionary whiners who impetuously thought themselves deserving of some special privelage, simply because they were farmers, the supposed "All-American" profession. Hofstadter goes further by describing the Populists as jingoistic proto-facists. By use of effective documentation, he shows this "dark side" of Populism, with its demagogic rants against politicians, urbanites, Britons, Jews, and immigrants.Although Hofstadter indeed is very effective in his writing and documentation, he fails in the aspect of fair historical analysis. When one reads AGE OF REFORM, one should always remember the Populists from a broader perspective than Hofstadter's biased urban views. In truth, the Populists are one of American history's unfortunate losers; like the Loyalists and Native Americans, the Populists failed in almost all their immediate objectives; their leaders, like William Jennings Bryan and Tom Watson, are best remembered as lost crusaders. They lost because they were simply ahead of their time; they were New Dealers in a time when the New Deal was ignored and not accepted. The Populists lost in their present because their reforms were meant for the future; thus, at least the future should appreciate and judge the past correctly. Although Hofstadter writes an enthralling historical work, his unjust view of the Populists should not be taken by modern readers as absolute truth.

An indispensable and enduring work

It's not every book that can change one's thinking about a political movement and a period in history, but Hofstadter's book did just that for me when I first read it many years ago. It's an incisive critique of the populist and progressive movements that sprang up in the last quarter of the 19th century and exerted strong influence on American politics until the onset of World War I. But Hofstadter's great achievement is that he sets both these movements in historical perspective, showing us that no movement flowers without roots.Hofstadter is at his best in revealing that the populist movement played -- and preyed -- on the longing of Americans for a pastoral, agrarian past that was ironically little more than myth by the end of Reconstruction. In an increasingly industrial, urban America, the populists were able to set themselves up as downtrodden victims of various villians, chief among them the railroads and the banks.Yet Hofstadter convincingly argues that the farmers of the West were eager to become businessmen in the boom years following the Civil War, when land and capital were cheap. It was not until they were battered by the economic slumps that are an inevitable part of a market economy that the agrarian movement began demanding government intervention to reign in capital and portraying agriculture as especially worthy of special attention.The populist's appeal to the little man, dwarfed by powers beyond his control, played well in some segments of the U.S., but Hofstadter portrays a darker side of populism, exposing its anti-foreign and anti-Semitic leanings. Reading about the populist's railings against foreigners and their dark hints of conspiracy by vast economic and political powers, I heard echoes of the speeches of Pat Buchanan.As for the progressives, the urban reformers who overlapped to some extent with the populists, Hofstadter cogently points out that this middle class movement was in large part a reaction to the growing influence of immigrants in large American cities. The middle class, he argues, was feeling squeezed between the waves of immigrants, who were increasingly catered to by machine politicians, and the new and enormously rich industrial class. The progressive movement was an attempt to wrest back some measure of political strength by undercutting the power of the bosses with "good government" and to reign in the economic clout of the industrialists through reform.This is required reading for the student of American history. We have produced few historians who match the stature and achievement of Hofstadter, and this book is one of his best.

FROM RUGGED INDIVIDUALISM TO STATE WELFARE

Richard Hosstadter was one of our most profound social commentators and it will be a long while before his equal comes along. In this book he highlights the rather surprising fact that Conservatives were the first to back the Progressive idea that replaced Populism. The Progressive mentality, with roots in the Protestant ethic felt the individual was responsible for improvement of "everything." It was an idea congenial to Teddy Roosevelt, who took it and ran with it, and it reached its culmination in Woodrow Wilson. As Hofstadter shows, Wilson led us into WWI with the idea that it was our responsibility to save civilization, rather than our self interested need to survive intact ourselves in a congenial economic milieu which would not have been likely if the Central Powers had won the war. The devastation and human wreckage wrought by the war brought home to Americans what they mistakenly considered the price of idealism (rather than the price of survival) and turned them toward a reaction that killed Progressivism. One result was the Flapper Era, reaction characteristic of general Eurphoria, undoubtedly sustained by prosperity. Hofstadter makes a remarkable case that explains how we got Prohibition and that, remarkably, it was tolerated by that era, He traces its development to a strange conjunction between a Progressive holdover, reaction against city loose morals and nativism. (Perhaps true, at least he makes a good case for the develpment of what is otherwise an inexplicable contradiction.) When the bubble busted in 1929 with the market crash followed by world depression, the stage had been set for acceptance of state reponsibility for human welfare, with roots going back rather surprisingly to Conservatives who first made a congenial environment for Progressive ideas on the notion that they were preserving individualism. This, of course, is ironic, since it was the Conservatives who had a hissie over the New Deal and FDR. Hofstadter also points out that major swings of national policy depend upon moods of the people at the time. Cycles exist. Unfortunately, he doesn't provide a formula for creating, sustaining of killing moods, probably because no one can. In any case he gives us hope that the mood we hate will pass away; for example PC which currently seems to threaten our basic notion of freedom will fly out the window someday, perhaps having served a good purpose for all of its arrogant intolerance of free discussion and conduct, especially in our colleges and universities. A derned good book to read in installments as I do, in a hot tub in the morning while I try to get my weary bones articulating. To balance Hofstadter try Albro Martin to whom Hofstadter's idea of acceptance of such things as government regulation of railroads (starting with the Hepburn Act) was anathema and actually came close to destroying them. They agree that TR's trustbusting was cosmetic, with Hofstadter seeing some good in it
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