1919: AMERICA'S LOSS OF INNOCENCE by Eliot Asinof

1919: AMERICA'S LOSS OF INNOCENCE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A bilious portrait of a watershed period in 20th-century US history--""a year of sea. Changing values wherein freedom, democracy, and the rule of law became shadowy myths."" Asinof (Bleeding Between the Lines, 1979, etc.) uses four key events to demonstrate how the soaring hopes of this first year after WW I were quickly dashed: Woodrow Wilson's unsuccessful fight for the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations; the Red Scare; the beginning of Prohibition; and the Chicago White Sox fixing of the World Series (the infamous ""Black Sox"" scandal, which Asinof covered in greater depth in his definitive Eight Men Out, 1963). Among the ""opportunists and self-deceivers"" are Wilson, who stumped for a vindictive peace treaty contrary to generous terms promised in his Fourteen Points; Seattle Mayor Ole Hanson, the first official to exploit the Red Menace; Wayne Wheeler, who manipulated a ""wet"" Congress into passing unenforceable Prohibition legislation; and White Sox owner Charles Comiskey, whose tightfisted ways drove his players into the arms of gamblers. Asinof's theme--that polluted public rhetoric undermined American values for the next decade, and even down to the present--sharply focuses his narrative, but also leads to stylistic excesses that weaken his arguments. When he is not wildly exaggerating (Elihu Root, who served capably in the cabinet of Theodore Roosevelt, is dismissed as ""a snobbish ultraconservative Republican""), Asinof wields his irony like a meat cleaver instead of a scalpel (Wilson ""rediscovered love and the joys of a rejuvenated sex life"" when he met the woman who would become his second wife). Sometimes his writing also becomes inexplicably sloppy (e.g., ""an endlessly unstoppable spiraling"" and ""a womanizing philanderer""). As a historian, Asinof is like a slugger who swings for the fences every time: he may be fun to watch, but he misses as often as he connects.

Pub Date: May 15th, 1990
Publisher: Donald Fine