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AMERICA 1900 by Judy Crichton

AMERICA 1900

The Turning Point

By Judy Crichton

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-8050-5365-4
Publisher: Henry Holt

A delightful look at the last century-turning year. This book represents a good idea. The question of whether a century begins with a year ending in zero or one means that we get to celebrate the beginning of a new hundred-year cycle twice, and the interim period between New Year’s Days takes on a special significance for calendar watchers. Crichton, award-winning executive producer of PBS’s The American Experience, tracks the year 1900 on a month-by-month basis, weaving together stories of individuals and events, high drama and mundane life. Some phenomena span the entire year, notably the presidential election and the early stages of the Philippine insurrection; in both cases our knowledge of future tragedy makes the description more poignant. In politics we see not only the major milestones—party conventions and election day—but also the strain of the campaign on Bryan and Roosevelt, the leisured approach of McKinley, and the back room power plays. Some phenomena provide dramatic moments in time, notably the multinational effort to rescue besieged Westerners in Peking during the Boxer rebellion and the coal miners’ strike in Pennsylvania. Events of varying levels of meaning—the Paris Exposition, the Harvard-Yale football game, the deal between Andrew Carnegie and J. Pierpont Morgan that created US Steel—along with the activities of varying individuals—Jack London, Paul Dunbar, and Theodore Roosevelt—are recounted in the context of the life of the age. Crichton keeps us focused on 1900 throughout, eschewing the temptation to continually draw lessons for the future, yet it is impossible to avoid thinking about whether that year’s trauma and triumph, corruption and character, would be preferable to our own. Somehow a president’s sexual dalliances seem comparatively superficial. Then again, we are not yet to the year 2000. An extremely enjoyable account. (100 b&w photos, not seen) (Author tour)