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The American Political Tradition and the Men Who Made It

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The American Political Tradition is one of the most influential and widely read historical volumes of our time. First published in 1948, its elegance, passion, and iconoclastic erudition laid the groundwork for a totally new understanding of the American past. By writing a "kind of intellectual history of the assumptions behind American politics," Richard Hofstadter change The American Political Tradition is one of the most influential and widely read historical volumes of our time. First published in 1948, its elegance, passion, and iconoclastic erudition laid the groundwork for a totally new understanding of the American past. By writing a "kind of intellectual history of the assumptions behind American politics," Richard Hofstadter changed the way Americans understand the relationship between power and ideas in their national experience. Like only a handful of American historians before him—Frederick Jackson Turner and Charles A. Beard are examples—Hofstadter was able to articulate, in a single work, a historical vision that inspired and shaped an entire generation.


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The American Political Tradition is one of the most influential and widely read historical volumes of our time. First published in 1948, its elegance, passion, and iconoclastic erudition laid the groundwork for a totally new understanding of the American past. By writing a "kind of intellectual history of the assumptions behind American politics," Richard Hofstadter change The American Political Tradition is one of the most influential and widely read historical volumes of our time. First published in 1948, its elegance, passion, and iconoclastic erudition laid the groundwork for a totally new understanding of the American past. By writing a "kind of intellectual history of the assumptions behind American politics," Richard Hofstadter changed the way Americans understand the relationship between power and ideas in their national experience. Like only a handful of American historians before him—Frederick Jackson Turner and Charles A. Beard are examples—Hofstadter was able to articulate, in a single work, a historical vision that inspired and shaped an entire generation.

30 review for The American Political Tradition and the Men Who Made It

  1. 4 out of 5

    Szplug

    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 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 preface - the essays were penned in reaction to Hofstadter's frustration with the Progressive historians of the preceding generations, and their combined tendency to both transpose current partisan ideologies into their interpretations of former American leaders and to view all previous problems and shifts through the prism of class warfare. Hofstadter himself had come to the conclusion that the dominant theme in American federal politics - from Washington to FDR and no matter the party in power - was a cautious and steadying process of ensuring the primacy of private property through compromises centred around the United States's unique incarnation of Lockean-tinged republican capitalism. (That Hofstadter's analysis was the correct one is borne out by the actions of the Obama administration: despite the shrill cries of Socialist! and Communist! that peal forth from the throbbing cynosure of demagoguery, the Democratic Chief Executive has strayed little from that consistently straight path of propping up, and solidifying, the structures of wealth that dominate the country.) So powerfully, astutely, and brilliantly did Hofstadter make his case that within years his analyses became the Consensus of his generation of historians, though before a decade had passed from the publication of The American Political Tradition the author himself was questioning his comfort with some of this Consensus erected upon his mid-century views. Hofstadter would be one of my favorite American historians if only by virtue of his wonderful literary ability: combine such graceful writing with his astute, witty, probing, and occasionally caustic elucidations, and he definitely occupies the uppermost tier. As a Canadian, I consider myself reasonably well-read in the history of my beloved-but-enigmatic cousins to the south; yet Hofstadter's ofttimes counterintuitive takes on great personalities and events always opens me to a new appreciation, even of familiar tropes. In especial, he presents superb essays upon some of the littler known political figures from both the nineteenth century - John C. Calhoun, Wendell Phillips, James G. Blaine, and William Jennings Bryan - and the twentieth in Herbert Hoover. Surrounding these lesser lights are excellent insights into their more famous brethren - Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, Wilson, and the Two Roosevelts. Aware of their subject's faults, alert to their apocryphal burnishing, and yet commiserative to the immense difficulties and contradictions they were forced to attend to - from foundational struggles to the Second World War - each essay moves swiftly and sagely through personal histories and the political winds that buffeted each man from their own unique genesis in popular thought. On Calhoun: The great human, emotional, moral complexities of the world escaped him because he had no private training for them, had not even the talent for friendship, in which he might have been schooled. It was easier for him to imagine, for example, that the South had produced upon its slave base a better culture than the North because he had no culture himself, only a quick and muscular mode of thought. It may stand as a token of Calhoun's place in the South's history that when he did find culture there, at Charleston, he wished a plague on it. On Blaine: Yet he left behind him not a single constructive achievement, hardly even a constructive suggestion; his chief contribution to American politics was to lower its tone. Roscoe Conkling, when asked to campaign (for Blaine) in 1884 snarled, out of his morbid hatred: "No thank you, I don't engage in criminal practice". On Bryan: Bryan in power was like Bryan out of power: he made the same well-meant gestures, showed the same willingness under stress or confusion to drop ideas he had once been committed to, the same inability to see things through...He had great hope for the treaties (he was promoting), they would help materially to dissipate the danger of war. "I believe there will be no war while I am Secretary of State," he declared fervently in 1913, "and I believe there will be no war so long as I live." Comparing Wilson with Theodore Roosevelt: The difference between them, in their conservative and progressive phases alike, is the difference between fervor and hysteria. Wilson's early conservatism was based upon a deliberate and reasoned philosophy of politics and social change. By comparison Roosevelt's brand of politics, with its shrill impatience and its suppressed tendency toward violence, seems like a nervous tic. The early Wilson made room in his philosophy for change, for reform, as an organic principle, and his ultimate conversion is no more drastic than a change in emphasis. Roosevelt, despite his oft-expressed desire for political purification, had no principle of change rooted in his philosophy, and his switch to progressivism seems not so much a change of views as a violent change in language prompted by the call of ambition. In Roosevelt there appears to be no real movement of the mind because the mind has hardly ever come into focus. And this smoky elegance for the magnificent Lincoln: As the months passed, a deathly weariness settled over him. Once, when Noah Brooks suggested that he rest, he replied "I suppose it is good for the body. But the tired part of me is inside and out of reach." There had always been a part of him, inside and out of reach, that had looked upon his ambition with detachment and wondered if the game was worth the candle. Now he could see the truth of what he had long dimly known and perhaps hopefully suppressed - that for a man of sensitivity and compassion to exercise great powers in a time of crisis is a grim and agonizing thing. Instead of glory, he once said, he had found only "ashes and blood." This was, for him, the end product of that success myth by which he had lived and for which he had been so persuasive a spokesman. He had had his ambitions and fulfilled them, and met heartache in his triumph. The book is informative and a delight to read - like everything I have come across so far by Hofstadter, it is enthusiastically recommended.

  2. 5 out of 5

    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) 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) and obviously doesn't much care to take yet another swipe at the Grant presidency. The most entertaining part of this book, though, is hearing from my historian friend that Hofstadter is regarded as an arch-conservative. I know he changed some later on in his career, but this book would be considered an unpublishable incitement to class war these days. Meanwhile the self-professed radical professors and graduate students are writing about the Disabled Phillipino-American Bisexual Communities of Northern Montana from 1863-1864. Sometimes you just have to throw yourselves on the gears of power, right?

  3. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    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 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 moderate liberal tradition into a picture that most serious scholars agreed on. Hofstadter himself was a focal point of this tradition. What he did was to analyze the ideologies—implicit or not—of a series of American leaders. What he found was that although they took very different stances on many issues, all considered free-market democracy as the key to American politics. Whatever Americans might disagree on, they agree on this as the best way of achieving human fulfillment for the most of us. Hofstadter, however, was not a free-marketer in the mold of Milton Friedman or Robert Nozick. For one thing, he was openly sarcastic about the monied interests, which have frequently subverted the American system in the past (and might be right now; only time will tell). He also clearly does not mind a certain amount of government intervention in the economy, etc. In short, he is not doctrinaire. Later in his career, Hofstadter was to repent somewhat of his early views. His critique of social darwinism and the paranoid voice in American politics was at odds with the conclusions the consensus school later drew, in part from The American Political Tradition. Although The American Political Tradition is an important book for the educated adult American to have read, for its historical information and analysis, much of which remains current or at least constitutes foundational background for current academic and political conversation in the United States. However, it is not sufficient for the person trying to get a complete picture of the historian Richard Hofstadter.

  4. 5 out of 5

    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 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 Patrician as Opportunist." Hofstadter writes well and is insightful. This book is a nice collection of his essays.

  5. 4 out of 5

    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. 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.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Piker7977

    The American Political Tradition and the Men Who Made It is a chronological compilation of political profiles ranging from the Founders through FDR. Hofstadter examines the larger concepts and contributions that these men offered while describing their political relevance to American institutions. This book is typically presented as an example of the Consensus school of historiography, but I think that the lessons hold up to modern discourse. If anything, it is worth reading to tap into the idea The American Political Tradition and the Men Who Made It is a chronological compilation of political profiles ranging from the Founders through FDR. Hofstadter examines the larger concepts and contributions that these men offered while describing their political relevance to American institutions. This book is typically presented as an example of the Consensus school of historiography, but I think that the lessons hold up to modern discourse. If anything, it is worth reading to tap into the idea that appealing to different groups and ideologies while often seeking a middle ground is a worthwhile trait of a politician.

  7. 4 out of 5

    AID∴N

    This isn't so much a comprehensive summary of the political history of the United States, so much as it is a series of biographical sketches which sets out to demonstrate that despite party differences and sometimes intense personal animosity, all leading political figures in the history of the United States fall within the same 'Political Tradition.' Specifically: the belief that the function of Government should be as the protector of free enterprise, the protector of equality of opportunity, This isn't so much a comprehensive summary of the political history of the United States, so much as it is a series of biographical sketches which sets out to demonstrate that despite party differences and sometimes intense personal animosity, all leading political figures in the history of the United States fall within the same 'Political Tradition.' Specifically: the belief that the function of Government should be as the protector of free enterprise, the protector of equality of opportunity, and that this is best achieved through a policy of substantial laissez-faire. Hofstadter, we quickly surmise, does not share in this belief and therefore The American Political Tradition reads as a breezily sacrilegious broadside against some of the more entrenched platitudes of American history. The whole book is worthwhile but I particularly enjoyed Hofstadter's dissection of John C. Calhoun - 'The Marx of the Master Class' - and his analysis of the failures of the Wilson presidency is rich with pathos. Since the book is over a half-century old, it is in every way dated. Still, Hofstadter's writing ripens with age and his ability to interweave dismissive witticisms with lucid insight is a skill only the most talented writers of nonfiction ever perfect. Doubtless, there are more modern books that fulfill the same role as this one, but equally doubtless, they are far less sagacious.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kate McLain

    i did not read like half of this damn book for it to not count on my reading challenge, this book is so dense it reads like the ramblings of an old man from the fourties, because it is. if you like reading about.. i still don't even know what this book is about, history?? men?? men in history?? this is the book for you!! --- oh and the dates in my logs are wildly incorrect but 🤷‍♀️ i did not read like half of this damn book for it to not count on my reading challenge, this book is so dense it reads like the ramblings of an old man from the fourties, because it is. if you like reading about.. i still don't even know what this book is about, history?? men?? men in history?? this is the book for you!! --- oh and the dates in my logs are wildly incorrect but 🤷‍♀️

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jack Wolfe

    I started this one before the election, expecting a kind of salute to the "Good" American consensus that a Clinton presidency would have continued. When Trump won, I almost immediately cast it aside... I didn't wanna read any bromides about the fundamental decency of the American people or the evolution of the American idea or the creativity of American leadership or any of that shit. I picked it up again once my mind settled down to discover an ironical, cutting, provocative work of intellectua I started this one before the election, expecting a kind of salute to the "Good" American consensus that a Clinton presidency would have continued. When Trump won, I almost immediately cast it aside... I didn't wanna read any bromides about the fundamental decency of the American people or the evolution of the American idea or the creativity of American leadership or any of that shit. I picked it up again once my mind settled down to discover an ironical, cutting, provocative work of intellectual history... A work all about politicians failing to achieve their desired ends. A more accurate title for it might be "The Limits of the American Political Tradition." Though the subjects of the book seem very different, Hofstadter sees in all of them similar flaws, chief of which is an obsession with the idea of being "American." For Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, Wilson, Hoover and the rest, "Americanism" almost always mean "individualism," and "individualism" almost always precludes political and economics solutions that encourage equality, increase human freedom, fight against corruption, and reduce corporate control. We see this faith in both reactionary wackos like Calhoun (who Hofstadter dubs "The Marx of the Master Class") and supposed reformers like Theodore Roosevelt (who probably gets the most stinging chapter of all); in both well-known figures like FDR (who is depicted as an immensely charming politician with a layman's grasp of economic policy) and forgotten types like William Jennings Bryan (whose provincial populism Hofstadter is especially harsh on). The founders are not idealistic revolutionaries here-- their goals are, truthfully, pretty conservative, with the project of keeping their wealth intact first and foremost. Even Lincoln's legacy as the "Great Emancipator" is challenged; though Hofstadter clearly admires the man, he paints a portrait not of a benevolent, selfless, progressive pioneer, but of an ambitious, cunning politician who was very much a product of his time. Despite all these critiques, the book is hardly bitter or unfair. Hofstadter's spirit is contrarian, but his style is calm and collected. Even though his assessment of American political history is "realistic," his aim is clearly more idealistic. He wants us to see in his book not a failed country... Just one often given to failure. It's telling that his most salutary chapter is on Wendell Phillips, an abolitionist agitator no one talks about now. He ends it beautifully: "Conventional history has been less charitable than Phillips's contemporaries, finding him always preposterous and never delightful. But the agitator who had given no quarter expected none, and perhaps sensed that the scholarship of the future would treat him in the same spirit as had the scholarship of his time. He returned from Cambridge to Boston, exhilarated and grimly satisfied, we may imagine, at the thought that as long as anyone in the old town could remember, he had been a thorn in the side of complacency."

  10. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    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. 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. I mean, I didn't know a goddamn thing about John C Calhoun until I read it, and now that little sideline is much more familiar to me. The best thing about it, is that it creates a sense of literacy in a topic that is often shaded over or overplayed. It's a little bit too dogmatically left, but the insights you get from it outweigh his intended desire to sort of dis everybody he wants to tackle. I think he got quite a bit out of demystifying Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt, for example. Definitely a great way to begin looking at history from a leftist, highly educated, ironic perspective.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Christopher

    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 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 described as illuminating. He is the first historian who has, in my mind, made sense of Andrew Jackson and Woodrow Wilson's legacies and one of the best analyses of FDR's growth from reluctant progressive to figure-head of modern American Liberalism. My only gripe is that I feel that he completely missed the mark in his analysis of Theodore Roosevelt's progressivism, which he characterizes as overcompensation for self-percieved deficiencies and political necessity. Most historians I have heard or read said that his was a genuine belief in the progressive agenda rather than a reluctant necessity. Otherwise, this is an excellent book that should be read and cherished by all Americans.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Hannah

    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. 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.

  13. 5 out of 5

    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. 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.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Luis

    Excellent, eye-opening, thought-provoking.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Mr.Jamie

    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 thi 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 think and feel about politics. One of Hofstadter’s most read books is also one of his most criticized. To this day, whether The American Political Tradition is regarded in infamy or praise, it is undoubtedly the most talked about of Hofstadter’s works. In the Preface of The American Political Tradition Richard Hofstadter made it clear that the audience of his book was students of many different ages. The concepts and ideas presented are understandable, allowing for a younger audience to follow along. However, the language is challenging, but worth the challenge. This book should be read by any student taking an American History course. It provides a base understanding of American politics; how it originated and morphed into what it is today. One might recommend this to any AP level high school class. To legitimize his work, Hofstadter wrote a bibliographical essay in the back of his book. On account of the books that he cited there, one can assume that Hofstadter was well read. His book has stood the test of time (1948-present) and is still considered an accurate account of ten American political figures. Richard Hofstadter wrote a big book which included twelve long chapters. He also gave credit to all the authors who supplied him with the information which helped to fill his pages. By reading from these secondary sources, Hofstadter became an authority on American history and wrote this best selling book. Though he is an expert, many critics have attempted to delegitimize his work by asserting that he was biased. He most certainly was but not necessarily to a political party. His bias was towards ruining “the memory of the great men of American history in much the same way pigeons alter public monuments.” This bias, however, does not take away from the historical value of this book. This book, as stated previously, was written for a younger audience. However, it takes awhile to get used to Hofstadter’s writing style. Once one gets familiar with his prose, s/he starts to appreciate the subtle humoristic tone that the author employs. Aside from having a mildly interesting style, Hofstadter’s book is also very informative and insightful into American political history. It provides a thorough understanding of the country’s past and reveals a sinister side to America’s revered heroes. This is not a child’s history book and it shows in its stark criticisms of past American idols. For example, Abraham Lincoln has been generally viewed by the American public as a national hero, “the greatest character since Christ,” as Hofstadter quoted John Hay. Hofstadter, however, portrayed Lincoln as ambitious but not as moral as the public perceived him. Lincoln believed, as stated by the author, that all men were created equal. But, he also wrote that Lincoln was “opposed to citizenship” for African Americans . The American Political Tradition has been both venerated and criticized by the public for this sincerity. Many appreciate Hofstadter’s work for its blatancy, and others try to neglect his book for the exact same reasons. They feel he is out to give “great men” bad names. This argument is very intriguing and it gives one more to think about while reading. Though it is still young, the United States of America has a rich history. Hofstadter attempted to uncover the origins of its political system, how it changed over generations, and why the system changed. His work provides extensive knowledge to the reader not only on politics but also on the American past. For instance, in his chapter The Spoilsmen: An Age of Cynicism, Hofstadter discusses some politics and more Americana. This period is associated with being uneventful in political affairs (“years from Appomattox to the end of the nineteenth century” ), but Hofstadter does not only speak politics. He emphasizes the clash between the businessman and the politician during this time. He talks about America becoming one of the richest nations in the world. He even touches on the railroad boom through the 1860s. This chapter gives one a break from the author’s political rambling and tells of American economics through the 1800s. That being said, Hofstadter’s book is a 456-page elephant which should have and could have easily been condensed into a 230-page lion. His writing can be dry at times and extremely insipid at others as he draws out his individual essays to a superfluous length. While the information given from the book is tolerable, the form in which it is presented is far from involving. The American Political Tradition relates the lives of American political men in multiple essays. Hofstadter attempts to provide a brief history on these political figures while also analyzing their rise to power: “I was less interested in the art of the exercise of power than I was in the art of acquiring it.” Furthermore, it was his intention to provide his readers (mainly students) not only an education on American politics and how it has changed over the centuries, but also a darker side to politics. Whether one feels the same about his interpretation of the American past depends on the person. “[The American Political Tradition and the Men Who Made It] influenced an entire generation of historians and thinkers.” Saying that about any book makes it deserving of historical significance. It has also provided its readers a new understanding of the American past. Whether for better or worse, it affected all of those who turned its pages. Since its publication in 1948, controversy has surrounded it. Some say “[it delegitimizes] the historic American by portraying all of the nation's history as a mere argument on the margins of what was actually a broad conservative consensus” while others argue “it is at once deeply researched and elegantly written, with a keen eye for the ironic, incongruous, and revealing.” As long as Hofstadter’s book is read, people will argue the value of his work. Richard Hofstadter was a political authority who wrote one of the most controversial narratives relative to American history; controversial because of its stark criticisms of heroes which angers some people while pleasing others. The American Political Tradition provides readers with an education on the country’s political origins as well as the men who crafted them. There is a lot of helpful information, but at times it can be presented in lengthy, inept passages. This book emphasizes the flaws of past figures and presents a different version of the American past to students. It is both an informative and memorable read.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Mike Jones

    This one took me a bit to get through. But not for lack of insights and depth but quite the opposite... I was given this book years ago by a very good friend (and political scientist) who told me this was the best book to read to start understanding the political history of the United States. Having now finished this incredibly thoughtful look at various political statesmen of our country's first 170 years, I think he was spot on. This is less a historical narrative or sweeping overview of America This one took me a bit to get through. But not for lack of insights and depth but quite the opposite... I was given this book years ago by a very good friend (and political scientist) who told me this was the best book to read to start understanding the political history of the United States. Having now finished this incredibly thoughtful look at various political statesmen of our country's first 170 years, I think he was spot on. This is less a historical narrative or sweeping overview of American political history and more of a series of incredibly thoughtful essays on some of the most impactful political players in the US. And through each, the author traces themes in American politics - namely individualism and capitalism - that have transcended both time, office, and political party. Each essay has helped me immensely to better understand the political nature and thinking of some very famous (and some less famous) past US Presidents and politicians, like Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Herbert Hoover, and Franklin Roosevelt. While I've read many other biographies of these same men, few have focused on their ideology, political writings & speeches, and actions in-office as much as this book. And through it I have a much firmer understanding of the USA's political trajectory over time. I can't recommend this book enough for the historically and politically inclined.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Kevin A

    Richard Hofstadter's 1948 book about the ways the ruling class's political positions are staked-out around money is good, but suffers for lack of race or gender analysis in America's political tradition. Does a great job of deconstructing the myths around presidents and looking at the similarities between the political parties. Also explore swhat about the personal psyches and relationships of presidents and other political leaders did to the politics, and therefore material circumstances, of th Richard Hofstadter's 1948 book about the ways the ruling class's political positions are staked-out around money is good, but suffers for lack of race or gender analysis in America's political tradition. Does a great job of deconstructing the myths around presidents and looking at the similarities between the political parties. Also explore swhat about the personal psyches and relationships of presidents and other political leaders did to the politics, and therefore material circumstances, of the country. A lot of very good chapters. It's hard to pick a favorite, but I might go with that on Wendell Phillips, an unsung hero of abolition, women's rights, the labor movement, and indigenous people's rights. Does a good job exploring the hypocrisies of those that defended slavery, but does very little to address race post-1865, though he does take William Jennings Bryan to task for supporting the Klan, even passively. Read more here: https://vulpesjournal.blogspot.com/20...

  18. 4 out of 5

    Nick

    What the author describes as "a young man's book" is what reads today as a series of barely polemical character studies of a bunch of historically prominent American men. They're character studies not just in that the point of departure is biographical but so also is the point of return: Hofstadter brings to bear the historical context in the service of his judgment of these men's personalities and careers rather the judgment serving the history. What partially saves the banality of this approac What the author describes as "a young man's book" is what reads today as a series of barely polemical character studies of a bunch of historically prominent American men. They're character studies not just in that the point of departure is biographical but so also is the point of return: Hofstadter brings to bear the historical context in the service of his judgment of these men's personalities and careers rather the judgment serving the history. What partially saves the banality of this approach is that it's easily and intelligently written (you can learn a lot about that historical context even though it's relegated to instrumentality) and that his judgments are entertainingly critical. There are very few of his men that he does not think are some combination of feckless, pompous, and stupid. In all, a tart and tangy example of the Great Men school that doesn't even approach transcending its genre.

  19. 5 out of 5

    LT

    I read this book for my AP US History class. I loved the opposing viewpoints Hofstadter presented in this book, even down to the paradoxical chapter names. Every historical figure was shown to be multifaceted and three dimensional. There is no single prevailing narrative. Politicians can be flawed, hypocritical, and fickle, and often take on different positions regarding a single issue as their career progresses. While their upbringing can significantly shape their policy, it was not always a tr I read this book for my AP US History class. I loved the opposing viewpoints Hofstadter presented in this book, even down to the paradoxical chapter names. Every historical figure was shown to be multifaceted and three dimensional. There is no single prevailing narrative. Politicians can be flawed, hypocritical, and fickle, and often take on different positions regarding a single issue as their career progresses. While their upbringing can significantly shape their policy, it was not always a true determinant of where their loyalties lay. I enjoyed reading about Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Jefferson. By contrasting different perspectives, Hofstadter creates an authentic and partisan portrayal of the men who founded America, and encourages the reader to create his or her own worldview. This was a challenge I truly enjoyed taking on.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Phillip

    Granted, some of the language (and racial mentions) are quite dated - but I found this tome surprisingly engaging. I learned more about the historical figures in American democracy than I thought I would. The author does a good job deconstructing some "popular" notions and myths (perhaps too much at time - his "deconstruction" of Lincoln on slavery is a bit silly, IMHO. Everyone knows Lincoln evolved on what he would do to combat slavery, but there's no denying what he actually did as president) Granted, some of the language (and racial mentions) are quite dated - but I found this tome surprisingly engaging. I learned more about the historical figures in American democracy than I thought I would. The author does a good job deconstructing some "popular" notions and myths (perhaps too much at time - his "deconstruction" of Lincoln on slavery is a bit silly, IMHO. Everyone knows Lincoln evolved on what he would do to combat slavery, but there's no denying what he actually did as president). There were some figures he tackled that either I hadn't heard of or surprised he covered (not a lot of folks go in-depth on Herbert Hoover). I'm sure there are more contemporary texts to choose from, but any interested students of American government will walk away from this book with something to think about.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Ailith Twinning

    As a work of history, it feels unfocused and missed much. As a work of expression, it's very long since novel, and lacking in much consideration beyond the biographies. As a book for it's own sake, I find Hofstader boring. It's not a bad book, by any means, but I think the conversation has, inevitably, moved beyond it. To be fair, this thing seems addressed to Communists and Progressives - and neither the formers natural law delusions nor the Progressive idealism seems to still linger. But I'm no As a work of history, it feels unfocused and missed much. As a work of expression, it's very long since novel, and lacking in much consideration beyond the biographies. As a book for it's own sake, I find Hofstader boring. It's not a bad book, by any means, but I think the conversation has, inevitably, moved beyond it. To be fair, this thing seems addressed to Communists and Progressives - and neither the formers natural law delusions nor the Progressive idealism seems to still linger. But I'm not sure what this could do for modern chauvinists like the neo-cons and neo-libs... but that's getting off into the weeds. Mostly I just find it quite dull and would rather get the information elsewhere, and you easily can these days.

  22. 4 out of 5

    James Violand

    Here is where it started, opinion hidden beneath objectivity. Hofstadter was a progressive historian who attempted to persuade readers by shading facts. As you read his chapters dedicated to the men who made the tradition, you realize his strong bias against anyone not holding a Liberal view: Wendell Phillips (Who?) was too radical; William Jennings Bryan an ignorant populist; Teddy was an ass; Wilson would’ve been the Savior but for the bad people who resisted him; Hoover’s pride did him in; an Here is where it started, opinion hidden beneath objectivity. Hofstadter was a progressive historian who attempted to persuade readers by shading facts. As you read his chapters dedicated to the men who made the tradition, you realize his strong bias against anyone not holding a Liberal view: Wendell Phillips (Who?) was too radical; William Jennings Bryan an ignorant populist; Teddy was an ass; Wilson would’ve been the Savior but for the bad people who resisted him; Hoover’s pride did him in; and, FDR tried everything to help America but was a very shallow thinker and his legacy is unknown (this work was published in ’48). Compared to his predecessors, Hofstadter’s personal bias is apparent and it appears intentional.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Mshelton50

    I'm a huge fan of Richard Hofstadter's work, so it is not surprising that I thoroughly enjoyed The American Political Tradition. Described as a "kind of intellectual history of the assumptions behind American politics," the book is a series of sketches of major American political figures, from the Founders to Franklin D. Roosevelt. I found those on Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln and Herbert Hoover very interesting and enlightening. Of course, one of the joys of any Hofstadter work is his outsta I'm a huge fan of Richard Hofstadter's work, so it is not surprising that I thoroughly enjoyed The American Political Tradition. Described as a "kind of intellectual history of the assumptions behind American politics," the book is a series of sketches of major American political figures, from the Founders to Franklin D. Roosevelt. I found those on Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln and Herbert Hoover very interesting and enlightening. Of course, one of the joys of any Hofstadter work is his outstanding prose--always clear, frequently Olympian, and occasionally very humorous. I highly recommend this to anyone with an interest in American history.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Greg Brown

    Reading older but well-written works of history is always fascinating: a snapshot of their perception of the times, and what they thought rang through to the then-present day. Lasch’s introduction to my edition, though itself dated, does a swell job locating this at the beginning of history’s turn away from Beard’s exclusively-economic interpretations of the American Revolution and more. My favorite chapters/essays were those on the “duds” and losers of American History like Bryan and Hoover: Ho Reading older but well-written works of history is always fascinating: a snapshot of their perception of the times, and what they thought rang through to the then-present day. Lasch’s introduction to my edition, though itself dated, does a swell job locating this at the beginning of history’s turn away from Beard’s exclusively-economic interpretations of the American Revolution and more. My favorite chapters/essays were those on the “duds” and losers of American History like Bryan and Hoover: Hofstadter captures their original appeal (and occasional, broken-clock accuracy) while showing where they went awry.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Thomas Breen

    A witty, insightful, learned, scathing, eminently readable debunking of hagiographic myths about American political leaders. Sometimes Hofstadter’s barbs, however well constructed and intellectually sharp, are myopic and unfair (calling Lincoln nothing more than an opportunist seems a bit much). But still, the central concept that political divisions in American history are relatively superficial in comparison to the deeply engrained pragmatism, reverence for wealth and property, and political a A witty, insightful, learned, scathing, eminently readable debunking of hagiographic myths about American political leaders. Sometimes Hofstadter’s barbs, however well constructed and intellectually sharp, are myopic and unfair (calling Lincoln nothing more than an opportunist seems a bit much). But still, the central concept that political divisions in American history are relatively superficial in comparison to the deeply engrained pragmatism, reverence for wealth and property, and political ambition to preserve the economic status quo (e.g. capitalism) is as compelling and I think accurate today as it ever has been.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Nick Burns

    A pleasure to revisit the first work of history that ever seemed to me itself an original gesture. Looking at my notes from high school, R.H. did not manage to dislodge me from my Whig view of American history, nor my reverence for Lincoln. In theory, Hofstadter would have been displeased to hear this, but in fact the dialectical slippage towards the "consensus history" he deplored is clear to see. A much gentler treatment of a nation's politico-intellectual tradition than the "Indian Ideology." A pleasure to revisit the first work of history that ever seemed to me itself an original gesture. Looking at my notes from high school, R.H. did not manage to dislodge me from my Whig view of American history, nor my reverence for Lincoln. In theory, Hofstadter would have been displeased to hear this, but in fact the dialectical slippage towards the "consensus history" he deplored is clear to see. A much gentler treatment of a nation's politico-intellectual tradition than the "Indian Ideology." Hofstadter pulls many punches. In more patriotic moments, I am inclined to absolve him of blame for this. When not, not.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Salvatore

    Long essays on 10 sometimes angry, sometimes inspirational, sometimes straight up awful men who influenced American politics and thinking. There are also two essays more about the times and culture during the creation of the United States and its post-Civil War issues, which occasionally feel a bit like Woolf's 'Time Passes' chapter in To the Lighthouse. Hofstadter is quickly becoming my favorite American historian. Long essays on 10 sometimes angry, sometimes inspirational, sometimes straight up awful men who influenced American politics and thinking. There are also two essays more about the times and culture during the creation of the United States and its post-Civil War issues, which occasionally feel a bit like Woolf's 'Time Passes' chapter in To the Lighthouse. Hofstadter is quickly becoming my favorite American historian.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    This is more like a series of biographies than iris it is a book on American Political Traditions. Many of the individuals portrayed in the Berkeley appear to be superficial and opportunistic. Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, & F.D.R. Appears to have been somewhat superficial, impressionable and self-promoting. Hoover and Calhoun appear to be rigid and limited by their own world views.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Phil

    A must-read, especially for any who remain afflicted with grade-school romanticism about US leaders. Hofstadter, unless I missed someone else, was the first popular historian of stature to debunk a lot of hagiography about, especially, Lincoln, *both* Roosevelts, Wilson, and some others. Not a great stylist, but not too bad.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    One of the most interesting parts of this was that he was writing history, especially of Hoover and FDR, essentially at the same time it happened. Overall I understand why people like to quote him. Good read.

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