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

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  368 ratings  ·  67 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
Paperback, 336 pages
Published March 21st 2011 by Verso (first published January 1st 2011)
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Start your review of The "S" Word: A Short History of an American Tradition...Socialism
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 ...more
Alisa Harris
Jun 04, 2018 added it
Shelves: 2018
If you (like me) joined the Democratic Socialists of America in a fit of rage and confusion after November 9, 2016 and then quickly realized you were slightly in over your head, this book is for you. It gives a good, brief (if incomplete) overview of the American tradition of socialism and the moments in history where it had the ear of presidents and those in power.

It’s about Thomas Paine, denounced by his fellow founders but embraced by generations of socialists who gravitated to his vision of
Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin
Social Democracy and Socialism has been a strand of American life since the founding. Thomas Paine was the founding father who was at least a social democrat and certainly a radical. Socialism and social democracy have been woven into the fabric of American Politics from the founding to the Antebellum period Lincoln (who dabbled in alternative economic theories and who was in communication with Karl Marx as a newspaperman) engaged with it in his political life. It was present in the gilded age ...more
Stuart Elliott
Feb 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
This past six weeks or so in Clare Making Good Decisions, we have the following: Decide to do a DSA presentation on American history right when I get back from Vegas. Wait three weeks before putting in a request at the library for Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States. Pick it up from the library and panic that it's like 700 pages long. Remember that you picked up a shorter book on American socialist history from Verso at one of their ebook sales last year. Then, even though it ...more
Jacob Sugarman
Jul 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
Yeah yeah yeah, I know what you're thinking. Another white dude studying political economy who loves socialism. Just what our country needs. ACTUALLY, if you took the goddamn time to read this stupid book you would REALIZE that the American socialist tradition goes WELL BEYOND this Warby Parker wearing, Bernie Sanders supporting, Laundry ignoring 21 year old leftist. Ya ever heard of the ARMY????? What about MEDICAID you fucking IDIOT! Anyway, good book. Read it if you want to be inspired and ...more
Jul 05, 2018 rated it liked it
In many ways, this book—published in 2011 in the midst of Obama's first term—is a product of its time. You can feel Nichols' irritation with his fellow "journalists" and their smearing of "socialism," most especially conservative journalists like Glenn Beck and Mick Huckabee, but also his more liberal colleagues. In answer, Nichols seeks to retrieve an American tradition of socialism, arguing that the ideological commitments of socialism influenced some of the most American Americans you can ...more
Jul 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing
"'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
John  Mihelic
Dec 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
When I was in college, a friend let me borrow a copy of Zinn’s people’s history. In those pages I learned about Columbus treating the Arawak Indians worse than his dogs, but I also learned hope in the words of Eugene Debs and the millions that voted for him over several years.

It was part of history that just wasn’t part of the history they teach, the gloss over where in high school I wrote dates of things in my notebooks from sheets on the wall, or projections on the overhead. There was less
Sep 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An excellent and quick read. DSA members should read this book!
Jul 28, 2019 marked it as to-read
And yet,
"Lincoln never took up the mantle of socialism."
James Govednik
“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 –
Paul Froehlich
Oct 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Who said this? “These capitalists generally act harmoniously and in concert, to fleece the people.” a) Marx b) Debs c) Lenin d) Lincoln e) FDR
The correct answer is Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican president. Lincoln also said, “Labor is prior to, and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.” Those are sentiments no longer shared by the
Dec 31, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Effective polemical history aimed at combating the amnesia surrounding America's radical and socialist traditions. Particularly interesting on the relationship between Marx and the radicals who created the Republican Party as well as on "sewer socialism" in Nichols's Milwaukee. But reading the afterword, published in 2015, it occurred to me that it's a bit odd for Nichols's to have written a book about socialism that focuses mainly on prominent individuals -- a "great man" history of American ...more
Lukas Evan
Feb 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
I think I might be a socialist.
Matthew Van Allen
Mar 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: my-home-library
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.
Sep 18, 2011 rated it really liked it
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.
Feb 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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.
During the 2016 election cycle, Sen. Bernie Sanders made waves in the Democratic Party by being unapologetically socialist. Considering the past few decades of vitriol spewed at socialists, real and imagined, by conservative media, it was a breath of fresh air for many. However, as this book reminds people, the United States of America has a long a proud tradition of socialists and socialist thoughts that have influenced policy since its founding.

Starting with Thomas Paine and Walt Whitman, Mr.
Oct 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
Definitely a history book you could also title, "More Stuff You Never Learned in School." Although a little dry at times; a very interesting read full of American History relating to the how prevalent Socialism (or at least Socialist policies) have been part of our nations development.

Thomas Paine, an intellectual hero to many advocated for the creation of a welfare state where the sick and the poor were taken care of through public tax dollars. Although there was no term, "Socialism," then he
Scott Johnson
Aug 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
The message of this book and most of its content are fantastic. It's just held back a bit by some style issues, particularly massive run-on sentences and gigantic, unfocused paragraphs. Some sentences had just way too many nested subordinate clauses and were a puzzle to untangle and turn into coherent thoughts.

The first few chapters felt a little more unfocused than the rest and were a bit of a slog to get through, but your patience is rewarded. It's interesting reading this in the context of
Dec 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An engaging and well-researched history of socialism in the US, from the revolution through present day (Obama Admin.) I learned a lot about the key figures who advocated for social democracy in different eras, their politics and organizing methods, and their legacies. Most interesting to me was the intersection of socialism and civil rights from the 20s through the 60s, specifically the long chapter centered on A. Philip Randolph (Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, pressuring two presidents ...more
Feb 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Great read and overview of a very important and too-long overlooked topic. I'm sure there are other sources (or should be!) That go into each of the individuals, movements, and eras touched upon here, but you couldn't ask for a better starting off point. Only minor drawback from a readability standpoint is some of the long block quotes, especially when they're in 18th century vernacular, but you can skim or digest those at your choice and still get the analysis.

I hope there's a new updated
Jul 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Nichols does a great job in highlighting the history of socialism in the United States, and you can tell a lot of research went into this book. I think the book gets long-winded at times and I felt myself drift at certain points in the book, forcing myself back into the points he was trying to make. This was more of a 3.5 but I think everyone should read this book if you want to get a glimpse of socialism in the United States.
Mar 02, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: shelved, nevermind
I do not like John Nichols' sentences. Probably more my ADD. When I finish a sentence in this book I can't remember what it was actually about. Plus he goes off on tangents on the paragraph level too. I thought this book would be more history of socialism then what it is. I think the book would have benefitted from an occasional thesis statement.
Naomi Toftness
I like my history books like I like my Science Fiction books- on point and completely metaphorical. However, this book continually referenced the present (now, the recent past). I wish that the author had just wrote about the history and allowed the audience (presumably a smart bunch) to make the connections to the present day issues on their own.
Sep 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is a good primer on Socialism, which runs far deeper in America than one would think. One “bad” thing about this book is it will likely inspire you to seek out more readings on various topics and people within.
Highly recommend.
Justin Prescott
Very informative exploration of the history of socialism and socialists in America from pre-Revolution to the Obama presidency. Maybe a couple instances of adding meaning to historical figures' words. Definitely pro-socialism, but not difficult to separate information from personal views.
Aaron Teagle
Dec 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
We often speak of Socialism as a European idea, but there are many American pioneers in the field. I quite enjoyed this book; it provided a history of unfamiliar, yet important figures and moments.
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