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American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation
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American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation

3.54 of 5 stars 3.54  ·  rating details  ·  117 ratings  ·  17 reviews
A panoramic yet intimate history of the American left—of the reformers, radicals, and idealists who have fought for a more just and humane society, from the abolitionists to Michael Moore and Noam Chomsky—that gives us a revelatory new way of looking at two centuries of American politics and culture.

Michael Kazin—one of the most respected historians of the American left w
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published August 23rd 2011 by Knopf (first published January 1st 2011)
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Scott Lupo
Perfect read for a Progessive like me. Kazin does a really wonderful job of researching the history of the Left movement in U.S. since the 1820s. This is no Pollyanna story of the Left. Kazin has many criticisms, most notably that the Left has never been able to sustain a strong cohesiveness or focused message. However, the Left certainly has had an incredible influence on policy making and the vision of a humane, democratic society. I laughed and smiled quite a bit because the causes are still ...more
Juliet Waldron
An important and unusual book, especially in this Fox News saturated age. Here are the heroes and heroines of the American Left, which means stories you didn't read about in grade school--probably not even during college. So many of the freedoms we take for granted today wouldn't exist without the exertions of Left on behalf of ordinary working people. From the union movement, which gave so many Americans the wealth and comfort they enjoy today, to civil rights for women, for blacks and indigeno ...more
An important topic and a book many Americans should read. Although Kazin is sympathetic towards leftists, there is no sugar coating their monumental failure in their overarching goals: winning elections, creating a social democratic order, etc. Yet there is also no denying that they achieved more than many Americans care to admit, and America is largely better because of their efforts (and I believe we're also better for their failure to achieve all that they sought). For all those who think tha ...more
Peter Jana
Kazin's thesis is that liberal reforms (like abolition and the Voting Rights act)became institutionalized due to pressure from radicals. Liberals effectively co-oped progressive/radical ideas, took the credit, and watered them down in order to preserve the status quo. According to Kazin, this does not mean that radicals were ineffective. Without them we would not have had liberal reforms. It means that those reforms were limited and the radicals became discredited "prophets." While the political ...more
I will still recommend this book to people who would benefit from reading a broad survey, but ultimately I was disappointed by this. Among other things: I didn't recognize the decade I lived through in his chapter on the late 60s/early 1970s. While I thought his treatment of the Communist Party, USA, in the 1930s and 40s was strong, he all but ignored the non-communist left. Maybe most importantly I thought there was a circularity to the argument. Kazin suggests that the left's contribution lies ...more
John Benson
Having seen myself as a leftist most of my life, I was interested in reading a history of my political leanings. I found the book to be a very balanced look at the different areas that the Left became involved in politically from the 1820s through 2010 in the United States. He highlights the works of abolitionists, trade union people, Socialists, Communists, anti-war activists, feminists, and environmentalists. It would have been interesting to see how they impacted politics in certain states li ...more
Barbara Rhine
My mother, father, stepfather, and an aunt and uncle from both sides of the family, were all communists back in their day. And I mean members of the CPUSA, though, as is typical of red diaper babies, I don’t know the exact years, or even whether they carried cards. So when I checked out Michael Kazin’s American Dreamers—How the Left Changed a Nation from the library, I turned to immediately to Chapter Five, “The Paradox of American Communism, 1920s-1950s.”

The New York Review of Books article on
Dec 10, 2012 Rick rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: John Wilson
It's amazing how much we take for granted, things which were radical changes when first proposed by leftists, such as racial equality, women's rights, child labor, economic justice for the poor, and so on. We need books like this to remind us that history has not always been kind to everyone, and that visionary people were brave enough to stand up for what is right.
Smoothly written and well-footnoted, the book provides a nicely-packaged historical summary of the influence of American liberal and radicals. Kazin's basic point - that "the left" has been generally successful in changing the culture and enacting many of their goals piecemeal over time - is a solid one. The book suffers, I think, from oversimplification at times, and fails to take into sufficient account varying views on what "justice" or "liberty" might mean. This is particularly true with reg ...more
It's interesting. The main point the book makes is that the American left has been much more influential in social and cultural ways than in economic ways. It gives lots of examples of how this is the case, and sometimes delves into discussions of why the left succeeded on some fronts but failed on others. I guess, though, that I often found myself wishing that it spent more time telling better stories about interesting events, instead of wrapping up mentions of historical incidents within a mat ...more
Lauren Albert
This is an excellent overview of the American Left--I thought Kazin did a good job showing both the histories of the various movements and explaining why they succeeded or failed when they did. He also shows their occasional moral failures--as with frequent exclusions of minority groups. I found especially interesting his look at the 80s since those were my high school and college years.
A sympathetic yet realistic history of America's left-wing, from their victories (Kazin's thesis is that radicals have nudged the debate in American society leftward, never quite achieving a radical vision of their own) to their failures (I quite liked his somewhat sobering take on the reductionist history of Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn, despite being a fan of the latter).
Edward Sullivan
A lively, informative chronological overview of progressive movements and its activists, and the impact they have had on American culture and politics. Kazin never explores any of these movements or individuals to great depth but he does make them all interesting enough to whet the appetite for further exploration.
Peter Davis
A great introduction to the history of the American Left. So many gems, so many heroes lost to history, so many tales of dreams achieved and deferred. The author has a deep respect for his subjects, but is distant enough to offer insightful critiques. Highly recommended!
I have some quibbles with a few of Kazin's claims, but a pretty thorough, quick overview of much of the history of the American radical left.
Rick Edwards
This read served me well as an activist for social justice in the U.S.A.
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Michael Kazin is a professor of history at Georgetown University. He is co-editor of Dissent magazine.
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