The Search for Order, 1877-1920

19 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0809001040
ISBN-10: 0809001047
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Editorial Reviews

Review

A sensitive, gracefully written synthesis...He dispels old myths and offers a compelling new view. (William E. Leuchtenburg)

A unified intelligible overview of the half century before 1920...Required reading for anyone interested in modern America, or for that matter in the modern world. The book abounds with information and is written very gracefully. (Walter Nugent, Journal of American History)

About the Author

Robert H. Wiebe, professor of history at Northwestern University, is the author of The Segmented Society and Self Rule: A Cultural History of American Democracy.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Hill and Wang (January 1, 1966)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809001047
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809001040
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #130,586 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

69 of 73 people found the following review helpful By mwreview on September 29, 2001
Format: Paperback
In "The Search for Order," Robert Wiebe provides perhaps the first unifying overview of the American Progressive period. Beginning with the Reconstruction era, Wiebe presents the United States as "a nation of loosely connected islands." The economic panic of 1873 began what Wiebe describes as as a "soul searching" period for these homogenous, stable, primarily Protestant "island communities." America was noticeably changing from simple, locally-oriented communities guided by small town ethics to complex, interdependent societies seemingly controlled by distant and impersonal forces. Wiebe explains the ways in which Americans sought to regain some sense of order as this rapidly changing nation rumbled through the first decades of the twentieth century.
A "revolution in values" took place during this "search for order." Wiebe traces a pattern of "bureaucratization" in such diverse areas as science, philosophy, business, education, journalism, law, medicine, and social work (although Wiebe neglects the influence of arts and technology). A new middle class emerged as certain occupations such as law, medicine, and teaching became professionalized. Journalism became more scientific. Social workers began to establish their distinct field. "Idealists" and "utopianists" advocated the idea of progress by stages. A "business unionism" developed establishing a set of values for organized labor and carrying "the obligation that union executives become experts in their particular industry" (125). Factories turned to scientific management.
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44 of 47 people found the following review helpful By J. Hart on December 6, 2000
Format: Paperback
This book set the agenda for research in Gilded Age/Progressive Era studies for the current generation of American historians. It is a groundbreaking study which is not overly long and is very well written. It is one of the most widely used overview texts for the period in graduate history courses. If you only want to read one book on this period, make it this one.
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31 of 35 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 22, 1998
Format: Paperback
Mr. Wiebe has done an excellent job of getting beneath all the confusion and conflict of America's history from the end of Reconstruction to the eve of the 1920's. To understand how many of the elements of our modern society came into being, and how and why the United States became a world power, one must go back to this period (1877-1920) to trace their origins. The book, while revealing many triumphs of our nation at this time, also reminds us of the tragedies which inevitably shaped our country's present course (ie World War I). Overall, it is a book of great value, for it sheds some much needed light on a very complex portion of our nation's history.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Garman Lord on September 12, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
When I read a history book, I'm normally after more than the kind of facts and figures you could find in an encyclopedia. I'm normally most curious about the zeitgeist; not just what happened, but how the people of the times felt about what happened. I want to understand the past on its own terms, not our modern ones. If you stick with this book to the end, it does deliver on that, so for me the book was a success. To get there, however, Wiebe has to lead you down a pretty rocky path, which is of course what real history is apt to be like, in traversing its peaks and valleys in detail, without oversimplification.

Looking at yesterday through the wrong end of history's telescope, we can easily forget that the world back then was just as big and complicated a place as it is now, and just as hard to understand or explain. Wiebe examines and explains the decades between Reconstruction and Prohibition pretty well, in about as much detail as is possible in a single volume. In doing so, however, he must constantly refer along the way to people and events unfamiliar to the general reader, which can make the rocky path even fainter and more bewildering at times. The book regularly shows itself to be the work of a specialist, particularly in the early going, meaning that the more you yourself know going in about the topic, the more you will get out of this finer-grained discussion. It is because Wiebe's prose so often reads like a specialist talking shop, whereas I had been hoping for a popularized treatment more on my own level, and for that reason alone, that I am being stingy with my stars here, only giving four to what is actually a pretty good book.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By R. Albin TOP 1000 REVIEWER on November 20, 2010
Format: Paperback
Published decades ago, this book continues to be a very influential interpretation of the Progressive era. While roughly chronologically organized, this book is a long interpretative essay, not a narrative overview of the Progressive period. To get the most out of this book, a reasonably thorough knowledge of American history in this period is needed. Wiebe's basic theme is captured well by the title. Following the Civil War, American society was inundated by major economic and social changes. Increasingly rapid industrialization, expanding participation in the global economy, large scale urbanization, and massive immigration greatly altered American life. An American society that had been dominated by what Gordon Wood refers to as a "middling" class living in relatively small communities was ill-equipped to deal with these transformations. Wiebe interprets much of American political and social history in this period as responses, some creative and effective, some repressive and destructive, to this basic problem. After setting out the basic problem, Wiebe discusses the emergence of political movements such as gentile reform and populism as efforts to contain the enormous uncertainties faced by the traditional middlling classes. This interpretation links political reform efforts to phenomena like temperance movements and strengthening of Jim Crow laws. Similarly, Wiebe discusses the efforts of powerful business interests, often backed by Federal authorities and the Supreme Court, to contain social unrest, as an allied phenomenon.

Against this background, Wiebe describes the emergence of a middle class with relatively new features.
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