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The American Political Tradition and the Men Who Made it

3.98  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,145 Ratings  ·  55 Reviews
The founding fathers, an age of realism
Thomas Jefferson, the aristocrat as democrat
Andrew Jackson & the rise of liberal capitalism
John C. Calhoun, the Marx of the master class
Abraham Lincoln & the self-made myth
Wendell Phillips, the patrician as agitator
The spoilsmen, an age of cynicism
William Jennings Bryan, the democrat as revivalist
Theodore Roos
Paperback, 415 pages
Published 1948 by Vintage Books/Alfred A. Knopf Inc./Random House Inc.
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Apr 08, 2011 Szplug rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The title of this book is a touch misleading - what Hofstadter actually put together was twelve essays on American politicians - all but one of whom held office - who were present during various instrumental periods in American history, and endeavored to leap astride the coursers of public and political momentum and seek to direct the unruly and unpredictable beasts back towards the beaten path. Completed in 1947 when the author was but thirty - it's a young man's book he acknowledges in the pre ...more
Steven Peterson
May 12, 2010 Steven Peterson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Richard Hofstadter was an eminent historian, who wrote well on significant issues. My favorite works of his focus on American political thought and the history of American politics.

Some of the chapters reveal the nature of his effort. "The Founding Fathers: An Age of Realism"; "Thomas Jefferson: The Aristocrat as Democrat"; "John C. Calhoun: The Marx of the Master Class"; "Wendell Phillips: The Patrician as Agitator"; "Woodrow Wilson: The Conservative as Liberal"; "Franklin D. Roosevelt: The Pat
Jun 24, 2010 Mike rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy, history
Strangely, Hofstadter wasn't particularly proud of this book; he considered it a young man's work, not the work of a serious scholar. But because of this fact, it is his most accessible work to the educated, non-specialist public. It is probably his most-read book, and it repays reading with wit, humor, and not a small amount of trenchant criticism and original thought.

Hofstadter was writing during the era of consensus history—when the modern consensus on American history had coalesced around a
Justin Evans
Jul 16, 2012 Justin Evans rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-etc
Hofstadter writes very well and makes big claims, which is a pleasant change from a lot of contemporary history. The book's general thesis - that the American Political Tradition is by and large an ongoing defense of the property rights of the well-off - seems correct. The book itself lags a bit. It's odd but understandable that the worst chapters are about people who are just transparently evil and or idiots; he's at his best as a debunker (i.e., Andrew Jackson was no champion of the oppressed) ...more
Jake Berlin
brilliant historical synthesis and commentary. the title of the book is a bit misleading (as hofstadter himself admits; it was not his original choice); rather than a full synopsis of "the american political tradition", the book is really a series of fascinating, well written, and insightful political biographies of some of the most important americans in history. each chapter could stand alone as an essay, and as a collection they make for one of the better non-fiction books i've read.
May 09, 2015 Christopher rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An excellent book on the the political history of our country from the days of the founders to the presidency of FDR, Hofstadter truly has written a history of our country that every American should read and be proud of and every historian probably wishes he had written. His prose is brief, well formulated, and easily readable, a problem in Sean WIlentz's "The Rise of American Democracy." Also, he analyzes each of the major figures of American political history in a way that can only be describe ...more
May 16, 2014 Eileen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I figured I might as well add APUSH reading to my read list. =)
APT was actually interesting even though I didn't expect it to be. It goes into the life of some of the most famous presidents of American history such as Jefferson and FDR. In APT, we learn that the presidents aren't one sided. Jefferson was insecure. Lincoln broke laws and violated rights. Hoover did the best he could with the current American ideals. APT illustrates to us that great men of history are still just that: men.
Joseph Stieb
Although the title reveals the dated nature of this book (the Men Who Made America, Dammit!), I'd still say this book is worth reading for political historians and other students of politics. I liked it well enough. Hofstadter tells the story of the American political tradition through 12 biographies of major American figures and the eras they represented. He retells the biographies in engrossing detail, capturing the political styles and philosophies of these figures in compelling ways. I parti ...more
Oliver Bateman
Sep 13, 2009 Oliver Bateman rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
A beautifully written book that is heavy on analysis and opinion and light on historical research. Histories of this sort are fun to read, but I doubt there was ever any reason to write them (other than to pass the time, which is an excellent reason to do anything). You'll walk away from TAPT with a lot of talking points about important American politicians that subsequent historians have qualified into irrelevance in the fifty years since its publication.
Oct 04, 2014 Jeff rated it really liked it
So it looks from 1948. A perspective that leaps over all American wars and views men's efforts to avoid, or exploit, wars' similar calamities. (A pet thesis for RH is that war is the nemesis of liberal consensus, and progressivism its dilation.) For Charles Olson, who worked in the Office of War Information until about 11 months before the great man, FDR, died, U.S. participation in the war had been a mistake made in spite of the people, who not-uncommonly were divided about the various theaters ...more
May 26, 2011 Luis rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent, eye-opening, thought-provoking.
Sean Chick
Feb 11, 2016 Sean Chick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Hofstadter was a bit ashamed of this book and with somewhat good reason. It is an iconoclastic work in which certain "great" politicians are taken to task and their weaknesses exposed, sometimes with love (Jefferson, Lincoln) and sometimes bitterly (Theodore Roosevelt, Bryan). The connecting theme is moderation, but not so much in praise of it as a discussion of its limitations, particularly in terms of left-wing politics. Hofstadter later wrote that this moderation theme was accidental and over ...more
Tom Schulte
Aug 02, 2014 Tom Schulte rated it really liked it
Though it is a mid-Twentieth Century text, Hofstadter shows right off in the introduction that he has an intuitive grasp of the American mind: "Since Americans have recently found it more comfortable to see where they have been than to think of where they are going, their state of mind has become increasingly passive and spectatorial. Historical novels, fictionalized biographies, collections of pictures and cartoons, books on American regions and rivers, have poured forth to satisfy a ravenous a ...more
Frank Stein
Feb 22, 2013 Frank Stein rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Like the best intellectual histories, this presents the past as one great and ongoing conversation, one with high stakes and unplumbable depths. What distinguishes it though is the conversation is not one between traditional thinkers in the grand style, but between a series of American politicians. Hofstader does not even focus all his attention on those political theorizers like Thomas Jefferson and Woodrow Wilson; he gives equal weight to those less often examined for their intellectual underg
Mister Future [formerly known as 'Pizzle']
The American Political Tradition Book Review

Richard Hofstadter (1916-1970) received his PhD in History from Columbia University in 1942. Soon after, he decided to pursue a writing career and study the history of politics. In his seventh published book, Hofstadter wrote his most acclaimed piece, The American Political Tradition (1948). In it, he gave his own analysis of America’s most prominent political figures. This work recalls events through American history that have changed how people thin
Nov 19, 2014 Casey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Who are John C. Calhoun and Wendell Phillips? If you don't know you might want to pick up a copy of Hofstadter's book, American Political Tradition. If you have never read Hofstadter, or heard of him, he is an American historian and intellectual who has written several books on the socio-political state of America. Hofstadter in The American Political Tradition presents in mini-biographical form the lives and importance of several American politicians and how they shaped American political tradi ...more
Chris Lopez-cepero
This is a great book, and an especially great book to read in a presidential election year. Hofstadter's clear-eyed examination of the basic values of the American tradition cuts through all the pap and empty platitudes of campaign rhetoric. He follows this aim with a series of mini-biographies that trace the development of the republic from Jefferson through FDR. The prose is lively and passionate, and Hofstadter takes little pains to clothe his scorn in the dispassionate language of academic c ...more

This helped me get aquainted with some of the historical trends and personalities of America. Hofstadter is a little bit more defaming in it than he might otherwise be expected to be. He even makes the point in the afterword that if he had the chance, looking back years later, that he'd want to change something on every page.

Call that scholar's remorse.

But what this book does do is start to dig in to the personalities and poltical stature of some of the bigger and lesser known people out there.
Henry Sturcke
Jun 28, 2015 Henry Sturcke rated it it was amazing
Democracy carries with it the responsibility, even obligation, to inform oneself about the political tradition. In the case of the U.S., that begins with the American State Papers (Declaration of Independence, etc), supplemented by Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and Second Inaugural Address. Then there is a short list of secondary lit about the tradition, and this book belongs on that list, no matter how short it it.
Feb 20, 2014 Cheri rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-nerd
An interesting addition to my on-the-dry-side American Government course: the lives and political histories of different influential American men.
Not really something I'd assign to any group of students by itself, (because, what the hell, straight white men??) but some of the chapters were really interesting and made me want to read actual biographies on these guys. Particularly Andrew Jackson--what an interesting character!
Jul 07, 2014 Ezzy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library-books, 2014
I found it dry, but interesting for pointing out what was terrible about every major political figure in American history. Nobody gets off lightly. In the end, it reads as one-sided as the completely laudatory biographies of the same figures. Major accomplishments are not mentioned or downplayed, and the required hypocrisies of politics are written as major moral or ideological failings.

I'd consider it important reading as one of many books about American political history for the serious reader
Alexander Monaco
So, I finally finished reading this godawful abomination of a book because its use was no longer necessitated by my history class. I'd just like to say that the reason we have problems providing drinking water to everyone worldwide is that the dryness of this book would make the Sahara Desert during the summer solstice seem like a lush, tropical resort; it is able to deplete the planet of life, water, love, and all things that are good.
Chad Lamb
I've read some of this for class but not all. Would be interested in reading more sometime.
Jul 09, 2014 Allison rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This was assigned summer reading for AP US history class, and it was so boring it made me cry.
Ed Smiley
Jul 20, 2012 Ed Smiley rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As I get older, rather than getting drunk and burning and blowing up things, I find myself drawn to read a work of American history around Independence Day.

Apparently, Hofstadter thought little of this book, a youthful work, because it was without the subtlety and considered judgement that he came later in life to value.

I think that's bosh.

For the non-specialist, it's a very engaging read of character studies of major American political figures. Each chapter is succinct, lively, and irreverent
Jun 18, 2015 Rick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well written. Irresponsibly broad, but compelling.

Some chapters hold up better than others. The chapters on Jefferson, Calhoun, and Wilson are masterpieces. The chapter on Jackson dwelt to a fault on Hofstader's own estimation of the man (negative), and the chapter on Lincoln was too ambitious. Hofstadter did not yet have enough historical remove to fully consider FDR, and the book ends with a whimper.

Personal note: I found this 1950s paperback edition on the stoop next to my building. Well wo
Sep 11, 2007 S rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: high school age american history enthusiasts with a penchant for psychobiography
five stars, if only for sentimentality's sake. this is the book that made me want to do history at all. if i read it now, ii would have different feelings towards it, but at the time (11th grade), it was fascinating. basically, he goes chapter by chapter through american history, picks a great man, gives hima great subtitle ("john c. calhoun: marx of hte master class") and then writes the history of the period through them.

hat tip to 11th grade american history ap teacher, dr. ross.
Jay Atwood
Feb 20, 2016 Jay Atwood rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Very well researched and written, these sketches of American statesmen stay outside mainstream biography and above partisan politics, capturing each subject in a precise and thought-provoking way. No apologies are made for each subject, nor are characters assassinated; instead strengths and weaknesses are presented in such a way as to illustrate how each informed American statesmanship. Anyone with their sights set on a career in politics would be well served by reading this first.
Mar 08, 2008 Hannah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: schoolbooks
Sort of in the vein of history-is-people, Hofstadter takes America's most interesting presidents and makes them people. He explains these incredible men as what they really were, how they acted, and what made them act that way. You get put right in with these guys, and learn more about them than most history classes will teach you. It was written in the 40's, my mom had it as a textbook, and now I'm reading it for my AP History course. It's really endured, and with good reason.
Gordon Howard
I actually have an old copy of the 1st edition from 1948. The book is moderately interesting on two fronts: 1) the comments from 1948 by Hofstader himself give an interestingly dated look at historical events, but more importantly, 2) the book includes chapters on a couple of less well-known American political figures, such as John C. Calhoun and Wendell Phillips, that significantly increased my knowledge of American history.
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Richard Hofstadter was an American public intellectual, historian and DeWitt Clinton Professor of American History at Columbia University. In the course of his career, Hofstadter became the “iconic historian of postwar liberal consensus” whom twenty-first century scholars continue consulting, because his intellectually engaging books and essays continue to illuminate contemporary history.

His most
More about Richard Hofstadter...

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“It is a poor head that cannot find plausible reason for doing what the heart wants to do.” 12 likes
“Get action, do things; be sane,” he once raved, “don’t fritter away your time; create, act, take a place wherever you are and be somebody: get action.” 3 likes
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