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The "S" Word: A Short History of an American Tradition... Socialism

4.02  ·  Rating Details ·  252 Ratings  ·  37 Reviews
A few months before the 2010 midterms, Newt Gingrich described the socialist infiltration of American government and media as “even more disturbing than the threats from foreign terrorists.” John Nichols offers an unapologetic retort to the return of red-baiting in American political life—arguing that socialism has a long, proud, American history. Tom Paine was enamored of ...more
ebook, 352 pages
Published March 21st 2011 by Verso (first published November 8th 2010)
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Nichols, a journalist who has written for The Nation and The Wisconsin State Journal as well as for other progressive publications, has several goals in writing The "S" Word. One is to blow off some steam regarding his frustration with the state of public discourse in the US (which he describes as being at its lowest point ever), with right-wing commentators who have used their bully pulpit to drag the term "socialist" through the mud and with the left-wing politicians and media who have let the ...more
Stuart Elliott
Feb 16, 2013 Stuart Elliott rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: socialism
Nichols has written a persuasive case that socialism is as American as apple pie. From the forgotten radical economics of founding father Thomas Paine and the utopian socialists who founded the Republican Party to Victor Berger, the socialist Congressman from Milwaukee, who opposed WWI, to Michael Harrington it is a great read.

The subtitle is a little misleading. Nichols leaves out some important topics that even a short history should contain: the Populist movement of the 1890s and the most su
Aug 10, 2015 Catie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"'Ignorance alone stands in the way of socialist success. The capitalist parties understand this and use their resources to prevent the workers from seeing the light. Intellectual darkness is essential to industrial slavery. The very moment a workingman beings to do his own thinking he understands the paramount issue, parts company with the capitalist politician and falls in line with his own class on the political battlefield.'" - Eugene V. Debs
James Govednik
Aug 25, 2011 James Govednik rated it liked it
“One need not embrace socialism ideologically or practically to recognize that public-policy discussions ought to entertain a full range of ideas.”

Add this book to those that seek to deliver “what they didn’t tell us in school.” Or at home. Or anywhere, except maybe good old Socialist hideouts like…Milwaukee? This book is a great accounting of the history of socialist thought in America, even when it might not have been called “the ‘S’ word.” John Nichols recounts the story of “A Very American –
Jul 17, 2015 Roland rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I won't venture to say this is the best book that I've ever read, but it served a dutiful purpose. If you can get through the detailed writing (which is important) you must read this book. Many Americans rail against Big Brother and the excess of government. They cry fowl against Socialism while they scream for politicians to keep their hands off their Medicare.
For too long, the far-right has dominated the political discourse in this county. They have turned the "S" word into something scary an
Matthew Van Allen
This book should be required reading for everyone in our country. If more people understood the true meaning of Socialism and it's long and dramatic effects in the USA, then we could move away from the state of fear associated with the word and have a more constructive conversation about our options now and in the future.
Jan 05, 2014 Steve rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
America's roots are firmly planted in socialism. In The "S" Word, John Nichols helps remove the scales from our eyes so we can recognize the significance of actual historical events and documents and what they can and do mean for us today.

From the fact that Revolutionary firebrand Thomas Paine wrote the blueprint for Social Security more than 100 years before Congress established the program, at FDR's behest, to an understanding of Abraham Lincoln's correspondence with Karl Marx. Detailing actua
Dec 05, 2012 Ryan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-history
This book was written in response to Republicans’ fear mongering about Obama’s administration and the left in general being socialist. That accusation makes clear that they don’t have a very clear idea about either what Obama has done and/or what socialism is. But this book makes the point that socialism has made important contributions throughout American history and has not, and will not, “destroy” America. A few interesting historical facts from the book…

- Thomas Paine, one of our founding fa
Billie Pritchett
Here's why you should read John Nichols' The 'S' Word: A Short History of An American Tradition... Socialism. You find in the book that some of the major thinkers in U.S. history were, if not according-to-Hoyle socialists, were definitely sympathetic with socialism. These figures include Thomas Paine who was the author of Common Sense, Walt Whitman, Abraham Lincoln, and several of the figures who helped pass the New Deal into legislation under F.D.R., just to name a few examples.

It's admirable w
Jan 19, 2013 Brooke rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I won't lie. I actually only closely read the first third of this book, and skimmed the final two thirds.

I bought this book during amazon's big text book sale, so I really expected a non-partisan history text. While I personally immensely enjoy any dig at Glenn Beck that outs him for the hypocrite he is, I fear that the personal tone this book takes will only push away the readers it so desperately needs. I know that those who "need" the book, those who need to learn that Socialism isn't fascism
I enjoyed the book overall but there are a few outstanding problems, the biggest of which was that the book doesn't discuss Upton Sinclair or Helen Keller which is very surprising given their fame. Same goes for Eugene Debs who is mentioned but only in reference to other topics. However, the book's discussion of Thomas Paine's contributions to early socialist thought, the "sewer socialism" of Milwaukee, WI, the fight led by socialists against censorship and racism all make up for it. The afterwo ...more
Jun 10, 2012 Eric rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an awesome book: awesome in the sense that it addresses a VERY real omission from American History - the role socialism - yes socialism - played in our history! I am so tired of people equating Stalinistic or Maoist totalitarianism with socialism. Socialism brought us medicare, social security, and beautiful parks, efficient sewerage, and a gorgeous library in Milwaukee WI. Did you know America had Socialist Congressmen? Did you know the mayors of Milwaukee were Socialists for decades? ...more
Jun 05, 2012 Serena rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I was expecting this to be more of a history book. Instead it was more of a political commentary book reminding one of a badly written essay where the student puts too many block quotes instead of actually doing the analysis work. The last chapter before the afterword was the only one well-written, the rest of the book could have used more revising.

Additionally the author made a mild gulag joke. While this may seem oversensitive, having read Rupa Sepetys' Between Shades of Gray it was annoying
Timothy Volpert
Feb 14, 2015 Timothy Volpert rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
well-written and interesting in its examination of parts of American history that tend to get ignored. his goal seems to be to set the record straight about socialism, and several times her mentions that voters are increasingly favorable towards it (or say they would vote for a socialist candidate at least). i feel like it wouldn't have been hard to include a little more "what is socialism" type of stuff for exactly these types of people who are just discovering the idea, and then launching into ...more
Kim Jinnett
Sep 10, 2011 Kim Jinnett rated it really liked it
If you have ever wondered about the history of socialism in the U.S., this is the book to read. I thought it was very well written, engaging and covers a wide swath of history including an end section relevant to today. Highly worth the read and, possibly, of more interest to progressives. Rather than trying to persuade individuals of the benefits of socialism, the book places socialism in historical context. So, in some sense, you may get more out of the book if you are progressive and want to ...more
David Melbie
Sep 03, 2011 David Melbie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Americans who do not understand our socialist history
Recommended to David by: Picked myself
September 3 - 9, 2011: The fact that socialism is less embraced and more talked about these days is quite enlightening. This book is a must read for people interested in the history of socialism in America.

September 8, 2013: Started reading this again. I will make an attempt to give a more thorough review this time. . .

This is a powerful book. I especially love the chapter on A. Philip Randolph; America needs another like him.

After reading this for the second time, I am more convinced than ever
Dec 30, 2011 Tracy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great review of a topic that as I remember, is mostly erased from K-12 curriculums, even as late as the 90s (if I may so boldly date myself). I remember only a brief mention of Eugene V. Debs, and mostly in connection with his imprisonment for being an "agitator", a word with a distinctly pejorative flavor at the time. You do have to pay close attention, as within chapters Nichols jumps back and forth in time a bit. In my opinion, this makes for better storytelling, though. Overall, a very well- ...more
Paul Rack
Feb 25, 2016 Paul Rack rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent book. Socialism has a rich and deep history in America and iwas advocated by such figures as Thomas Paine, Walt Whitman, Abraham Lincoln, Horace Greeley, and Martin Luther King, among others. My only complaint is that he could write this book and barely mention the Vietnam War which divided the left between labor and pacifists. Labor's support for the war, an their integration into the military-industrial complex, remains a problem. But this is a fine book well worth reading.
Jul 10, 2012 Jason rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this. The history of leftists, socialists, and communists in the United States has really been glossed over as of late what with all the founder worship and renewed redbaiting. This book provides a sane (though obviously biased) look at what has actually happened in our country due to people identifying on the far left. It also includes plenty of books and other places to look into for further study.
Feb 19, 2012 Karen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bookclub
The subject matter was sooo interesting and informative but it's a really tough book to read through. The author went way overboard with quotes and long roundabout ways to get to the point. Nonetheless I'm really glad I read it for the history.
Michelle (missbananafish)
A really great primer on how socialist ideals were a part of American history and how we got away from them. It wasn't as in-depth as I would have liked but it seems like a great stepping off point to learn more.
Jason S
Feb 01, 2016 Jason S rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very interesting and detailed account of the history of socialism in the US. A bit too focused on Wisconsin in some chapters, but overall a compelling read with commentary about the lack of "radical" options in American left politics today.
Jul 17, 2011 Kate rated it really liked it
I learned a lot from this book, and it made me want to read and learn more about some of the historical figures he highlights such as Frank Zeidler (three-term Socialist mayor of Milwaukee during the height of the McCarthy era) and author Michael Harrington.
Apr 30, 2011 David rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

John Nichols is a great reporter but also shows that he is a good historian as well. I loved the chapter entitled "Reading Marx with Lincoln: Utopian Socialists, German Communists and Other Republicans." No wonder the Republicans these days prefer Jefferson Davis!
Mike Stolfi
Dec 31, 2012 Mike Stolfi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Where else are you going to hear about Abe Lincoln & Karl Marx corresponding with each other in the U.S. these days? Or that the U.S. has a history of Socialist endeavors and that that's not a bad thing at all?
Sep 18, 2011 Suzy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Americans who consider themselves to be progressive are foolish to continually cast their lot with the very entrenched Democratic party. This book details a period of time when the Socialist party was very influential in US politics and makes a case for going there again. Highly readable too.
An uneven look at the history of socialism and social democracy in America. The trouble I had with the book was the poor organization of the material. The author kept jumping from subject to subject in a seemingly random way.
Awfully good. Especially Ch 3 - Reading Marx with Abraham Lincoln.
Bob Peru
Jan 18, 2012 Bob Peru rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
well-written overview of how "SOCIALISM" is american. from jefferson on. makes a very convincing case.
Feb 01, 2012 Ken rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An excellent book. It covers a lot of the successes of socialism and how many of the good things about America we take for granted have their roots in various socialist movements.
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