Sunday, May 6, 2007

Books of the Times - cont'd

More from "Rendezvous with Destiny," the history of reform during the post-Civil War period through 1950 by Eric F. Goldman (winner of the Bancroft Prize for distinguished American History in 1952) I blogged on last week....

Some additional nuggets and gems in the pages of this book include Goldman's descriptions of a couple books during the late nineteenth-century that were enormously influential to the course of American history, but that are all but forgotten today.

Goldman gives a couple examples - first, Henry George, whose book "Progress and Poverty" caught the angry mood of the 1870s:

"'Progress and Poverty,' published in 1879, was not out a year before its author was a national figure. Across the country, farmers squinted over the book's fine print. 'Tens of thousands of industrial laborers,' the economist Richard Ely note, 'have read 'Progress and Poverty' who never before looked between the covers of an economics book.' Troubled Americans who were neither factory hands nor farmers helped make 'Progress and Poverty' one of the ten or so most widely selling non-fiction works in the history of the United States."

"The young man who had wanted so fervently and had been stopped so often, with his moving arraignment of his times, his warning that America was moving down the weary road of Europe [with its stratified classes], his summons to recreate opportunity, had caught the mood with which thousands of Americans left the depression of 1873."

This is fascinating to me.... We read the recent and current histories - and that's all well and good - but we lose an awful lot if we fail to go back and dig deeper into what people were really responding to at the time.