The subtitle—"A Novel of the Great Plains"—is misleading. No pioneer saga this, but, rather, a shrewd scan of American politics and key politicians affecting the severe problems (both natural and economic) of the Farm Belt, from the Cleveland Administration to 1936 and FDR. Throughout, the observer is a South Dakota newsman and editor. Son of a defeated Nebraskan farmer, Dan Wood has vowed never to be at the mercy of droughts, grasshoppers, and exploitation by the moneymen who control the banks, the railroads, and prices. Through the years, Dan works alongside publisher George Norton, a deep-dyed conservative who, nonetheless, keeps hands off the content and reportage of his Falls City, South Dakota, paper. In a judicious middle ground between George and his father-in-law—successful farmer Amos Harper, a fiery populist—Dan comes to scrutinize the evasions and smoke-screens of eastern political sectors asked to address farm policies, as well as the rousing extremes of farmers' revolutionary movements. He attends conventions—from the 1892 Populists ("rage, naked anger, even hatred") through that night in 1936 when FDR declared war—on the rich. Along the way, there are canny portraits of personages: a suave McKinley and his kingmaker Mark Hanna; William Jennings Bryant; Teddy Roosevelt, who was, to Dan, a reformer, not a radical, and "a reporter's dream." Dan notes power-bloc shifts, calls to "class wars," and the Farm Belt's Republican allegiances, still containing the germs of the old Populism. There are some domestic concerns here, but essentially this is a journalist's rich view of one salty area of American politics, with a delectable bonus—excerpts from speeches from the Great-to-Mediocre, speeches that heat the blood rather than lull the senses. Bailey, coauthor with Fletcher Knebel of Seven Days in May, etc., and formerly with the Minneapolis Tribune, knows his news-work—from scribbling in the field to the editor's desk.
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