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American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nationby Michael Kazin
Synopses & Reviews
A panoramic yet intimate history of the American left—of the reformers, radicals, and idealists who have fought for a more just and human society, from the abolitionists to Noam Chomsky and Michael Moore—that gives us a revelatory new way of looking at two centuries of American politics and culture.
Michael Kazin—one of today’s most respected historians of American politics—takes us from abolitionism and early feminism to the labor struggles of the industrial age, as well as to the emergence of anarchists and socialists and, later, the communists of the twentieth century; he shows how, in the sixties and seventies, the New Left fell short politically but transformed the cultural landscape. While few of these movements achieved success on their own terms, Kazin shows how they also did much to bring about signifi cant changes: equal opportunity for all; the celebration of sexual pleasure; multiculturalism in the media and schools; the popularity of books and films with altruistic and anti-authoritarian messages.
Deeply informed, at once judicious and impassioned, and superbly written, American Dreamers is an essential book for our time and for an enlarged understanding of our political history.
"Feminists, labor militants, civil rights stalwarts, and socialists have captured America's heart — though rarely its votes — according to this perceptive history of the radical left. Kazin (The Populist Persuasion), editor of Dissent magazine, surveys visionaries, organizers, and rabble-rousers, including abolitionists and free-love communards of the 1830s, Gilded Age utopian novelists and temperance crusaders, feisty Wobblies and avant-garde bohemians, patriotic Popular Front Communists and '60s firebrands. From this tumult of movements and personalities — everyone from John Brown to Naomi Klein, Dr. Seuss to Noam Chomsky — Kazin discerns continuities: radicals, he contends, succeed by influencing liberals rather than winning power, and by championing individual freedom and self-fulfillment; they fail when they attack religion and nationalism, advocate economic leveling, or advance sectarian purity and Marxist dogmas. Kazin's argument that the socialist economic program was always 'stillborn' while the Left's cultural project — social equality, identity politics, artistic freedom, sexual liberation, and antiauthoritarianism — has triumphed is not new, and it lends the book a tone more of eulogy than of celebration; still this is a lively and lucid synthesis of a vital political tradition. Photos. (Aug.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Book News Annotation:
In this account of the American Left from the 1820s through 2010, Kazin (history, Georgetown U.) clashes with the traditional view of the American Left as a failure and asserts that left-leaning radicals and reformers helped make the US a more humane society, paving the way for equal opportunity for women and minorities, celebration of diversity and sexuality, and anti-authoritarian attitudes. The book begins with a look at the goals and successes of the abolitionists, the women's suffrage movement, and the growth of socialist colonies, then covers labor organizers. Three factions of socialist movements of the 20th century are described, and the paradox of American Communism is examined. Kazin is co-editor of Dissent. Annotation ©2011 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
About the Author
Michael Kazin is professor of history at Georgetown University. He is the author of A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan, The Populist Persuasion, and Barons of Labor and coauthor of America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s. He is coeditor of Dissent, a frequent contributor to numerous publications, including The New York Times, and The Nation, and the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Woodrow Wilson Center, and twice from the Fulbright Scholar Program. He lives outside Washington, D.C.
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