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The Age of Reform: From Bryan to FDR

3.89  ·  Rating Details ·  1,409 Ratings  ·  45 Reviews
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize. A classic study of American political thought that analyzes the passion for progress and reform from 1890 to 1940.
cloth, 356 pages
Published December 18th 1999 by ACLS History E-Book Project (first published 1955)
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David Monroe
Hofstadter's Pulitzer Prize-winning book introduced his idea of "status politics" -- the idea that people don't act from economic self-interest but from a desire to preserve their social standing. He portrayed the late-nineteenth-century Populists as moved by fears of modernity, nostalgia for an agrarian past, and bigotry. Over the years, historians have poked holes in it. Hofstadter overstated the Populists' nativism and glossed over their critiques of Gilded Age capitalism. The book is still a ...more
Feb 02, 2017 Matt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I first read Richard Hofstadter as a graduate student in classes where we mostly did what we could to poke holes in his colorful, sweeping histories. But I return to Hofstadter because while his scholarship has never gone away, he is undoubtedly deserving of a moment of reconsideration in the current political climate. Hofstadter differed from his mid-century contemporaries in that he emphasized an anti-intellectual strain in the frontier mentality of America, and in this volume, of the anti-urb ...more
Mark Bowles
Aug 30, 2014 Mark Bowles rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A. Synopsis: From 1890 to WWII is the “Age of Reform.” The intent is to show the differences between the Populist-Progressive reforms (which forms the core of the book) and the New Deal reforms. This book does not focus on the politics, or the legislation of these movements. Instead, the main theme is an examination of the ideas of the participants, the conception of their own work and the place it would occupy in history. Hofstadter finds these ideas in popular culture--journalists, publicists, ...more
Joseph Stieb
Once again, Richard Hofstadter proves himself to be one of the best illuminators of American political history I've ever read. This book covers mainly populism and progressivism, but it isn't about the movements' actions so much as the ideas, mythologies, and social conflicts that motivated them to push for reform. Overall, he sees both movements emerging from the profound anxiety of the rapid transition from an agrarian society to an industrial, urban one. There are dozens of eye-opening points ...more
Robert Owen
In the Pulitzer Prize winning “The Age of Reform”, Richard Hofstadter chronicles the flow of social and political currents that propelled the Populist, Progressive and New Deal reform movements that swept America from the end of the 19th century to the middle of the 20th. Hofstadter’s goal is to articulate the motivations, ideologies and tactics that fueled each of these movements, and so account for their achievements, failures and relative impact (or lack of impact) on subsequent trends in Ame ...more
Aug 29, 2010 Megan rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I had to read this book for my seminar on the progressive and populist movement in America. I already do not like having to read for class and to make it even worse the book is non-fiction which is one of my least favorite things to read because they tend to be so dry. This book proved my bete noir about non-fiction to be true. I sort of get what the author was trying to do by splitting up the movements into two different things and then discussing how each group of people were affected by these ...more
J. Dunn
A critical and contextual look at the Populist and Progressive movements in American politics; where they succeeded and failed, what forces shaped them and what their legacy was. Good background into a movement that I view as a big part of my political legacy. It has definitely removed any rose-colored view of them I might have had, but I’m still left with the lasting and important message that they accomplished a lot of worthwhile social and political change with minimal chaos and violence, wha ...more
Steven Peterson
Apr 11, 2010 Steven Peterson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Richard Hofstadter was a fine, well respected historian. This book is an excellentr analysis nof what he terms "the age of reform." The book traces efforts at reform from 1890 to the second world war. Sometimes efforts at reform were held back, but there was an arc, according to the author, over time. Among subjects explored: populism, progressivism, to the New Deal. All in all, a good exploration of the era.
Erik Graff
Mar 19, 2009 Erik Graff rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: American political history students
Recommended to Erik by: Mr. Ellenberger
Shelves: history
This book was required reading for Mr. Ellenberger's required U.S. Government course at Maine Township High School South.

I was the class commie, having discovered that the application of a Marxist, dialectical analysis to history was productive not only of meaningful retellings of events but also of good grades for essays and research papers.
Lauren Albert
Populism, Progressivism and the New Deal. Hofstadter draws out the differences between them as well as between the cultures and mindsets that generated them. It was a little dry at times (hence the "3") but I learned a lot--since I took tons of notes, I'm sure of that!
Feb 22, 2008 Ellen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: extraordinary
This book deeply altered the way academia thought about and wrote history. Aside from the topical content, Hofstadter incisively examined the language of there-to-fore American politics. Particularly, the inherent and inescapable discursive ambiguity. It's a masterpiece.
Dan Allosso
Dec 02, 2015 Dan Allosso rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Introducing his subject in 1955, Richard Hofstadter said “Our conception of Populism and Progressivism has...been intimately bound up with the new Deal experience” (4). While admitting a progressive movement would have been impossible “without the impetus given by certain social grievances,” Hofstadter preferred to separate out a cultural spirit of progressivism, which he said was “not nearly so much the movement of any social class,” as “a rather widespread and remarkably good-natured effort of ...more
Tom Schulte
Oct 20, 2014 Tom Schulte rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, politics
As usual, although less true than with The American Political Tradition and the Men Who Made It, the author enlivens the exegesis of the American political soul. Often this is done with witty and insightful quotations from unpublished dissertations and obscure works like this one from The New Democracy:

"By setting the pace for a frantic competitive consumption, our infinite gradations in wealth (with which gradations the plutocracy is inevitably associated) increase the general social friction a
Jul 21, 2010 Steve rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was lucky enough to have an activist priest teaching me American History in high school. A required text was Hofstadter's The American Political Tradition, but (Am History geek that I was) I went and bought and read most of his other works as well - including this. In college this was the one non-original source material book we used in a class on this period.

Hofstadter is really the last in a line of Great American Historians, there has not been anyone like him since (or Adams, Beard, Parrin
"The Age of Reform" is a classic text. Several of the reviewers here have covered both its content and its importance. However, I think it is worth pointing out that Hofstadter's writing is a delight to read. How often do you come across sentences like this in a history book:
"What came in the end was only a small war and a quick victory; when the farmers and the gentlemen finally did coalesce in politics, they produced only the genial reforms of Progressivism; and the man on the white horse tur
Shane Avery
A whole lot could be said about what this book is not, its shortcomings, theoretical and methodological. But as far as these old fashioned grand national political narratives go, this one excels. Despite its whiggish interpretation, and lack of strong introduction/conclusion, it is ruthlessly critical and holds no illusions about its (narrow but nuanced) subject...

elsewhere he has written a stirring defense of a national two-party system in america, and that shortcoming limits him here. he treat
Apr 14, 2014 Samuel rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
"A landmark study in American political thought," Richard Hofstadter's THE AGE OF REFORM examines the period of 1890-1940 following the post-Civil War era of industrial and continental expansion and political conservatism. "The Age of Reform" by contrast is characteristic for the agrarian uprising of Populism, the urban-minded Progressive movement, and FDR's New Deal. It discusses the relative terms of liberal and conservative demonstrating that neither can claim exclusive ownership of the perio ...more
Dave N
Although somewhat hard to understand at times, Hofstadter's look at the Populist and Progressive movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries is illuminating for anyone trying to better grasp the political environment through the presidencies of McKinley, Teddy Roosevelt, Taft and Wilson. By breaking down the elements of each ideology, as well as the on-the-ground implementation of the movements themselves, Hofstadter helps to parse why such a severe shift in public thinking occurred, and ...more
Jul 23, 2011 Ben rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Perhaps less critical of consensus than Hartz, Hofstadter is, at best, deeply ambivalent. This whole book reads like a long, weary sigh. Hofstadter here is rejecting the dominant view in progressive historiography, which saw a consistency from Populism, through Progressivism, into the New Deal. For Hofstadter, the New Deal represents less a continuation of the Populist/Progressive tradition than a break. Populism and Progressivism were conspiratorial, regressive, and had within them the seeds of ...more
Dec 01, 2013 Jake rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good book about the Progressive and Populist movements of the late 19th, early 20th century. Like other Hofstadter books, this is not narrative history, but rather a set of discursive essays aimed at making an argument rather than explaining what happens. Here Hofstadter argues that the Populists and Progressive movements both arose from a fear and resentment at the newfound power and status of the industrial elites. For example, the Progressive were, in the main, old-stock wasps who used to be ...more
Jun 26, 2015 Ben rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bos-history
A classic of 1950s political thinking. Two different themes jumped out to me:

On populism vs progressivism:
-populism: reaction to discontent from farmers and businessman with economic changes of the late 19th century. At the time, largely focused on agrarian reforms
-progressivism: growing enthusiasm for social and economic reform based on a broader impulse toward criticism and change. General theme of restoring an economic individualism and political democracy most felt had been destroyed by big
Aug 14, 2012 Cierra rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: school
If I could, I'd give this book a -5 stars, that's how much I did not enjoy the book. After finishing, I honestly only understand 30% of the book, which is terrible. I felt that Hofstadter did not have his thoughts organized, maybe then I'd understand better and enjoy the book. It felt like he was rambling and I kept losing track of what was going on. I have to do a wrinting assingmetn on Monday for this book and I honestly don't know how I'm going to make it. I get the authors general idea of sh ...more
Melissa Maxwell
Apr 06, 2012 Melissa Maxwell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book was great for the time written but reading it today it felt lacking in some areas. The book brought up relevant issues that one can find traces of in more modern works. The book lacked major analysis of minorities and women which were issues of the age. The book was lacking in primary sources which is probably why t got 4 stars. As a History Graduate student you are taught to use primary sources and secondary sources to affirm the primary sources. Hofstadter used mostly secondary source ...more
Josh Muhlenkamp
When I first picked this book up, I expected it to be a history of Populism and Progressivism, with a significant amount of detail (that's a part of American history I'm not fully comfortable with yet). It's not that at all. Indeed, there was a scarcity of the kind of detail generally associated with history - names, dates, events, and so on.

However, as an analysis of the broad trends that went into creating the Populist and Progressive movements, this book is fantastic. You really begin to unde
May 24, 2013 alan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: law-and-politics
An insightful and concise summary of the political and cultural factors of American life which found expression in reform-minded politics, especially 19th Century populism and early 20th Century progressivism.

The factors were both rural and urban; agrarian and industrial; nativist and immigrant; cyclical (populism bled into progressivism) and circumstantial (the Depression begot the New Deal).

Some reformers were pure of heart, others opportunistic and cynical. Hofstadter provides a snapshot of t
Patrick Poland
Feb 27, 2013 Patrick Poland rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a very good analysis of what caused the reform period of the 1890s to the early 1940s. I was most impressed of how, Hofstadter, reviewed the popular literature of the day and incorporated in to the general narrative. He went in to great detail of how the American farmer (particulary in the Mid-West and prairie) did hold on to the farms, but was involed in land speculation more or less. This is an excellent read for anyone interested how we Americans react to financial changes bought to ...more
Sep 01, 2014 B rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own
Well, that took a while.

The problem here is there are a lot of clever insights and conclusory statements that look like clever insights, but they're surrounded by very general background information -- often in chronological order. It's kind of like someone very liberal added flavor/color/insights/argument to a regular old textbook.
Jan 21, 2011 Jamie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Hofstadter is a little more negative/condescending about rural America than I would prefer, but this is still a classic look at the connections and differences among the Populist, Progressive, and New Deal periods.
Dec 15, 2007 Jeff rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I highly recommend all of Richard Hofstadter's books. Have not read anyone who writes better books about American political history. Especially good to read at a time when our politics seem so hopelessly degraded and trivial. These things do matter, regardless of how ridiculous they seem now.
Sean Chick
Aug 12, 2011 Sean Chick rated it liked it
Convoluted and confusing book. Hofstadter failed to do much research and it shows in his discussion of the Populists and Mugwumps. However, he was a great thinker, so some of his ideas are superb. Just be careful not to accept everything at face value.
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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
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“What came in the end was only a small war and a quick victory; when the farmers and the gentlemen finally did coalesce in politics, they produced only the genial reforms of Progressivism; and the man on the white horse turned out to be just a graduate of the Harvard boxing squad, equipped with an immense bag of platitudes, and quite willing to play the democratic game.” 1 likes
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