A VERY DIFFERENT AGE: Americans of the Progressive Era by Steven J. Diner

A VERY DIFFERENT AGE: Americans of the Progressive Era

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KIRKUS REVIEW

While covering no especially new ground, Diner (History/George Mason Univ.) compiles a cohesive look at one of the most change-filled eras in American history. Diner's view of the Progressive era, stressing the effects of the Industrial Revolution on American society, concentrates on the lives and experiences of workers, women, African-Americans, immigrants, and politicians in that period. With the exception of the latter, there is substantial overlap. For instance, Diner's discussion of the rise of unionization in the face of increased industrial output describes not only the lives of the laborers who unionized, but the experiences of women entering the work force, blacks who were systematically excluded from most unions, and immigrants who were particularly active in the labor movement. The political reaction to the whole process is fittingly summarized by Diner as a case of government responding ""not only with the carrot of union recognition and mediation but with the stick of suppression of radicals""--culminating in the jailing of labor leader Eugene V. Debs not only for his strike activities, but for his anti-WW I stance during the first ""Red Scare."" In general, Diner sees the Progressive era as bringing some limited successes but many failures to much of the population. Women ultimately gained suffrage in 1920, but after WW I, African-Americans returned to the dismal prospects of pre-Progressivism America. Diner asserts that the acts of progressive politicians and social reformers in general were sometimes genuine but mostly selfish: Teddy Roosevelt attacking corporate monopoly as it suited his needs, and Woodrow Wilson segregating formerly integrated government departments. Diner is left to conclude that ""progressives, like other Americans, joined a contest for control under rules set by industrial capitalism."" Through solid research and apposite anecdotes, Diner is able to demonstrate the emergence of both problems and ideas that still persist in our own ""very different age."" Sobering and useful.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1997
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Hill & Wang