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The Populist Persuasion: An American History Hardcover – February 8, 1995
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From Publishers Weekly
If populism now seems "something of a fashion statement," Kazin (Barons of Labor) ably reveals its rich and textured history. Activists from varied backgrounds have sought to invoke and speak to the masses since the late-19th-century People's Party mobilized agrarians and artisans. Kazin chronicles the place of populism in the labor and socialist movements of the Progressive era, prohibitionism and the crusades of radio cleric Charles Coughlin. After WWII, populism switched from left to right: the Cold War begat Sen. Joseph McCarthy, the New Left failed to "speak authentically," given their middle-class backgrounds, and George Wallace and Ronald Reagan tapped mass anxieties about race and taxes. In a society often said to be in decline, populism becomes "a language of the disspirited," but Kazin observes that progressive intellectuals must take account of populism if our society's problems are to be solved. Illustrations.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
Kazin (history, American Univ.) has written a thoughtful and important book on one of the more consequential movements in American politics-populism. Tracing the emergence of populist campaigns from the 19th century to the present day, he looks at such movements as the labor movement, the prohibitionist crusade, Catholic radio populist Father Coughlin, the New Left, and the recent advance of conservative populism, as identified with such figures as George Wallace and Ronald Reagan. Kazin opens by saying, "I began to write this book as a way of making sense of a painful experience: the decline of the American Left, including its liberal component, and the rise of the Right." Anyone interested in either political tendency will find this book both informative and engaging. It is a powerful, elegantly written, and observant study that never fails to retain the reader's interest. The book's one major flaw is its naive and overly sanguine treatment of the American Communist Party. Its major selling point is its suggestive analysis of right-wing populism. Recommended for all collections.
Kent Worcester, Social Science Research Council, New York
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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The Populist Persuasion attempts to show that political populism is not just a movement of farmers and workers in the Gilded Age, but rather it is a way of seeing social and economic issues and offering a solution that addresses the needs of the amorphous "people." As such, it is a political persuasion that survives its initial application and lends itself to the needs of (among others) the socially conscious Christian, the labor organizer, and the new-left activist. This is useful, but as historical analysis it is inherently imprecise, after the manner of compelling political synthesis.
I do wish he or his editor had not attached the subtitle "An American History." It is not near that much of a synthesis, and it would have been much weaker if it were. It is a study that describes and extends populism IN American history into the recent past.
Kazin elsewhere acknowledges his personal secular liberal bias, and indeed it results in one of the few tenuous moments in the book when he portrays populism's "capture" at the hands of the modern political right. His critique is measured and fair, I think, but the viewpoint from which he writes is evident. Fair enough.
Kazin has a rare gift for making this kind of mental exercise clear and accessible without oversimplifying. He is a gifted historical writer, and this is a fine example of his craft. I like the book well enough that it is a required case-study for my US political history survey. High praise.
In the introduction, the author describes himself as a member of the "non-communist left." I was glad to see his honesty in identifying this. It was obvious but not pervasive throughout the book-especially toward the end. This hardcore libertarian did NOT choke on left-wing propaganda. I credit the author for TRYING to be objective about left vs. right issues. (Notice I say try)
At times, he gets a little wordy and digresses. I got SO tired of the word "erstwhile" - the next time I read it, I think I will scream. The book is written on the scholarly level, but is not overbearingly pedantic.
One thing that I did NOT count on in this book was the good dose of American history I got. Of course the history was needed for background purposes-but I still didn't expect it. I'm always pleased when I get something I didn't expect.
Overall, this book is well written. It is worth the read. I knocked off a star not because of any DE-merit. For me, it just didn't evoke the passion or enthusiasm that a 5-star book does. I walked away completely satisfied-but not blown away. I will certainly look for this author's other works.
Midwest Independent Research, educational websites. US history, mwir-ushistory.blogspot. There is a book list.