A thoughtful look at a long-ago era when America seemed egalitarian and prosperous.



A history of “the rise of the middle class as a defining feature of American society from the 1930s to the 1960s.”

In the mid-20th-century, middle-class Americans saw their position as timeless and natural. Few believe that now, and political scientist Stebenne has written a provocative account of their rise and fall. He reminds readers that until well into the last century, farming was a grueling life, and wages in factories, mines, mills, and offices did not support a bourgeois lifestyle. Matters began changing between the wars. The author begins with Herbert Hoover, whose winning 1928 election campaign emphasized the nation’s march toward prosperity. His personality ill-equipped him to handle the Depression, an accusation no one makes against his successor, Franklin Roosevelt, whose programs, conservatives insist, did not end massive unemployment. Stebenne agrees and admits that many New Deal programs flopped, but others laid the groundwork for the postwar middle-class explosion. Among these were farm subsidies, business regulation, bank reform, housing legislation, social security, encouragement of labor unions, and a graduated income tax to pay for it. In 1945, civilians had savings that they yearned to spend, so the depression everyone expected when returning soldiers flooded the job market never happened. By the 1950s, prosperity seemed the norm, although it was a white, suburban family prosperity with a male head of household. The impoverished minority seethed, and dissatisfaction swelled among intellectuals and activists. Few doubt that the 1960s saw the end of the good times. Stebenne blames the Vietnam War, the revival of organized, free-market conservatism (“born out of opposition to [John F.] Kennedy’s efforts to sustain and expand the existing system through diplomacy abroad and activist government at home”), and competition from Europe and Asia, now recovered from the devastation of World War II, which stimulated businesses to move to the low-wage south and then across the sea.

A thoughtful look at a long-ago era when America seemed egalitarian and prosperous.

Pub Date: July 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-0270-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

Did you like this book?

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.



Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

Did you like this book?