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Strom Thurmond's America [Kindle Edition]

Joseph Crespino
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)

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Book Description

"Do not forget that 'skill and integrity' are the keys to success." This was the last piece of advice on a list Will Thurmond gave his son Strom in 1923. The younger Thurmond would keep the words in mind throughout his long and colorful career as one of the South's last race-baiting demagogues and as a national power broker who, along with Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan, was a major figure in modern conservative politics.

But as the historian Joseph Crespino demonstrates in Strom Thurmond's America, the late South Carolina senator followed only part of his father's counsel. Political skill was the key to Thurmond's many successes; a consummate opportunist, he had less use for integrity. He was a thoroughgoing racist--he is best remembered today for his twenty-four-hour filibuster in opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1957--but he fathered an illegitimate black daughter whose existence he did not publicly acknowledge during his lifetime. A onetime Democrat and labor supporter, he switched parties in 1964 and helped to dismantle New Deal protections for working Americans.

If Thurmond was a great hypocrite, though, he was also an innovator who saw the future of conservative politics before just about anyone else. As early as the 1950s, he began to forge alliances with Christian Right activists, and he eagerly took up the causes of big business, military spending, and anticommunism. Crespino's adroit, lucid portrait reveals that Thurmond was, in fact, both a segregationist and a Sunbelt conservative. The implications of this insight are vast. Thurmond was not a curiosity from a bygone era, but rather one of the first conservative Republicans we would recognize as such today. Strom Thurmond's America is about how he made his brand of politics central to American life.

Editorial Reviews


“The most authoritative study on Thurmond to date.”
—Frank Rich, New York Magazine

“A deft portrait.”
The New York Times Book Review

“Insightful . . . masterfully ties together complex historical strands . . . Crespino doesn’t make Thurmond likable, but that’s not his goal. His is loftier and more difficult: to get beneath the surface of an influential politician in order to shed light on our times.”
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“[O]utstanding . . . Crespino presents the right blend of narrative, scholarly analysis, and restrained outrage.”
The Washington Monthly

“[A] fine new biography . . . fascinating as political drama.”
The Barnes & Noble Review

“[An] impressive biography . . . Crespino’s portrait reveals a flawed, egotistical, unapologetic, headstrong man whose views helped give birth to the contemporary Right and whose legacy continues to influence the GOP.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Joseph Crespino argues convincingly [that] Thurmond’s political impact reached far beyond the nostalgic Old South . . . Crespino’s lucid, illuminating book reveals an outsize political personage whose complexities often eluded supporters and antagonists alike.”
American History

“Engaging . . . offer[s] a far more authoritative portrait than Jack Bass and Marilyn W. Thompson’s Strom or Jeffrey K. Smith’s Dixiecrat . . . Strongly recommended for anyone interested in 20th-century American political history or biography.”
Library Journal

“A highly useful and timely companion in an election cycle marked by the resurgence of the controversies of Thurmond’s day.”
Kirkus Reviews

“No other book is likely to offer a more insightful understanding of both Strom Thurmond the man and the age in which he lived. This is a thoroughly terrific and important work, for it makes clear the continuing impact of Thurmond’s legacy on our politics today.”
Doris Kearns Goodwin, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of Team of Rivals

“Joseph Crespino’s Strom Thurmond’s America is a historical biography that makes much of recent U.S. history more understandable. It is essential reading for anyone interested in post-1945 American politics.”
Robert Dallek, author of An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963

“Joseph Crespino brilliantly captures the hypocrisy of a southern society that could mold Strom Thurmond into, simultaneously, an audacious white separatist and a flagrant race-mixer willing to abandon his own black daughter. Crespino also properly positions Thurmond not as an outlier or a relic of a distant era of Dixiecrat racism, but as the architect and harbinger of the extremist, racially tinged politics that would reshape the Republican Party into the twenty-first century.”
Douglas A. Blackmon, former chief of the Wall Street Journal’s Atlanta bureau and Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Slavery by Another Name

“This pathbreaking biography reveals a Strom Thurmond whose influence stretched far beyond the racist precincts of Dixie. He was, as Joseph Crespino brilliantly shows, a pioneer of many of the conservative themes we now take for granted: stalwart anticommunism, opposition to labor unions, support for ‘law and order,’ and the promotion of ‘family values.’ Crespino combines the incisiveness of a fine scholar with the literary talent of a gifted storyteller. When I finished the book, I almost felt like cheering!”
Michael Kazin, author of American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation

“Strom Thurmond has become one of those antic men people hear about but can’t quite believe existed—the racist demagogue with the secret biracial daughter who made self-interest into a public art form. Because Thurmond was such a gifted opportunist, it’s difficult to say what he really believed, leaving the resourceful historian Joseph Crespino to do the near impossible. Strom Thurmond’s America is a reasonable portrait of a reactionary that serves as a valuable prism through which to examine the ways politicians encourage social divisions to consolidate power.”
Nicholas Dawidoff, author of The Crowd Sounds Happy and The Catcher Was a Spy

Strom Thurmond’s America is at once a captivating portrait of an important national figure and a nuanced and provocative rethinking of recent American political history. Joseph Crespino handles Thurmond’s personal story with great aplomb and persuasively reframes the late senator as a pivotal character in modern American politics.”
Bruce Schulman, author of The Seventies: The Great Shift in American Culture, Society, and Politics

“Joseph Crespino offers a provocative account of Strom Thurmond’s life and the ways in which some conservatives used race to build a national coalition. He makes a compelling and original case that, rather than a throwback to an earlier era in politics, Thurmond was one of the architects of the modern Republican Party, a sophisticated political strategist who played on the fears and anxieties of the American electorate.”
Julian E. Zelizer, author of Jimmy Carter and Governing America

About the Author

Joseph Crespino is a professor of history at Emory University. He is the author of In Search of Another Country: Mississippi and the Conservative Counterrevolution and the co-editor of The Myth of Southern Exceptionalism.

Product Details

  • File Size: 776 KB
  • Print Length: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Hill and Wang (September 4, 2012)
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B007NJPW7M
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #678,483 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Strom Thurmond's America December 13, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Joseph Crespino writes very well in a very readable style, making his subject come to life. I learned a great deal about Strom Thurmond and the time and place in which he lived. The book has given me a better understanding of the modern South and of the Republican Party as it was reconstituted as a southern political institution. I did not gain any greater sympathy for Thurmond or his southern colleagues, but I have a greater insight into the current state of politics in America.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Few political figures carry as much baggage with them as the late Senator Strom Thurmond. Most people recoil at the mention of his name, immediately associating him with segregation, defense of Jim Crow, the Dixiecrat movement, and his strident conservatism well before conservatism was in fashion. Crespino doesn't seek to exonerate Thurmond or to fashion a hagiography to him, but to explain his larger relevance in America's post-World War II politics, and how he effectively gave birth to the modern conservative movement. Crespino grasps and lays bare Thurmond's inherent contradictions and blatant hypocracy that were always hiding just below the surface of the man. How else do you explain a man who was clearly quite segregationist, yet at the same time who fathered a daughter with a black woman? Or for that matter a staunch New Dealer willing to break with his party over segregation, potentially throwing the 1948 election to the Republicans? For Thurmond it was never about himself, but about the ideas he embraced. Looking around he saw no one else willing to take the lead on the issues he held to and was willing to pick up that banner and lead the charge. Like a modern day John C. Calhoun, Thurmond was willing to stand up to Washington and the political establishment and boldly state what truths he held to be self-evident. It is that aspect of Thurmond that is fascinating. Right or wrong, he was fearless in leading the charge, knowing there were many like him throughout the South and elsewhere that held to these same beliefs. Standing up to your party and your President certainly carries with it many perils, yet Thurmond had the strength of his convictions and if he was going to sin, decided to sin boldly! Read more ›
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
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Strom Thurmond's America is the best treatment yet of Ol' Strom. Joseph Crespino has a knack for finding revealing tales which have escaped previous historians and crafting them into a compelling whole which tells us much not just about the Dixiecrat standard bearer himself but also about how those who backed then Governor Thurmond in 1948 came to play an increasingly large role in our governance. This is must reading for any serious student of Southern politics!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Book, Fair Portrayal of Sen Thurmond November 13, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is a well written, interesting biography on a Senator who was in many ways responsible for the current problems of the Republican Party. What worked so beautifully in 1972, doesn't really work in a changing America. It's good for conservatives and liberals interested in understanding where the conservative movement's problems of today come from.

It's well written as well, and weaves an interesting story. Thurmond seems to have been a gadfly for many years--and therefore there are many interesting stories to tell. But he wasn't just a gadfly, he also forced regional movement behind a type of conservatism that still dominates the South--and the national Republican Party--today.

I would've given it five stars but for the 11 times the author felt that he was being too sympathetic to Thurmond and went on a tirade about how racist he was. The tirades were certainly true, but after the third time it was like watching reruns of a bad sitcom.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A detailed review of 20th century poltical icon December 20, 2012
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Joseph Crespino's book is an invaluable addition to the handful of biographies already written about the seemingly ageless Strom Thurmond. Whether one admires or detests Thurmond, his role in shaping history is undeniable. "Strom Thurmond's America" is written to appeal not only to academicians, but also to those who are interest in politics, the Civil Rights movement, and the rise of the Republican Party in the Deep South.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Think Strom Thurmond, uber-right-winger and segregationist, is a figure from America's political past? Thurmond is the guiding spirit of the modern GOP.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book! June 2, 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I ordered this book for my boss who is a former Georgia politician. He thought that the facts in the book were quite accurate, and that the book was well written!
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