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5.0 out of 5 stars An Enduring Influence, March 13, 2006
This review is from: Radical Beginnings: Richard Hofstadter and the 1930s (Contributions in American History) (Hardcover)
Richard Hofstadter (1916-1970) was a prolific writer and commentator on the Gilded Age and Progressive Eras, a founding member of the "Consensus School" of American history, and a scathing critic of the conservatism of his day. Often portrayed, in his day and since, as the "finest and also most humane historical intelligence of our generation", Hofstadter was one of the most distinguished historians of the twentieth century . Over the course of his too brief life, Hofstadter the DeWitt Clinton Professor of American History at Columbia University, was the author of several groundbreaking books including, `The Age of Reform (1955) and Anti-intellectualism in American Life (1963), both of which won the Pulitzer Prize in non-fiction . A vigorous champion of the liberal politics that emerged from the New Deal, Hofstadter fought public campaigns against liberalism's most dynamic opponents from McCarthy in the 1950s to Barry Goldwater and the Sun Belt Conservatives in the 1960s. His distaste of the extreme politics of post war America, expressed in his books, essays and public lectures, marked him as one of the nation's most important and prolific public intellectuals. The range of his interests was unusual, extending from the earliest phases of the American Experience through to the concerns of his day. A `specialist' he was not, a master of the subjects he covered he was; which was widely acknowledged and respected. Hofstadter's principle theme of the importance of ideas in history, more precisely the relation between the way people behaved, in politics and other realms of effort, and the use they made of their mind, along with the idea that history is akin to literature, had an immense impact on his students, colleagues and the entire academic world. Extremely active, Hofstadter was continuously embarking on new thought provoking work right up to his death, caused by leukaemia on October 24, 1970, which caught him, as he himself had written of one of his favourite politicians many years before very much "in the midst of things" .

There appear to be three distinct cycles of studies into Hofstadter and his work. His stature and prominence in the academic world prompted some biographical works to arise while Hofstadter was still alive which encompassed analysis of Hofstadter's approach and argument. The most notable of the latter was Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.'s essay "Richard Hofstadter" in Marcus Cunliffe and Robin Winks, eds., "Pastmasters: Some Essays on American Historians (New York, 1969). The Second cycle of work on Richard Hofstadter was produced in the early 1970s after his death. Such works are informative and shed insights into the life of Hofstadter but are mostly biographically focused with only some synopsis and review of The Age of Reforms. These works however are more `In Memoriam' tributes than any detailed studies of analysis into the man and his work .

The mid-1980s brought about a number of articles and journals on Hofstadter. The focuses of such work were less biographical, and more to do with analysis of his published works. Daniel Joseph Singal in "Beyond Consensus: Richard Hofstadter and American Historiography", American Historical Review 89 (1984): 976-81, assess Hofstadter's political and intellectual assumptions and of the role they played in shaping his scholarship. Alan Brinkley in "Richard Hofstadter's The Age of Reform: A Reconsideration", Reviews in American History 13 (1985), 462-480, also produces a detailed reconsidered analysis of Hofstadter and "The Age of Reform". In addition Susan Stout Baker in "Radical Beginnings: Richard Hofstadter and the 1930s" (1985) offers a biographical account along with a final fifth of the book giving a review of portions of Hofstadter's "Age of Reform". In addition to these three stated cycles of scholarship on Hofstadter, it must be noted that there are a vast number of articles, reviews, journals and public lectures solely analyzing Hofstadter's scholarship, of "The Age of Reform" both throughout Hofstadter's life and afterwards.

While the vast array of study's analysing "The Age of Reform" and the biographical work on him, are extremely insightful, few can say they have directly addressed the following questions; The extent to which Hofstadter, through "The Age of Reform", has influenced American intellectual life? There has been no detailed discussion on the influence that Hofstadter and the "Age of Reform" had on his colleagues, students and readers of his work. Furthermore there has been no recent work that has deliberated the influence of Hofstadter and "The Age of Reform", on the academic world, over thirty years after his death. There has been no scholarship to date that seeks to explain the extent of Hofstadter's legacy and whether that legacy continues today and if so whether it will continue to live on?

[Part of the above review is taken from; "An Enduring Influence: Richard Hofstadter and The Age of Reform" by Alexander Rayden © 2005, All Rights Reserved]
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