From Publishers Weekly
Defining liberalism somewhat simplistically as "a prevailing confidence in the ability of government preeminently the federal government to accomplish substantial good on behalf of the American people," Brands argues that Americans have always been oppositely inclined and that only wartime exigencies in both WWII and the Cold War allowed for a period when the liberal expansion of government could triumph. (His similarly truncated view of conservatism renders "family values" and Joseph McCarthy as "pseudo-conservative.") A skilled biographer (T.R.: The Last Romantic; etc.) and professor of history and liberal arts at Texas A&M University, Brands makes this argument primarily through a string of engaging presidential narratives, but he sets them against a background of public opinion (though offering only broad generalizations, for instance, based on sporadic reference to specific polls) on the role of government. He's deft at presenting complexities in concise form, as in his exquisite contrast of JFK and LBJ, but offers some questionable judgments as well (such as that Nixon was a liberal). Though it's not a Great-Man view of history, this approach suffers from a profound neglect of broader historical considerations, such as the role of race in American politics, party dealignment after 1968, a renewed elite hostility to the welfare state after the 1973-1974 recession and a host of other factors necessary to clarify the rise and fall of American liberalism. By concentrating on Americans' general loss of trust in government and ignoring continued strong support for specific programs (substantiated by numerous studies), Brands perpetuates the illusion that no such complexities need be considered.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
Brands (Texas A&M) is a prolific and versatile historian who has written books about the Revolutionary era (The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin), the late 19th and early 20th centuries (TR: The Last Romantic), and the Cold War era (e.g., The Devil We Knew). He describes his latest, less a scholarly work than an extended essay, as an "argument." The case Brands argues is that postwar American liberalism was itself a product of the Cold War and that, with the end of the Cold War threat, Americans returned to their traditional skepticism toward government, a change that in effect ended liberalism, too. While Brands makes some good points, though discursively, his mission is only to make them; he does not attempt a larger, richer, and subtler story. Not Brands at his best, but an optional purchase for academic libraries. Robert F. Nardini, Chichester, NH
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.