David Buckley's Reviews > Age of Betrayal: The Triumph of Money in America, 1865-1900

Age of Betrayal by Jack Beatty
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's review
Jan 23, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: u-s-history

Beatty's book is certainly combative enough and "passionate" enough to warrant some of the praise showered on it by media reviewers. But "passion" is too often a codeword for "bias," and congenial though Beattty's view of the Gilded Age may be, there is no denying its lopsidedness.

In his opening sentence Beatty throws down the gauntlet: "This book tells the saddest story,"he writes. "How, having redeemed democracy in the Civil War, America betrayed it in the Gilded Age."

This is certainly high-minded, but is it accurate? Was the United Staes "democratic" prior to the Civil War? How did the War "redeem" "democracy"? Wouldn't it be more accurate simply to state that Reconstruction was the betrayal, and not the Gilded Age per se?

Professional historians generally strive for some semblance of balance in dealing with the past, especially with a past as contentious as that of post Civil War America. Beatty's book, while interesting and at times engaging, is written with both eyes on America's more recent Gilded Age, the one that lasted through the 1990s.

Lack of balance doesn't make for a bad read, but a poor prose style does; and Beatty's writing is at times grating to the point where it disconnects the reader from the tale and leaves him in a fog of confusion. Whole chunks have to be re-read and re-assembled by the reader, in order to escape the Yodaesque nightmare of inverted clauses and convoluted sentences.

An easy read it is not.
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message 1: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Wondering why you gave it 4 stars given your comments - what redeemed it for you/makes it worth reading?

David Buckley He's an annoying stylist, but the subject matter really interests me. Also, despite his flaws Beatty's arguments are worthy of consideration on their merits. That he sees the entire period after the Civil War as one coherent whole is a plus. Usually historians separate out the period from 1865 to 1877, and call it Reconstruction. Then they call the period from about 1865 to 1900 the Gilded Age. Beatty puts all the pieces together, and the result is more coherent and engaging.

Also, Beatty's got a chapter or two on the legal shenanigans involved in the invention of the corporate economy that I find absorbing.

[Good question though. I didn't realize I was being so relentlessly negative until you reminded me I gave it Four Stars!:]

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