Citizen Reporters: S.S. McClure, Ida Tarbell, and the Magazine That Rewrote America
Stephanie Gorton shows how early 20th-century reporters like Ida Tarbell and Willa Cather captured the imagination of McClure’s Magazine’s 400,000 readers and the nation as a whole. Even the subjects of investigative stories often wanted to be known and photographed: “Click! Click! Click! … Everybody posing, smirking, attitudinizing!” An unamused President Theodore Roosevelt attacked “muckrakers,” but young McClure’s reporters continued researching, reporting, and drawing attention to arrogance in big business and big government. Editor S.S. McClure sometimes confused but also inspired his staffers: As Cather put it, “You often thought them a little more able than they really were, but those who had any stuff in them at all tried to be as good as you thought them, to come up to your expectations.”
The Age of Entitlement: America Since the Sixties
Christopher Caldwell details the impact of two 1960s laws based in an understanding that all are created in God’s image: the Civil Rights Act and the Immigration and Nationality Act. Both had unintended consequences. Legislation first designed to help the descendants of slaves expanded to include women and then LGBT individuals. An immigration bill seen as minor—Ted Kennedy said “the ethnic mix of this country will not be upset”—opened the United States to immigration from Latin America and Asia. Caldwell then explains insightfully how the 1960s revolution affected sex, war, debt, and diversity and created winners and losers, particularly white males who fell asleep thinking of themselves in charge “and woke up to find themselves occupying the bottom rung of an official hierarchy of races.”
You Say You Want a Revolution? Radical Idealism and Its Tragic Consequences
Professor of Russian and Eurasian studies Daniel Chirot takes us through the Russian, German, Iranian, and Chinese revolutions, with a detour to Mexico as well, and shows why they all became bloody tragedies. My Q&A with Chirot is on page 32: Please read that to learn of the lessons we can draw from revolutionary failure and the slow-down message history provides to those who scorn moderation and compromise. Chirot writes, “The great revolutions … sidelined and typically purged the first wave of more moderate revolutionaries.” Radicals come to power when “old regime incompetence creates chaos” and “liberals fail to quiet discontent.” Chirot’s concluding note: “If you want a revolution, beware of how it might turn out, because you might one day rue the one you get.”
Great Society: A New History
Amity Shlaes shows how the failure of 1960s suite-level planning has led to current economic and racial tensions—and our hard experience suggests that today’s top-down programs won’t do any better. She starts with the early 1960s’ most-watched television series, Bonanza, and concludes with the demolition in St. Louis of the Pruitt-Igoe housing project, which became a symbol of Great Society failure. On the way she deftly and delightfully profiles leaders of the era like union head Walter Reuther, young radical Tom Hayden, and economics ear-whisperer Arthur Burns. Note: Great Society came out late in 2019, but since our Books of the Year issues go to press in November, we sometimes include end-of-the-year books in the following year’s lists. Please read a bonus Q&A with Amity Shlaes at this link.
This page is part of WORLD’s 2020 Books of the Year section.