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Blood of the Liberals Paperback – August 1, 2001

4.4 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Packer has produced a fascinating personal history while examining why people become liberals even though their efforts frequently seem extremely futile. The author describes the life and times of his Alabama-born maternal grandfather, Congressman George Huddleston, whose brand of liberalism was rooted in Southern agrarian populism and who often opposed FDR's New Deal. Packer also tells of his father, Herbert, whose Jewish American background placed him squarely in the urban liberal tradition of the mid-20th century. His father's life and career ultimately came to a turbulent climax as an administrator at Stanford University during the late 1960s. Finally, in a brief, informative, and moving autobiographical section, Packer recounts the development of his own social and political views following his father's stroke and suicide. The author attempts to demonstrate the ongoing relevance to today's world of a political philosophy that many believe has little future. Packer's combination of personal and historical perspectives, as well as his considerable skill at conveying them, make this work both challenging and enjoyable. Written for the lay reader, it nonetheless avoids oversimplification. Highly recommended.DCharles K. Piehl, Minnesota State Univ., Mankato
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Family saga and the history of a political idea blend in this thoughtful, gracefully written reflection. Journalist and novelist Packer traces three generations of his own family and the shifting meaning of liberalism over the past century. Packer's maternal grandfather, George Huddleston, represented Birmingham, Alabama, in Congress from 1915 to 1937. A Southern Progressive, a "Thomas Jefferson Democrat," he started out arguing for universal suffrage and unions; he quickly learned to avoid race and gender, but his class-based radicalism was firm until the New Deal's elitist tinkering made him a "state's rights" conservative. Nancy Huddleston married Herbert Packer, a Yale-educated Jewish lawyer who taught at Stanford University; both were "Adlai Stevenson Democrats" and "New Deal liberals." But Packer took on administrative duties at Stanford just as a new generation challenged the rational liberalism he championed; he suffered a stroke and, three years later, committed suicide. Twelve when his father died in 1972, George Packer pursued his own vision of liberalism: at Yale, in the Peace Corps, in volunteerism and political activism. A fascinating, thought-provoking narrative. Mary Carroll
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Reprint edition (August 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374527784
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374527785
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,191,220 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Anthony Berno on June 18, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
How did such a basic, rational notion as liberalism turn into the favorite epithet of talk-show hosts? What happened to social justice? Where is the freewheeling spirit of the Sixties? These, and other questions, have haunted me for years. Not being well versed in American history, the seemingly abrupt annhiliation of everything "liberal" has caused me great puzzlement and distress.
Packer, in a beautiful amalgam of memoir and history, has written a book that has almost singlehandedly restored my relationship with the past and pointed my way to the future. While as a historical account it is spotty, and as a memoir it is sometimes dry, the heartfelt combination of these two styles has a vitality and immediacy I've never seen anywhere else.
His conclusions, while expansive, are also poignant, with a touch of desperation. In his consideration of the prospects of liberalism in this country, I am reminded of the Monty Python sketch about the parrot - "It's just resting!" - while at the same time I'm stirred by its undercurrent of optimism. His last few words ring in my ears: "We will have a more just society as soon as we want one."
If you sense that, like myself, you are a lost liberal that is trying to find your way in the world, this book is for you.
If you are a Rush Limbaugh dittohead who needs a clue as to what "liberal" really means, this book is for you as well.
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Format: Hardcover
This a far better than average memoir. It is a sturdy, well written story that you haven't read before. It is about coming of age after liberalism's big battles are won. Packer looks at the life of his grandfather, his father and his own life (so far)in trying to exemplify politics of intelligence and inclusion. His grandfather was a U.S. Representative George Huddleston Sr. of Birmingham, Al serving from 1916 to l938. As the Depression Congressman from Birmingham he was an advocate for the New Deal until it went too far. His father was a brilliant lawyer and teacher at Stanford who fought the battles of McCarthyism only to be beaten silly in the campus revolts of the 1960s that made "liberalism" and ugly word. Packer himself became a Democratic Socialist during the illiberal age in which we now live, working in a homeless shelter, becoming a carpenter (hiding his Yale degree) in Boston. His story of visiting his Birmingham family in recent years to see the place his grandfather served is just wonderful. His uncle George Huddleston Jr. was elected to Congress as a liberal in 1954 and departed in the Goldwater sweep of the South in 1964 as a conservative as he tried to move right on the race issue. He never made it and didn't return to Alabama until he was to be buried. Packer adventures with his uncle George's widow Aunt AJ in Birmingham today is hilarious and sad. His sketch of businessman Drayton Nabors, a man confident of a Christian a Great Awakening across America but can't imagine an increase in the minimum wage is priceless.
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Format: Hardcover
Blood of the Liberals is a near-perfect blend of the personal and the political. Packer's grandfather was George Huddleston, a Congressman from Birmingham, Alabama who represents for Packer a lot of the contradictions in modern liberalism: desegregation versus states' rights, support for the common man against bigness (whether corporate, governmental, or otherwise), and at the same time a belief that government is sometimes necessary.

Packer's father, by contrast, was a pointy-headed academic. He grew up as a shy Jewish boy and moved into the ivory-tower life after some time spent in World War II; Packer paints the war years as rather uneventful for the senior Packer -- indeed little more than a pause from his books. I felt a lot of empathy with the dad; I was the same way when I was a kid, and I'm sure that if I went off to fight a war I'd be mailing home to ask for books and magazines just as much as Packer Sr. was.

I also drew a lot from Packer's portrait of his father, because in that portrait Packer seems to have discovered why liberals keep losing elections. Packer Sr. was an Adlai Stevenson man -- Stevenson, the charismatic, brilliant loser. In a better world, Stevenson would have been our president, but in this world he lost the race twice. The term egghead became popular because one of the Alsops tagged Stevenson with it.

And ever since Stevenson, says Packer, liberalism has been dominated by rather bloodless intellectuals who can't argue persuasively against the bread-and-butter issues that let Republicans win.
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Format: Paperback
Words can simply not do justice to the rapturous "Eureka! I have found it" feeling I experienced when I found, read and re-read this timely, vivid and insanely insightful book. (Perhaps I should mention that I have been searching in vain for nearly two years to find material on George Huddleston Sr. written in the literary style of eminent historians Richard Hofstadter and Christopher Lasch which also serves as both a caustic critique and a dynamic defense of the very concept of American liberalism). Packer is a great writer! He surveys the modern history of the American reform movement from 1869 to 2000 in a penetrative yet highly readable style and the word pictures he creates both engage and enlighten the reader immediately and throughout. His highly personal depictions of his family lineage - including triumphs and more than a few tragedies - make the story so poignant and touching that your heart will simply melt even if you don't agree with all of his premises or conclusions. And his understanding of the broad sweep of history is astounding - anyone who reads this book will come away with a much more enlightened view of 20th century American reform efforts than they would ever get from a more traditional historical author. There are only a few flaws (which I will not detail here), but those should be arrived at only after thoroughly studying this absolutely amazing book. Blood of the Liberals is simply one of the very best books I have ever read and I recommend it highly!
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