The American Political Tradition
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The American Political Tradition

4.0 of 5 stars 4.00  ·  rating details  ·  755 ratings  ·  45 reviews
A revised edition of the clasic study of American politics from the Founding Fathers to FDR.
Hardcover, 378 pages
Published November 12th 1973 by Knopf (first published 1948)
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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
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...more
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...more
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
Justin Evans
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
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.
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.
Oliver Bateman
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.
Erik Simon
One of the finest books of American History I've ever read. His thesis is that the Constitution was written to protect the propertied classes and, throughout the years, continually tweaked to keep protecting the propertied classes. It's not news that America seems to protect the rich better than anyone else, but this guy proves it. As if the rich need protection. As Jim Harrison says somewhere, "I'm always somewhat amazed by rich people who feel victimized."
Excellent, eye-opening, thought-provoking.
Tom Schulte
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

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...more
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...more
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....more
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!
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...more
This was assigned summer reading for AP US history class, and it was so boring it made me cry.
Ed Smiley
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...more
Sep 11, 2007 S rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  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.
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.
The Mistah
Feb 20, 2008 The Mistah rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in American History who already has some knowledge of the subject.
Shelves: life-changer
I first read this as a summer assignment before AP US History and a number of times since (including a re-read when I taught AP US History). I cannot think of any other work that more affected my interest in history - I big deal since I'm now in my seventh year teaching it.

The more I learned, the more I recognized the book's flaws and at the same time appreciated the originality of Hofstadter's analysis.
David Grossman
Very enlightening set of biographies. Thought provoking exposition on the incongruities of these great men, and of the inadequacy of labels such as 'liberal' or 'conservative'. As in much of life, there's a lot of 'messiness' to consider here. For the most part these histories were well-balanced, and you may find your opinions on these people changes to some degree; that is, as people, not cardboard figures.
Erik Graff
Mar 19, 2009 Erik Graff rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: american political history students
Recommended to Erik by: Mr. Ellenberger
Shelves: history
This book, with The Age of Reform, was required reading for the American Government class mandated by the state of Illinois for high school students. During this unit I fulfilled a research requirement by delivering a paper on the Warren Harding administration which was, easily, made very darkly funny, his term being marked by corruption unrivaled until the tenure of Ronald Reagan.
LaFolette and Wendell Phillips are the ones I'll really want to learn about now. Teddy Roosevelt is despicably unattractive, but I felt Hofstadter adduced too much from Teddy's childhood. Hoover is a dire warning. Poor Woodrow. So many men out of their depth, and driven by personal devils, sometimes driven sad. Can the king be pitied when his head droops off his body?
The section on Jefferson paints him as someone who would truly be hated by most in the establishment today. An agrarian against speculation?! Malarkey!

This is a nice book.
A really great book that discusses the thinking of some of the U.S.'s leading political thinkers. Hofstadter really illuminates the character of leading American politicians and shows how that counteracts against the prevailing myths surrounding them. I thought that Calhoun, Lincoln, and FDR were the best chapters.
Jan C
I think I read this in college so I definitely read it before 1989.

Then, I was visiting a friend while on vacation from college, and I met his nephew and we went out and partied, once I got over that I was going with Richard Hofstadter's nephew and his wife.
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Richard Hofstadter (6 August 1916 – 24 October 1970) 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 illumin...more
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“It is a poor head that cannot find plausible reason for doing what the heart wants to do.” 8 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.” 1 likes
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