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Unreasonable Men: Theodore Roosevelt and the Republican Rebels Who Created Progressive Politics Hardcover – July 22, 2014
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“As Michael Wolraich argues in his sharp, streamlined new book, Unreasonable Men, it was ‘the greatest period of political change in American history.'” ―Washington Post, 50 Notable Works of Nonfiction
“In a timely history of the birth of progressivism, political journalist Michael Wolraich explores the spectacular power struggle that shattered the Republican Party and split the country between the ideological factions that now define modern politics: progressive and conservative.” ―The Daily Beast
“Wolraich probes this historic moment in light of an American political reawakening to the idea of the interests of the citizens as separate from, and potentially victim to, the interests of corporations and capital holders; it is a mighty and relevant insight into the cyclical nature of history.” ―Publisher's Weekly
“Wolraich presents an engaging survey of a movement's progress from radical extremism to conventional wisdom.” ―Kirkus Reviews
“Unreasonable Men offers a good, hopeful read for these politically slow early summer days.” ―Alternet
“In Unreasonable Men, Michael Wolraich has tapped into an historical goldmine: that turn of the century period when insurgent Republicans drove the progressive movement in America. With impressive documentation, Wolraich expands our understanding of the very different and decidedly more conservative Republican Party of today.” ―Thomas B. Edsall, Joseph Pulitzer II and Edith Pulitzer Moore Professor, Columbia Graduate School of Journalism
“This is a fascinating, thoroughly readable account of the rise of Progressivism in America, with a detailed portrait of the rivalry between the two giants of that movement, Teddy Roosevelt and Fighting Bob La Follette. It's a great addition to the history of the period, and it sheds some crucial light on our current moment.” ―Matthew Rothschild, senior editor at The Progressive
“Unreasonable Men is a shrewd and vividly written account of a conflict that defined the politics of the Progressive Era. It is also a timely story: the same argument between foes and defenders of corporate power which raged a century ago can be heard in our partisan battles today.” ―Michael Kazin, Professor of History at Georgetown University, editor of Dissent and author of American Dreamers: How the Left Shaped a Nation
“Unreasonable Men recounts the nation's dramatic transformation as political focus shifted from promoting the interests of the wealthiest Americans to protecting its everyday citizens. Wolraich's engaging narrative recaptures the excitement and suspense of the nation's turn from conservatism to progressivism. For a nation facing a similar crisis over the role of government today, this book offers inspiration and illustrates the power of fearless leaders committed to real change for the betterment of all.” ―Nancy C. Unger, Professor of History at Santa Clara University and author of Fighting Bob La Follette: The Righteous Reformer
“Michael Wolraich has that special ability to be immersed in the present and bring its insights to the past while still accepting, understanding it on its own terms. Here he brings to life the century old battle where progressive reformism emerged paradoxically out of a civil war within the GOP. A must read.” ―Josh Marshall, Editor and Publisher of Talking Points Memo, Polk Award winner
About the Author
Michael Wolraich is a political journalist and historian, author of Blowing Smoke, and co-founder of the political blog dagblog.com. His writing has appeared at The Atlantic, The Daily Beast, CNN, Reuters, Talking Points Memo, and Pando Daily. He has also appeared on C-SPAN's BookTV, The John Batchelor Show, Culture Shocks, and various radio shows across the country. He lives in New York City.
Top customer reviews
Unreasonable Men is well organized - each chapter has a clear date, and Michael's many assertions about the inner motivations of Speaker of the House Joe Cannon, Senate Leader Nelson Aldrich, House and Senate gadfly "Fighting Bob" LaFollette, President Teddy Roosevelt and President William Howard Taft are supported with footnotes. His assertions may open him to challenges from conservatives who interpret history differently, but the active voice does make one feel in the moment and moves the story along. His descriptions, citing of facts and use of quotes bring life to figures that usually repose in the dust of the passive tense.
Michael opens by describing a political landscape in 1904 that could easily be mistaken for 2014. Rich vs poor, dwindling resources, financial crashes, and congressional paralysis sound like topics on Meet the Press, The Daily Show or Democracy Now. But in telling about the past he leaves us to make our own comparisons with the present. I knew from high school that Roosevelt had fallen out with Taft, and had started the Bull Moose Party, and I knew that Taft eventually became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, but Michael fills in the back story.
Learning about Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot's breakneck assignation of 16 million acres of woodlands into the US Forest Service's national reserve before an appropriations bill stripped them of that power was worth the whole book. Conservatives lost interest in conserving when it became clear that the land wasn't being set aside for their future exploitation. Taft reversed some of those assignments, and in today's headlines, conservatives are still trying to privatize portions of that land.
Michael captures how LaFollette and his brethren led a successful Progressive movement of the lower and middle class against a government skewed towards the wealthy and influential, but one wonders if there is any sort of mechanism to do that today when every politician depends so heavily on corporate contributions to stay in office.