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The Reckless Decade: America in the 1890s Hardcover – December, 1995

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Editorial Reviews

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.

From Booklist

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

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 375 pages
  • Publisher: St Martins Pr; 1st edition (December 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312135947
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312135942
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.8 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #299,728 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

H.W. Brands taught at Texas A&M University for sixteen years before joining the faculty at the University of Texas at Austin, where he is the Dickson Allen Anderson Centennial Professor of History. His books include Traitor to His Class, Andrew Jackson, The Age of Gold, The First American, and TR. Traitor to His Class and The First American were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 35 people found the following review helpful By "" on March 6, 2001
Format: Hardcover
After the Civil War and Reconstruction, America was witnessing revolutions in every field. Not only in industry were there innovations, but in politics, economy, and society as well. These changes, including the emergence of multi-millionaires like Carnegie, Rockefeller, and Morgan, labor unions, and the fight for free silver, continued well into the final decade of the 19th century. The 1890's was a time of unrest in America with corrupt politicians, an agrarian downturn, and other problems. H.W. Brands tries to get a hold of this turbulent age in The Reckless Decade: America in the 1890's.
Brands' objective in this work is to illustrate the rich history of the "reckless decade," while at the same time drawing parallels to the modern day. His introduction serves as a reminder of this goal. In it, he compares the end of the 19th century to the end of the 20th century. Both periods felt the "brink of a new era... most pronounced in America's cities." The cities in both eras helped reshape the economy. Brands notes that the politics of both decades were entrenched in fear and weariness. Those of the 1890's feared the change of the lives of the farmers with industrialization, while those of the 1990's feared a "ubiquitous, iniquitous liberalism." These comparisons are offered in the introduction, but not given directly in the book.
Brands covers a startlingly broad selection of events in such a narrow timeframe of history. The competition between the business juggernauts, Carnegie, Rockefeller, and Morgan is presented in almost a narrative form, making a mundane matter of economics interesting. Brands spends a chapter discusses the "other half" of society, in distinct contrast with the aforementioned business magnates.
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33 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Loveitt on March 25, 2003
Format: Paperback
H.W. Brands is one of our best popular historians, and he doesn't disappoint with this book about America in the 1890's. He starts the book with two tales that demonstrate the closing of the frontier- the final major land rush in the Oklahoma Territory, which occurred in 1893; and the fighting at Wounded Knee, in the Dakota Territory, in December 1890, which resulted in the deaths of Sitting Bull and many women and children (noncombatants) at the hands of U.S. Army cavalry troops. The Sioux Indians were left demoralized by this event. Professor Brands grabs our attention with the first sentence of the book: "Fred Sutton had watched the earlier rushes into Oklahoma; he had seen friends no smarter, tougher, or more discerning than himself grab homesteads; and when word came that the government in Washington was going to open up the Cherokee Strip to settlement, he determined that this time he'd get a piece of the action." Later on in the chapter, the author switches from the concrete to the philosophical, telling us what thinkers such as Frederick Jackson Turner and Henry and Brooks Adams had to say about the significance of the closing of the frontier. This balance, in addition to the gripping narrative style, is what makes Professor Brands such a good writer. The book is just plain fun to read, but it is also intellectually challenging. Later chapters deal with the growth and centralization of big business (Carnegie and Rockefeller); the importance of the financier (J.P. Morgan); the urban, immigrant poor and the role of the political machines (Tammany Hall); economic downturn and the plight of farmers; racial discrimination and the different philosophies of Black American leaders on how to improve the lives of Black Americans (Booker T. Washington and W.E.B.Read more ›
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 26, 2004
Format: Paperback
"The Reckless Decade" is a very readable synthesis of biography, social history, intellectual history, and just good old-fashioned storytelling art. Brands's writing style is electric, his wit sharp, and his discretion as to when to use well-chosen quotations and when to render his own pithy judgments seldom erring.
A thoroughly enjoyable period history of a time very much like our own.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By David Morrell on February 23, 2006
Format: Paperback
I'm a novelist who does a lot of research. I needed information about the 1890s in the US. This book totally delivered. The book was thorough and dramatic and interesting.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Jeremy A. Perron on July 24, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The Restless Decade of H.W. Brands is a book that lives up to its name. Brands takes his readers for a trip although out America in the last decade of the nineteenth century. Brands presents a nation that is on the edge, with the end of century that began with President John Adams and finished with William McKinley; saw the nation grow from the Appalachian Mountains to the Pacific Ocean; split in half and fight; and the saw the end of slavery and the beginning of Jim Crow, the American people were unsure of where they were going. The American frontier was closing and the people were unsure of where in the world they as people belonged and what their national destiny was.

The book begins in what is had been the traditional American story which, in our history, was all too familiar. It was the story of settlers trying to stake their claim to the west by going out and trying to settle a plot of land. But this time honored tradition was coming to a rapid close and the way it was closing was odd. In the past, the government did not hand out land based on organized land races but that was how the frontier was closing in Oklahoma.

Another sign that the frontier had seen its last was the end of armed organized Indian resistance. The Massacre at Wounded Knee, which the events surrounding are very elegantly explained making it easy for the reader to understand the tragic end to the last ounce of Indian resistance and the mysterious ghost dance, ends a long bloody chapter of history dating back to the fifteenth century. With the closing of the frontier and the end of Indian resistance things were changing at a rapid pace.
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