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Fighting Bob La Follette: The Righteous Reformer Hardcover – September 25, 2000

ISBN-13: 978-0807825457 ISBN-10: 080782545X Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 408 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press; 1 edition (September 25, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080782545X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807825457
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,233,124 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

One of America's most important Progressive-era leaders, Robert Marion La Follette (1855-1925) was an uncompromising advocate for workers and the poorAboth in Washington, D.C., as a senator and representative, and in Wisconsin, as governor. This new biography, by historian Unger (Santa Clara University) elegantly weaves together the story of La Follette's family life with his heralded career. The two strands of his life merge best through Unger's account of his marriage to Belle Case La Follette, whom Unger calls "[o]ne of the most... politically influential spouses in American history." Although that may overstate the case (Belle doesn't really appear to be in the same league as Eleanor Roosevelt or even Abigail Adams), her independent spirit did help shape her husband's career. Having refused for years to commit to marrying BobAopting for the women's suffrage lecture circuit insteadAshe was instrumental in getting her husband to think about women's rights. Unger's narrative is riveting even when she is considering political history straightforwardlyAthat is, without the charms of family anecdotes. Under La Follette's governorship, she recounts, Wisconsin led the nation in Progressive reformAthe state adopted the direct primary, passed an antilobby law, reformed civil service statutes, enacted land conservation regulations and reined in the railroads and utilities. A politician who put the well-being of the American people over petty party politics, La Follette, Unger argues, prefigured the New Deal era. This passionate, engaging and scholarly book may not alter the fact that Americans have largely forgotten about La Follette and his legacy, but it does a good job trying. Illus. (Sept.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Robert M. La Follette (1855-1925), Wisconsin governor and U.S. senator, was a giant among progressive-era (1880s-1920s) reformists. He and Belle Case La Follette, his wife, relentlessly championed the political and economic rights of workers, women, minorities, farmers, and the poor while assailing racial and sexual discrimination and industrialists' overwhelming influence in Congress. Unger (history, Santa Clara Univ.) mines voluminous collections of private papers and documents to reveal La Follette's dynamism, childhood, married life, recurring illnesses, and sense of righteous perfection and his progressive ideas (e.g., the direct election of senators), which are now part of American civic culture. Unger also explains how events like the Titanic disaster and the 1912 presidential election influenced La Follette's political plans. A worthwhile purchase for academic and public libraries, Unger's critical biography hints that today's America desperately needs democratic, grass roots- oriented politicians of high caliber like La Follette. Recommended for public and academic libraries.DCharles L. Lumpkins, Pennsylvania State Univ., State College
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author

Nancy C. Unger believes that the study of history is not only fun, but vital to understanding the present--and can be a powerful tool in solving today's problems. She is Professor of History at Santa Clara University. The New York Times said of her first book,the award-winning Fighting Bob La Follette: The Righteous Reformer, "La Follette leaps from its pages." Her op-eds, syndicated by the History News Service, have appeared in newspapers across the country, including the Chicago Sun-Times, Maimi Herald, San Francisco Chronicle, and Kansas City Star. Her radio appearances include Wisconsin Public Radio, Talking History, and AIR AMERICA and she has consulted with Bill Moyers for PBS. She is particularly proud of the cover image of her new book Beyond Nature's Housekeepers: it's her mother-in-law at age 16, at ranch camp in Arizona in 1946!

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey J. Matthews on January 5, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This is an excellent biography of a most worthy subject. Nancy Unger provides readers with a vivid and often entertaining account of one of the most important American political figures of the early twentieth century. Crucial to Unger's effectiveness is her dedication to balanced histocial writing. Her portrayal of La Follette is multifacted. It is political and personal. La Follette comes to life for the reader, not only enroute to his many political successes but also amid his failures and personal shortcomings. Unger's lauditory praise of her subject is deserving and her sharp criticisms are valid and substantiated. La Follette was an influential and flawed champion of democacy and social equity, and interested readers will thoroughly enjoy this insightful retelling of his life story.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Nino Brown on November 19, 2009
Format: Paperback
Coming from the heart of La Follette territory, the story of the Progressive movement is not unfamiliar to me. Fightin' Bob remains the most favorite of Wisconsin's favorite sons and seemingly every party on the political spectrum lays claim to his legacy. Often it seems, however, that most know little more about La Follette than a few platitudes and a general feeling. Nancy Unger's book provides a much needed popular biography of one of the central figures in American political history - a man who altered nearly everything about our system, but never came within sniffing distance of the presidency.

Bob La Follette grew up in the shadow of the Civil War, a rapidly growing and modernizing time. Young Bob growing up as essentially a farm boy in rural Southern Wisconsin was largely untouched by these changes. Bob, though, was given an opportunity shared by few of his contemporaries - a college education at the University of Wisconsin. Much of La Follette's future work is presaged by the time he spent at Madison - particularly his emergence as a fine speaker and the development of a strong belief in public service. Bob's time in college was followed by dabbling in journalism and his marriage to his lifelong companion Belle. It was after his training as a lawyer, however, that La Follette's political ambitions took center stage. First as a District Attorney, then as a United States Congressman, then a Governor, then a United States Senator, La Follette spent substantially his entire adult life as a Republican politician. Were he to do no more, his life would have been notable. La Follette, however, and to an increasing extent as he advanced in age, sought to remedy perceived injustices to the American citizen and voter with a fury and doggedness unmatched in his time or ours.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Edward T. O'Donnell on June 22, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Nancy Unger has written an outstanding and insightful biography of one of turn-of-the-century America's most influential political figures. Indeed, it is the first full-scale biography of Robert M. La Follette of Wisconsin. For anyone seeking to understand the Progressive Era this book is a must read, for Unger's subject was at the center of the defining reform struggles of the age - from women's rights and corporate regulation, to labor and political reform. Drawing upon a vast collection of private papers and primary sources, Unger brings to life not only the public persona of "Fighting Bob" but also the private La Follette that few people know about. We learn, for example, how his early life struggles shaped his personality (for good and for ill), as well as how much he relied upon his wife, suffragist and reformer Belle Case La Follette, for advice and strength. Written in a lively yet balanced style, this book greatly adds to our knowledge of a complex and fascinating man and era.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Marcia Meyers on July 10, 2002
Format: Hardcover
As a public library director with a special interest in the Progressive era, I found Fighting Bob LaFollette by Unger exactly what I seek in history writing. It has the strengths of all solid history in its sources but the author draws on other fields, in particular medicine, to broaden our understanding.
More than a century ago, LaFollette said "We are one people" and recognized the importance of minority groups shaping their own future. Before the mass media and big money took over political campaigns, Progressive reformers focused on the needs of average people. In three-hour speeches, LaFollette fought for what was needed and was the right thing for the nation to do. The author's direct and clear prose brings the reformer and the times to life. We can learn much from the book for our time.
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