From Publishers Weekly
editor Beatty (The Rascal King
) clearly invokes a comparison with the present in writing of how, he says, corporations, not the people, ruled America in the Gilded Age. He examines the role of the railroads as the engine of capitalism, the role of protectionist tariffs in raising prices for the common man and how "representative government gave way to bought government." But Beatty ignores the latest literature on that period by the likes of Charles R. Morris, Maury Klein, David Nasaw and David Cannadine. Instead, the post–Civil War industrial boom depicted by Beatty mimics that described by the now largely discredited Matthew Josephson—author in the 1930s of The Robber Barons
—whose works Beatty cites. Beatty also references other now-marginalized class-warrior historians, such as Gustavus Myers, in portraying capitalism as a sort of zero-sum game where a dollar pocketed by one individual is inevitably a buck stolen from someone else, overlooking the notion of visionary entrepreneurs creating a surging tide of capital upon which all boats rise. Beatty's view of history seems guided by his liberal impulses and his disillusioned view of American democracy today—not the best way to approach history. B&w illus. (Apr. 16)
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Indicting the Gilded Age, Beatty adopts an essayist's persona to flay iniquities of the period. Its mystery prompts the author to ask, "What reverse alchemy transformed mass enthusiasm [for politics] into policies disfavoring the masses?" Turning over explanations, Beatty gives extended play to the eminent historians of Reconstruction, C. Vann Woodward and Eric Foner, and delves into Civil War reforms, such as the Thirteenth through Fifteenth Amendments and the Homestead Act. However, such reforms were thwarted by atrocities against blacks and land-grant shenanigans that advantaged railroads over farmers. Also prevalent in this era was corporate buccaneering, which to Beatty is best represented by the Pennsylvania Railroad, Jay Gould, and Andrew Carnegie, and which flavors his wider account of depressions, strikes, and elections. Weaving episodes of corruption into his narrative, and culminating with the Populist Party of the 1890s, Beatty maintains an opinionated indignation throughout. The NPR pundit's lively interpretation of the era should engage those interested in social and economic history. Gilbert TaylorCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved