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The S Word: A Short History of an American Tradition...Socialism Paperback – March 21, 2011

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Verso; 1 edition (March 21, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 184467679X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844676798
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #256,006 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“[A] search for the legacy of our homegrown radicals.”—Washington Post

“A chilling reminder of how much rich American history has been erased by shallow messaging. A crucial book.”—Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine and No Logo

“Of all the giant slayers now afoot in the great American desert, John Nichols’s sword is the sharpest.”—Gore Vidal

About the Author

John Nichols is the Washington correspondent for The Nation magazine, a contributing writer for the Progressive and In These Times, and the associate editor of Madison, Wisconsin’s Capital Times. He’s the author of several books, including The Death and Life of American Journalism, The Genius of Impeachment and The “S” Word.

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Customer Reviews

Anything above 12 is too hard for most people to read and comprehend.
He distinguishes democratic socialism from the totalitarian brand -- a very important distinction!
Thomas Murphy
As always Nichols displays a crisp, engaging and thorough analysis of his subject.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

138 of 148 people found the following review helpful By David C N Swanson on April 17, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
On Friday on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, congress members spoke in defense of Medicare, Social Security, the Environmental Protection Agency, and other programs that by almost anyone's definition are socialist, programs that were denounced as socialist by opponents of their passage in decades past, programs that would not have been created without the efforts of socialists and the Socialist Party.

The debate screeched to a halt, however, because an opponent of the Congressional Progressive Caucus's "People's Budget" then under discussion suggested that its supporters might be socialists. Congressman Keith Ellison, co-chair of that caucus, protested the vicious accusation and demanded that the words of his accuser be transcribed for the record (and possible legal action?). The Republican congress member guilty of the horrible slander announced that he was retracting it. Rep. Raul Grijalva, the other co-chair of the Progressive Caucus, thanked him sincerely for the retraction. Although polls show socialism to be far more popular than Congress, neither Ellison nor Grijalva insisted on being cleared of the label "congress member."

"Socialism," remarked Frank Zeidler, former socialist mayor of Milwaukee, "believes that people working together for a common good can produce a greater benefit, both for society and for the individual, than can a society in which everyone is shrewdly seeking their own self-interest." Missing from Washington, D.C., is not just a single individual who would hurl the term "capitalist" with the strength to have a retraction demanded.
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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Enigma on September 20, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have recently joined the ranks of political "independents" having spent many years as a registered republican. I am a CPA, hold a graduate business degree and have profited from entrepreneurial and business related opportunities for decades. I am happy that the U.S. economic system provides such an option to "prosper". I have, though, come to the conclusion that the system is not working for everyone and that disturbs my sense of comfort.

I feel as though it is time to re-evaluate the american love of capitalism and free-markets. This nation has provided great opportunities for many, but in its rush to individualism and "winner-take-all capitalism" it has run roughshod over the hopes and aspirations of multitudes that have not been born into privilege. Though there are moments in reading this book which set my teeth on edge (mostly because some labels carry so much visceral meaning - I still have an aversion to calling someone "comrade") the intellectual journey has been good medicine for my mind. I grew up during the early stages of the cold war and lived under the threat of nuclear annihilation. It was a time when neighbors were actively building bomb shelters on my block. So the words communism and socialism have a particular negative connotation for me.

That being said, John Nichols has helped bridge a gap that brings out a richer meaning to the term "socialism" and has helped americanize this experience. In my observation of our nation's current economic crisis, the capitalist economic system has fallen down in many respects. I believe that a little seasoning of "socialism" makes an economic recipe that can contribute true prosperity for everyone in our nation.
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35 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Geoffrey Zoref on July 1, 2011
Format: Paperback
John Nichols' new book, The "S" Word, is a history of Socialism in America. While other history books on the same topic often paint a picture in which Socialism was never really able to take root in the United States, Nichols' has written a thought-provoking and well written history which explains why it's impossible to talk about the U.S without discussing Socialism. In Nichols's telling, the two are intertwined and Socialist ideas have been integrated into America almost since the founding of the nation. It is part of our culture, economy and everyday life.

For most of the 20th & 21st century, the word Socialism has been a loaded term. Detractors from the Right often use it as an insult meant to taint an opponent as unAmerican and extreme. Today, those on the Left for whom the insult is directed usually respond by dodging the label as a grievous insult. As Barack Obama began his term in office with a $700 Billion stimulus, a government bailout of failing banks begun under President Bush and the beginning of a debate about health care reform, it became clear that his opponents favorite attack on him would be the dreaded "S" word. Obama's reaction was not to embrace the term, as Harry Truman had once done, or to use this attack on him as-in Obama's favorite phrase-a teachable moment about the real meaning of Socialism. Instead, the President bristled at the charge, reiterated his commitment to the Free Market and accused the previous administration of using Socialism to rescue Wall Street.

This book looks to clear away the fog caused by a dumbed down news media and a more extreme Right Wing, and is largely about why Socialism is very much an American tradition.
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