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A Fierce Discontent: The Rise and Fall of the Progressive Movement in America, 1870-1920 1st Edition

4.3 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195183658
ISBN-10: 0195183657
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Editorial Reviews

Review


"Simply put, this is history at its best.... A truly remarkable effort from one of our nation's finest historians."--Publishers Weekly "McGerr...captures the defining ethos of the progressive movement."--New York Times "[McGerr's] ambitious meld of character, policy, and context should make his book a landmark in the field."--The Nation "The author is a master of his subject, and his book may prove to be the definitive text on the triumphs and inevitable downfall of the progressive movement."--Christian Science Monitor


About the Author


Michael McGerr is Professor of History and Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Indiana University. He is the recipient of an NEH fellowship and several teaching awars, and speaks regularly on topics in American history, politics, and culture.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 395 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1st edition (July 7, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195183657
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195183658
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 0.9 x 6.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #30,634 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Advertised as an overview of the Progressive movement, A Fierce Discontent is more an effort to explore the psychology and social history of the Progressives. McGerr's essential point is that the Progressive movement was a middle class effort to assert control in a world where economic and social change were disturbing the economic, social, and psychological equipoise of the American middle classes. In this view, Progressivism includes both the political reform movements generally associated with the movement but also closely related efforts to extend middle class values to other sectors of society. In McGerr's analysis, a spectrum of moral regeneration efforts like prohibition movements are part of this general trend. McGerr also argues that the Progressive desire to enforce social control was a wellspring of the increasing Jim Crow legislation of the period. In McGerr's analysis, the great foe of the Progressive movement was not its apparent traditional enemies but the emerging consumer oriented mass culture which he sees as ultimately draining the vitality of Progressive appeal.

McGerr's basic model is cogent but several aspects of his analysis and presentation are incomplete to the point of being misleading. The basic model is not particularly novel; the dualistic view of Progressivism as a middle class bid for reform and control is, I think, widely accepted. Despite the fact that this book is about one of the great political reform movements in American history, there is almost nothing about politics per se in this book. This obscures one of the key sources of the Progressive movement. The Progressives of whom McGerr writes were inspired in part by the feeling that their class was playing a diminishing role in American political life.
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Format: Paperback
Reviewer David Montgomery said it well: "I felt the author was most focused on and interested in the Progressive belief in transforming other people to conform to this middle class vision of society and he handles the issue very ably".

McGerr's title: "A Fierce Discontent: The Rise and Fall of the Progressive Movement" has a striking historical citation as a hook. It follows with a promise to give the reader an understanding of a highly positive movement in American history - one that we could use at a time when more and ore historians, political commentators and economists are referring to the nation as being in a "new gilded age". I had hopes, given the bold title, that the author would share keen and balanced insights on the leaders and key events that built the Progressive movement. The end of the Progressive movement is more clear cut, given World War I and the Presidency of Warren Harding. He's now remembered perhaps most for the Teapot Dome scandal, and the word "bloviate". For those not familiar with it, Harding coined the term as referring to the act of speaking in a way so as to hold audience attention while really saying nothing.

Unfortunately the book has a much narrower focus, i.e. it is largely concerned with attempts to change the peoples' character or lives. Examples include anti-divorce, temperance movements, curbing the excesses of industrial magnates, and efforts to control prostitution. Even those subjects are dealt with in a rather personal and discursive way, lacking names, specific events, and concise characterizations.

I have to say that at a time like we have faced in the past couple of decades it would be especially timely to shed light on how U.S.
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Format: Paperback
In McGerr's view, progressivism was a broad based Victorian middle class movement dedicated to extending its way of life - sober, abstemious, moderate, associative, protective, hard-working, modern, consumerist if guiltily so - both upward to a profligate and individualist capitalist elite and downward to an unruly and dissipated working class.

Its work was only partially successful - antitrust, regulation, healthcare, communal associations - and ultimately done in by its own contradictions. Progressives, moderates by temperate and nature, could not embrace the extremism inherent in its boldest initiatives. This became apparent in the bold initiatives undertaken by the Wilson administration for World War I, greatly extending government reach in private and commercial affairs.

This is a rich and nuanced interpretation of the era. Jaklak sez check it out.
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By HH on January 23, 2016
Format: Paperback
This flawed but useful book on the influence of the Progressive movement in U.S. history illustrates both the potential and the limits of sentimental radicalism as a force in U.S. historiography. McGerr has a clear preference for radicals over Progressive middle-class leaders such as Jane Addams and Theodore Roosevelt, which gives him a better understanding of the limits of Progressivism than more conventionally liberal historians. Many historians of Progressivism have reluctantly acknowledged the popularity of eugenics and immigration restrictions among their subjects; McGerr goes further, illuminating the role Progressives played in establishing and then defending segregation and the degree to which they attempted to coercively reform the lower classes. Yet McGerr's nostalgic (and very middle class) radicalism creates blind spots of its own. In particular, by limiting his serious political analysis of Progressive thought to the early years of the period, he underestimates the radicalism that increasingly shaped Progressive leaders such as Theodore Roosevelt after 1910. One is left thinking that Mark Twain's description of the Widow Douglass, who wanted to "sivilize" Huck Finn and his father, is the best account of American Progressivism -- and that Twain's description of Huck "lighting out for the territories" to escape the shackles of her well-intentioned rules remains the best description of why the Mugwumps, prohibitionists, earnest professors, food cranks, suffragettes, segregationists, social workers, and missionaries of Progressive America never quite got their way.
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