Anyone who wishes to learn more of Lincoln, the nation he helped govern, and the way memory serves social and cultural...


An engaging scholarly study of the dynamic links between Lincoln’s image and the rapidly changing American culture during the six decades after his assassination.

Sociologist Schwartz (George Washington, not reviewed) wants to test sociological theories with historical evidence and bring history back into his own discipline. Fortunately, he also knows how to tell a good story. One needn’t like sociology (which appears here only at the start and finish and is spread on lightly anyway) to learn much from his engrossing account of the sources of Lincoln’s changing reputation between 1865 and the 1920s. (A forthcoming second volume will bring the story up to date.) Schwartz’s approach differs from Merrill Peterson’s Lincoln in American Memory (1994), which focused on the contents of Lincoln’s image: Schwartz explores instead how public perception of Lincoln waxed and waned as it did (the 16th President was by no means universally admired during his lifetime). Drawing on a wide variety of sources (art and statuary, schoolbooks and speeches, and the efforts of “reputational entrepreneurs”), Schwartz shows that Lincoln came to be revered as he was as much on account of the needs of particular historical moments and groups in the population as because of his own deeds and words. In other words, Americans constructed Lincoln’s image in their own. Such an argument will not surprise historians engaged in the scholarly industry of “memory studies.” But it reminds us of the complex interdependence of fact, memory, and culture. It also fills out our understanding of such specific phenomena as North-South reconciliation, military preparation, and race relations through the Progressive Era. And true to its sociological foundations, it reveals how images grow more from need than reality, and how reputations are as likely to be imposed as achieved.

Anyone who wishes to learn more of Lincoln, the nation he helped govern, and the way memory serves social and cultural functions will gain from this highly illuminating work. (b&w illustrations not seen)

Pub Date: July 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-226-74197-4

Page Count: 360

Publisher: Univ. of Chicago

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2000

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The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics,...


A provocative analysis of the parallels between Donald Trump’s ascent and the fall of other democracies.

Following the last presidential election, Levitsky (Transforming Labor-Based Parties in Latin America, 2003, etc.) and Ziblatt (Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy, 2017, etc.), both professors of government at Harvard, wrote an op-ed column titled, “Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy?” The answer here is a resounding yes, though, as in that column, the authors underscore their belief that the crisis extends well beyond the power won by an outsider whom they consider a demagogue and a liar. “Donald Trump may have accelerated the process, but he didn’t cause it,” they write of the politics-as-warfare mentality. “The weakening of our democratic norms is rooted in extreme partisan polarization—one that extends beyond policy differences into an existential conflict over race and culture.” The authors fault the Republican establishment for failing to stand up to Trump, even if that meant electing his opponent, and they seem almost wistfully nostalgic for the days when power brokers in smoke-filled rooms kept candidacies restricted to a club whose members knew how to play by the rules. Those supporting the candidacy of Bernie Sanders might take as much issue with their prescriptions as Trump followers will. However, the comparisons they draw to how democratic populism paved the way toward tyranny in Peru, Venezuela, Chile, and elsewhere are chilling. Among the warning signs they highlight are the Republican Senate’s refusal to consider Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee as well as Trump’s demonization of political opponents, minorities, and the media. As disturbing as they find the dismantling of Democratic safeguards, Levitsky and Ziblatt suggest that “a broad opposition coalition would have important benefits,” though such a coalition would strike some as a move to the center, a return to politics as usual, and even a pragmatic betrayal of principles.

The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics, rather than in the consensus it is not likely to build.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6293-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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