Sunday, January 07, 2007

Pg. 69: "A Godly Hero"

Michael Kazin is professor of history at Georgetown University. His books include America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s (with M. Isserman), The Populist Persuasion: An American History, Barons of Labor, and A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan.

A Godly Hero has been named one of the best books of 2006 by the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Kansas City Star, and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Michael put A Godly Hero to the "page 69 test" and reported the following:
Like any biography of a public man, A Godly Hero follows its subject through the high and low points of his life – and seeks to explain his historical importance. Fortunately, p. 69 swoops in 1896, definitely a high point: it was the year when Bryan first ran for president and became a national figure, beloved by millions of Americans yet feared and ridiculed by just as many. Although he lost the election, his unprecedented coast-to-coast campaign helped Bryan remake the Democratic Party into a progressive force on most issues, and made him into a celebrity politician, an image he retained until his death almost thirty years later.

Most of p. 69 describes a speech that Bryan gave on Labor Day in Chicago to an audience of trade unionists. While not one of his better-known addresses, it made a point that remained critical to his popular appeal and his world-view – and also suggests why he lost the election. Bryan argued strongly that the state should help wage-earners and small farmers by regulating big business. To drive this point home, he used a sweet little agrarian metaphor:

Bryan mentioned that on a recent visit to Iowa, he’d seen “a number of hogs rooting in a field and tearing up the ground.” During his youth, he had kept the Bryan swine tethered so they would not tear up the family estate. “And then it occurred to me that one of the most important duties of government is to put rings in the noses of hogs…We submit to restraint upon ourselves in order that others may be restrained from injuring us.”

He concluded with a ringing call to resist any boss who tried to dictate how his employees should vote.

But the key issue in that year’s election was whether to inflate the money supply by coining silver as well as gold (known as bimetallism) as Bryan and the Populists favored or to retain the gold standard as the Republicans and conservative Democrats did. Bryan didn’t mention bimetallism at all on Labor Day, knowing that his audience of urban workers would probably suffer if inflation drove up prices for food and rent. As I write,

His hope that urban wage earners would unite with his agrarian supporters depended almost entirely on his ability to persuade them to vote their ideals and their consciences rather than their fears and their wallets.

So his speech exemplified his principles, eloquently presented. But principles alone are seldom enough to win a presidential election.
Many thanks to Michael for the input.

This excerpt from A Godly Hero covers the "Education of a Hero, 1860–1890."

Among the praise for the book:
"A must read… Michael Kazin, already our leading scholar of populism, is now our best interpreter of its greatest practitioner. It would be difficult to imagine a biography of any early 20th century political leader more relevant to the early 21st century than this one."
--Alan Wolfe, Washington Post Book World

"A powerful, timely re-evaluation... Kazin argues that Bryan's faith-based liberalism reshaped the Democratic party and made the New Deal possible."
--The New Yorker

"One of the finest political biographies I have read in many years. It might be called the passion of Bryan: a shrewd chronicle of triumph, rejection, wandering, and finally triumph again -- although Bryan would not live to see the victory of his most influential ideas in the New Deal. There is no better way to begin understanding the politics of the turn of the last century than to read this book."
--Sean Wilentz, Dayton-Stockton Professor of History and Director of the Program in American Studies, Princeton University, and author of The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln

"Michael Kazin's William Jennings Bryan is far more than the best biography ever written about this titanic figure in American history. It is a window into the aspirations, the passions, the ideals, and the resentments of millions of rural and working-class people for whom Bryan was, for many decades, a shining champion. It is also a brilliant portrait of the slow evolution of populism from a democratic vision to a defense of exclusive traditions."
--Alan Brinkley, author of The End of Reform: New Deal Liberalism in Recession and War
The paperback edition of A Godly Hero will be out in March.

Kazin writes for a number of periodicals and contributes to The New Republic's Open University blog. He reviewed Barack Obama's The Audacity of Hope for the Washington Post last October.

Previous "page 69 tests:"
Bill Crider, Murder Among the OWLS
Zachary Shore, Breeding Bin Ladens
Rolf Potts, Vagabonding
Matt Haig, The Dead Fathers Club
Lawrence Light, Fear & Greed
Simon Read, In The Dark
Sandra Ruttan, Suspicious Circumstances
Henry Ansgar Kelly, Satan: A Biography
Alison Gaylin, You Kill Me
Gayle Lynds, The Last Spymaster
Jim Lehrer, The Phony Marine
Julie Phillips, James Tiptree, Jr.
Debra Ginsberg, Blind Submission
Sarah Katherine Lewis, Indecent
Peter Orner, The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo
William Easterly, The White Man's Burden
Danielle Trussoni, Falling Through the Earth
Andrew Blechman, Pigeons
Anne Perry, A Christmas Secret
Elaine Showalter, Faculty Towers
Kat Richardson, Greywalker
Michael Bess, Choices Under Fire
Masha Hamilton, The Camel Bookmobile
Alex Beam, Gracefully Insane
Nicholas Lemann, Redemption
Jason Sokol, There Goes My Everything
Wendy Steiner, Venus in Exile
Josh Chafetz, Democracy’s Privileged Few
Anne Frasier, Pale Immortal
Michael Lewis, The Blind Side
David A. Bell, The First Total War
Brett Ellen Block, The Lightning Rule
Rosanna Hertz, Single by Chance, Mothers by Choice
Jason Starr, Lights Out
Robert Vitalis, America's Kingdom
Stephen Elliott, My Girlfriend Comes To The City And Beats Me Up
Colin McGinn, The Power of Movies
Sean Chercover, Big City, Bad Blood
Sigrid Nunez, The Last of Her Kind
Stanley Fish, How Milton Works
James Longenbach, The Resistance to Poetry
Margaret Lowrie Robertson, Season of Betrayal
Sy Montgomery, The Good Good Pig
Allison Burnett, The House Beautiful
Stephanie Coontz, Marriage, A History
Ed Lynskey, The Dirt-Brown Derby
Cindy Dyson, And She Was
Simon Blackburn, Truth
Brian Freeman, Stripped
Alyson M. Cole, The Cult of True Victimhood
Jeff Biggers, In the Sierra Madre
Jeff Broadwater, George Mason, Forgotten Founder
Alicia Steimberg, Andrea Labinger (trans.), The Rainforest
Michael Grunwald, The Swamp
Darrin McMahon, Happiness: A History
Leo Braudy, From Chivalry to Terrorism
David Nasaw, Andrew Carnegie
Leah Hager Cohen, Train Go Sorry
Chris Grabenstein, Slay Ride
David Helvarg, Blue Frontier
Marina Warner, Phantasmagoria
Bill Crider, A Mammoth Murder
Robert W. Bennett, Taming the Electoral College
Nicholas Stern et al, Stern Review Report
Kerry Emanuel, Divine Wind
Adam Langer, The Washington Story
Michael Scott Moore, Too Much of Nothing
Frank Schaeffer, Baby Jack
Wyn Cooper, Postcards from the Interior
Ivan Goncharov, Oblomov
Maureen Ogle, Ambitious Brew
Cass Sunstein, Infotopia
Paul W. Kahn, Out of Eden
Paul Lewis, Cracking Up
Pagan Kennedy, Confessions of a Memory Eater
David Greenberg, Nixon's Shadow
Duane Swierczynski, The Wheelman
George Levine, Darwin Loves You
John Barlow, Intoxicated
Alicia Steimberg, The Rainforest
Alan Wolfe, Does American Democracy Still Work?
John Dickerson, On Her Trail
Marcus Sakey, The Blade Itself
Randy Boyagoda, Governor of the Northern Province
John Gittings, The Changing Face of China
Rachel Kadish, Tolstoy Lied
Eric Rauchway, Blessed Among Nations
Tim Brookes, Guitar and other books
Ruth Padel, Tigers in Red Weather
William Haywood Henderson, Augusta Locke
Jed Horne, Breach of Faith
Robert Greer, The Fourth Perspective
David Plotz, The Genius Factory
Michael Allen Dymmoch, White Tiger
Patrick Thaddeus Jackson, Civilizing the Enemy
Tom Lutz, Doing Nothing
Libby Fischer Hellmann, A Shot To Die For
Nelson Algren, The Man With the Golden Arm
Bob Harris, Prisoner of Trebekistan
Elaine Flinn, Deadly Collection
Louise Welsh, The Bullet Trick
Gregg Hurwitz, Last Shot
Martha Powers, Death Angel
N.M. Kelby, Whale Season
Mario Acevedo, The Nymphos of Rocky Flats
Dominic Smith, The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre
Simon Blackburn, Lust
Linda L. Richards, Calculated Loss
Kevin Guilfoile, Cast of Shadows
Ronlyn Domingue, The Mercy of Thin Air
Shari Caudron, Who Are You People?
Marisha Pessl, Special Topics in Calamity Physics
John Sutherland, How to Read a Novel
Steven Miles, Oath Betrayed
Alan Brown, Audrey Hepburn's Neck
Richard Dawkins, The Ancestor's Tale

--Marshal Zeringue