Publisher Weekly

Review by Review, Publisher Weekly

Feminists, labor militants, civil rights stalwarts, and socialists have captured America’s heart–though rarely its votes–according to this perceptive history of the radical left. Kazin (The Populist Persuasion), editor of Dissent magazine, surveys visionaries, organizers, and rabble-rousers, including abolitionists and free-love communards of the 1830s, Gilded Age utopian novelists and temperance crusaders, feisty Wobblies and avant-garde bohemians, patriotic Popular Front Communists and ’60s firebrands. From this tumult of movements and personalities–everyone from John Brown to Naomi Klein, Dr. Seuss to Noam Chomsky–Kazin discerns continuities: radicals, he contends, succeed by influencing liberals rather than winning power, and by championing individual freedom and self-fulfillment; they fail when they attack religion and nationalism, advocate economic leveling, or advance sectarian purity and Marxist dogmas. Kazin’s argument that the socialist economic program was always “stillborn” while the Left’s cultural project–social equality, identity politics, artistic freedom, sexual liberation, and antiauthoritarianism–has triumphed is not new, and it lends the book a tone more of eulogy than of celebration; still this is a lively and lucid synthesis of a vital political tradition.