From Publishers Weekly
The decade of the 1890s is quite compelling; it represents the high flowering of an older, quaint America together with social, political, and intellectual trends that would move the nation rapidly into the modernity familiar to us today. Brands (history, Texas A&M) has produced a workmanlike survey of the period, concentrating on traditional economic and political topics. The familiar emphases include labor strife, slum life, the robber barons, and the Spanish-American War. Readability (and research value) would have been enhanced by greater concern for intellectual and social issues. Emergent communication and transportation technologies, the purity and temperance movements, and the changes in popular entertainment are valid scholarly topics that would have added interest. Brands's book will be useful as a term-paper source but will probably not attract many general readers.Fritz Buckallew, Univ. of Central Oklahoma Lib., Edmond
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
History doesn't repeat itself but rather presents similar patterns, and Brands detects several areas of continuity between fin de siecle American anxiety and the current angst of this millennium's expiring decade. To author Henry Adams, the country in the 1890s was deteriorating into a miasma of ailments; contemporary pessimists have their own list of societal complaints. The national obsession, race, bubbles in categories recognizably analogous to the Booker T. Washington-W. E. B. Du Bois debate, pitting economic self-improvement against vigorous assertion of rights. Immigration was and is a volatile issue. And current problems of foreign policy have detectable antecedents in the "splendid little war" with Spain. Were these topics intractable or unresolvable, no reformers would ever come forth, but in the 1890s they appeared in force, boosted by the 1893 depression. Reform built up to Bryan's famous "cross of gold" speech; yet Brands fastens on lesser known but equally colorful characters like Jacob Coxey, who led the first march-on-Washington protest to press labor's demands against the decade's powerful magnates, such as Carnegie. An insightful survey of an interesting decade. Gilbert Taylor