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The Most Exclusive Club: A History of the Modern United States Senate Hardcover – October 31, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The history of the U.S. Senate in the 20th century is one of evolution from a genteel debating society into a collection of bitterly partisan politicians, half of them seeming to eye runs for the White House as they joust for media coverage. As Gould, a historian at the University of Texas (Grand Old Party) relates this disheartening history, a number of themes recur, including periodic battles over the filibuster (especially its use by Southern Democrats defending Jim Crow from the 1930s to the 1960s) and too many senators' chronic alcoholism, sexism and egomania. Inevitably, the book focuses on shifting institutional mores (such as the emergence of year-round fund-raising and campaigning after the advent of television) rather than the substance of policy debates. Gould's assessment of the Senate's historical performance is relatively bleak, noting that, for "protracted periods," it functioned "as a force to genuinely impede the nation's vitality and evolution." And he offers jaundiced assessments of the legacies of some men routinely described as giants of the Senate, such as Robert La Follette, Robert Taft and especially Richard Russell, the much admired six-term senator from Georgia, whose political gifts were deployed in the service of virulent racism. 20 b&w photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

A prolific chronicler of American political history (1968: The Election That Changed America, 1993), Gould inspects the twentieth-century record of the U.S. Senate. Generally disenchanted with the body and its obstructionist propensities, Gould briskly enunciates his criticisms of Senate procedures and concentrates on the senators themselves. In the self--important surroundings of Capitol Hill, personalities and animosities have had significant political ramifications, which connect with the electoral rhythms to shape Gould's narrative. One large theme is the mirage of fame, Gould arguing that the most famous senators, such as the progressive Robert La Follette, the isolationist William Borah, or the egomaniacal Lyndon Johnson, are marginal to institutional history. Gould rates as more important obscure figures such as John Worth Kern (for engineering Woodrow Wilson's legislative program) and James Allen (for perfecting the filibuster in the 1970s). Much in the news, the filibuster's history will be Gould's current-events selling point, and his gallery of the Senate's cads, sots, and segregationists, plus its members principled or corrupt, will lead readers into the world of senatorial social and parliamentary customs. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; New title edition (October 31, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465027784
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465027781
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.5 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,742,199 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By mrliteral VINE VOICE on January 31, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
While there is no shortage of books on Presidents and the Presidency, and quite a few on the Supreme Court, it seems that the legislative branch is a bit neglected. That's not to say that there aren't some good books on individual Congressmen (especially the big names such as Clay, Webster and Calhoun), but the institution seems to be the least chronicled of the three branches. With The Most Exclusive Club, Lewis Gould tries to fill this void with a history of the Senate from 1900 on.

Why the beginning of the 20th century as a starting point? There are probably two reasons, although Gould doesn't really develop them. For one thing, this period chronicles what Gould would call the Modern American Presidency (in his book by the same name, which goes from McKinley onward). Secondly, by starting in 1900, we see the last years of the "old" Senate that was composed of members chosen by state legislatures and the whole period of the "modern" popularly elected Senate.

Unlike the President and Supreme Court which can - to some extent - define themselves, the Senate, as Gould describes it, is more defined by its relationship with the President. Perhaps that is because so many Senators aimed for the Presidency as their ultimate goal, with the Senate as a mere stepping stone; ironically, this is not the best way to become a President; only Harding and Kennedy were able to go from the Senate to the Presidency in the 20th century, and history is littered with more ill-fated Senators (most recently, Kerry and Dole, plus all the many who weren't even nominated, like Gephardt or McCain).

Gould's history is pretty chronologically straightforward.
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Format: Hardcover
Like many people in late 2005, I have been watching the HBO series, "Rome," and noticing the role of the Roman Senate in the collapse of the republic to be replaced by Julius Caesar's empire. "The Most Exclusive Club" is a capable, relatively short anecdotal history of the U.S. Senate in modern America. This Senate's relationship to its ancient Roman namesake is more than just coincidental. In Gould's telling, the modern U.S. Senate, like its Roman predecessor, had its share of corrupt politicians, dedicated public servants, power brokers, and reprobates. Both groups shared the authority and responsibility of high office in a time of crisis and transition. Both senates also found themselves under the control of a powerful chief executive, and while Caesar was a tyrant who did not have to stand for election, at various times in the twentieth century the United States Senate also contended with an "imperial presidency" that demanded obedience of the Senate. That is certainly the case of the most recent post-9/11 era.

This is an important book that traces the history of the Senate throughout the twentieth century and into the first years of the twenty-first. In it we see the institution evolve as differing concerns rise and subside, as crises come and go, and as personalities change and the forces of political will shift. One of the my favorite sections of the book deals with Lyndon B. Johnson, whose leadership was one of domination and browbeating on both members of his own party and on the Republicans. He accomplished much before leaving the Senate for the vice presidency in 1961, but he also left an institution in disarray.
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Format: Hardcover
Lewis L. Gould paints an unflattering portrait of the United States Senate from 1900 to the present. This lively and comprehensive history should be of interest to all Americans who care about the upcoming 2006 elections and the future of our political system.

Gould, a historian from the University of Texas Austin, serves up many delicious quotes about the worst character traits of modern Senators. He directs particular scorn upon rampant alcoholism, naming several of the Club's most inebriated members. Gould pulls no punches to expose their other unpleasant tendencies: protectionism in trade policy; isolationism in foreign policy; racism in civil rights; and obstructionism of every kind to protect parochial interests.

Far too many Senators from the "modern" era have succeeded only in lowering the bar for their successors, judging by this latest historical account of their behavior in office. One enduring history lesson from this period: the biggest grandstanders and publicity hounds often leave the smallest mark in terms of lasting legislative legacy. Low-key Mike Mansfield, on the other hand, emerges as the most revered of the modern Senate Majority Leaders. An entire chapter is devoted to bipartisan accomplishments, in both foreign and domestic matters, achieved under the Montanan's distinguished, but quiet, leadership. Men from small Western states like Montana seem to thrive in the Senate backrooms where, like Mike Mansfield, they can have an impact on U.S. history disproportionate to their home state's population.

History buffs will find much to like in these pages. Gould's narrative draws more heavily from diaries and private correspondence than from the Congressional Record.
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