Prizewinning journalist and Fox News political analyst Williams (Muzzled: The Assault on Honest Debate, 2011, etc.) identifies more than two dozen individuals who helped shape modern America.
In brightly written chapters detailing the lives and actions of “great men and women who forged the nation we have today,” the author traces extraordinary changes of the 20th century that would have shocked the Founding Fathers, who lived in a smaller, far different society. Members of the new “founding family,” as he calls these modern change-makers, include jurists Earl Warren and Thurgood Marshall (racial equality), economist Milton Friedman (free markets), builders Robert Moses and William Levitt (the urban and suburban landscapes), George Meany (labor), Billy Graham (the Christian right), and Henry Kissinger (diplomacy). Some sparked social-change movements through books, such as Betty Friedan (The Feminine Mystique) and Rachel Carson (Silent Spring). Others are little known, like bureaucrat Robert Ball, a longtime Social Security official who redefined and expanded that program to define health care as a fundamental right; and Harry Hay, founder of the first U.S. gay rights group. In each instance, Williams draws on secondary sources to provide a balanced view of people and issues, often noting the “for better or worse” aspects of massive societal changes, such as the rise of the National Rifle Association under actor Charlton Heston. The author’s insistence on comparing modern change-makers to the Founding Fathers, however, is a bit of a stretch. While it allows him to make effective comparisons between American life past and present, it has the effect of elevating many individuals, such as Bill Bratton, father of data-driven policing, and Gen. William Westmoreland, who helped reshape the U.S. military, to company to which they do not belong. Perhaps most interesting is Jack and Ted Kennedy’s work on 1965 immigration reform, which has literally changed the face of America. Notably absent are technology and business figures.
A solid overview for general readers.