American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation

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American Dreamers surveys the creative contributions of the lately much-reviled American Left, from the 1820s to the election of President Obama. It concludes that far from malice or irrelevance, the Left has been the keystone of America’s successful democracy. The earliest heroes of the movement are not household names, and are often passed over in high school texts. (Personally, this “filling in the blanks” was a particularly enjoyable experience.) Unknowns like Reverend David Walker (abolitionist), Albert Parsons (labor organizer) and Ernestine Rose (women’s rights) were, in their day, outspoken champions of human liberation who had a substantial following. Michael Kazin asserts that the Left, whose leaders dared to ask for such once “un-American” things as an end to slavery, the right to unionize, for safety on the job, and the vote for women, were striving for a better world, the kind which includes all races and creeds – and income levels.

If Kazin sometimes overstates a case, he says he “means to.” He hopes his book will provoke debate and get his readers thinking about the past as it actually was, not as it has been reimagined of so many of today’s pundits and politicians. There are shades of gray here, leaders that modern readers can’t entirely embrace, but American Dreamers is history warts and all, the narrative backed, as you’d expect, with copious notes. The author is a respected professor of history at Georgetown University and has received honors which include two Fulbrights. I’d recommend this work highly, particularly to any serious student of American history.

 

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