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I frequently come to Daily Kos to ask for suggestions, whether it's electronics or books; it always tends to work out quite well, so I am back once again, and this time, it's all about books.

In one of my history classes, I am required to write two book critiques; one can be fiction and one has to be non-fiction. The time period is restricted to 1875-1917, so they can be biographies or books about topics such as imperialism, the Gilded Age, Progressive Movement and politics.

I have chosen The Jungle as my fictional book because it's one of my all-time favorites. As for the non-fiction, I have browsed the college library website and Amazon for a couple of hours, and I can't seem to find anything that appeals to me. It also doesn't help that I'm not that familiar with this era of American history. (Unfortunately.)

I've thought about writing a critique on a presidential biography, but that is an easy way out, and I refuse to do that.

I'd really like to write about the emergence of the labor movement and the new worker protections passed during this time. Or a non-fiction account of the events that occurred in The Jungle. I could possibly even compare and contrast the fictional and non-fictional versions.

Does anyone have any suggestions?

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Comment Preferences

  •  American history only? (8+ / 0-)

    You probably should specify the region as well as the time period.  I get the feeling that it is American history you need to focus on.  However, if America and Europe are within the scope of your study, then I recommend Barbara Tuchman’s The Proud Tower:  A Portrait of the World Before the War:  1890-1914.

    If you are restricted to American history, then I recommend Richard Hofstadter's Social Darwinism in American Thought.  Since it is mostly, but not completely, within the time period you indicate, you probably should check with your instructor to see if it qualifies.

  •  If you can ask your teacher for a slight change (8+ / 0-)

    to the date range, this is an amazing book: Dark Tide: The Great Molasses Flood of 1919. It covers a huge industrial disaster--now almost unknown--that happened in Boston in 1919. The events that led up to it, which the book describes in fascinating detail, definitely take place within the assigned time period. The catastrophe reveals an enormous amount about labor, politics, industry, social conditions, urban living and how these forces intersect at the turn of twentieth century America.

    Well written, as history, and a fun read. Highly recommended by this historian.

    Ho'oponopono. To make things right; restore harmony; heal.

    by earicicle on Sat Jan 18, 2014 at 04:46:11 PM PST

  •  Garfield assassination. (3+ / 0-)

    I once read a book I believe it was called Destiny of the Republic about this episode.

    Also, I hadn't read it but for some reason I thought the Jungle was a non-fiction expose of the meat industry.

    •  The Jungle is a novel (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      chancew, RunawayRose

      His intent was to personalize the issue by telling stories of fictional people dealing with the facts of the environment.

      “Texas is a so-called red state, but you’ve got 10 million Democrats here in Texas. And …, there are a whole lot of people here in Texas who need us, and who need us to fight for them.” President Obama

      by Catte Nappe on Sat Jan 18, 2014 at 05:32:08 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Does the book need to be from that period? (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Vatexia, Catte Nappe, chancew, RunawayRose

    If you're interested in intellectual history, then you want a book that was actually written in the period.  If you just need the books topic to apply to that, you have a wider selection.

    It also isn't clear if you're restricted to US history, or if you have a broader area to study as well.

    Offhand, I think that one of the most interesting topic in US history over the period is the fight over the gold standard.  I don't have a specific book to recommend here though.

    The reason I find the topic interesting is that underlying the fight was an economic reality we'd recognize:  the financial system was set up in such a way that debt held by Midwestern farmers was effectively financing East Coast industrialists -- it was the kind of redistribution of wealth we've been seeing between the US middle class and the very wealthy in our own time.

    The gold standard was relevant here because we had serious deflation after the Civil War.  So the more prices fell, the more that farmer-held debt was worth.  So East Coast interests wanted deflation, and the farmers wanted inflation (to reduce their real debt).

    Part of Populism's program was to educate farmers about this economic fact, and it's pretty clear from writings of the period that they understood exactly what was going on.  Since silver was plentiful, using a "silver standard" was inflationary, and good for farmers.  The GOP, which was, then as now, captive of the ultra rich, supported the gold standard, which until the end of the century was deflationary.

    Sometimes, even people in Kansas can understand what their interests are, and act on them.  Your period was one of those times.

    Quote of the week: "They call themselves bipartisan because they're able to buy members of both parties," (R. Eskow, Campaign for America's Future.)

    by mbayrob on Sat Jan 18, 2014 at 04:54:51 PM PST

  •  There is fascinating stuff in this period (5+ / 0-)

    I am sure that there are many here far more qualified to offer a suggestion than I am.  Nevertheless, take a look at Workingmen’s Democracy (Leon Fink, University of Illinois Press, 1983).  I used to talk about this era with my history professor brother-in-law, and boy did I miss a lot about this period.  Good luck, and I hope that  it proves to be both informative and fun.

  •  Slightly Out of Period (4+ / 0-)

    I recently read Thomas Nast: The Father of Modern Political Cartoons by Fiona Deans Halloran.  Mostly it covers Nast's career during the period from the Civil War through the Grant Administration, although it does also discuss his later years up to his death in 1902.  

    Nast was a Republican, mostly because he admired Lincoln and Grant  and not necessarily because he was a Party Loyalist.  So the changes in the Republican Party during this era as it morphed from the Party of Lincoln into the Party of Business had an enormous effect on Nast's fortunes.  

    Nast's editor, with whom he frequently disagreed, was strongly opposed to corruption in government; but he also liked to schmooze with powerful movers and shakers.  He felt that caricature was ungentlemanly and that Nast's cartoons were offending Important People.  He also felt that Nast's cartoons ought to reflect the opinions of the Editorial Page.

    I found it an interesting book.  But admittedly, it only has a small overlap with the period you want to look at.

    Read my webcomic, "Hannibal Tesla Adventure Magazine" at

    by quarkstomper on Sat Jan 18, 2014 at 05:19:34 PM PST

  •  I can't recommend any books right now (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    annetteboardman, chancew, RunawayRose

    but "The Turn Of The Century" was a fascinating time in our history.

    If I'm not mistaken- wouldn't Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee fall into this time frame?

    Growing old is inevitable...Growing up is purely optional

    by grannycarol on Sat Jan 18, 2014 at 05:55:32 PM PST

  •  Recommendation (4+ / 0-)

    Anything by Tuchman is always a good choice, but I would  suggest "The Good Years" by Walter Lord.

  •  Triangle:the Fire That Changed America (6+ / 0-)

    by David von Drehle is an unforgettable relating of that terrible fire in 1911 and the context of the labor movement before and afterwards. I learned a lot and recommend this book to everyone. It's very readable and compelling, and seems scrupulously researched.

  •  I have quite a few recommendations (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    chancew, RunawayRose, marykk, earicicle

    I would recommend asking if you would be able to use Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (focuses on the second half of the 19th century.  It would provide a nice balance to the rest of the history you will be reading).  Then there are more "fun" books and I have a few social history ones to recommend:

    These are essentially relatively popular history.  I tend to read a lot of historical material and these are almost all about disasters but use the disasters as a lens through which social history can be viewed.  For the popular history (limited footnotes, etc.):

    Two by Erik Larson
    Isaac's Storm (Galveston Hurricane of 1900)
    Devil in the White City (Chicago World's Fair) -- honestly, I think that Isaac's Storm is the better book, but this was a huge seller.

    Doris Kearns Goodwin has a relatively new book out that my Dad asked for at Christmas and loved -- The Bully Pulpit (about Taft and Roosevelt)

    Simon Winchester, A Crack in the Edge of the World (San Francisco Earthquake of 1906)

    A bit different treatment of the same period in San Francisco, but with a different focus -- The Barbary Plague by Marilyn Chase (about the black death coming to the new world, through San Francisco, and about the China trade and immigration at the turn of the century)

    David McCullough, The Johnstown Flood

    I would love to hear what you end up reading.

  •  One always dear to my heart (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    From Isolation to War by Justus Doenecke, a former professor of mine. This was back when a major in history interested me, but I've long since switched course.

  •  The Age of Reform (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    whizdom, RunawayRose

    (Richard Hofstadter) covers the Populist and Progressive movements of that era.

    The Big Burn by Timothy Egan is about the 3 million acre forest fire that burned in the Pac NW in 1910, but it gets into a lot of context related to Teddy Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot, the rise of the Forest Service and National Forests.

    No matter how cynical you become, it's never enough to keep up - Lily Tomlin

    by badger on Sat Jan 18, 2014 at 07:35:29 PM PST

  •  Progressive Era (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I'd suggest Timothy Hacsi, Second Home: Orphan Asylums and Poor Families in America.  An excellent book about how the poor use social welfare systems.

  •  Great suggestions here: I've read a little over (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RunawayRose, earicicle

    half. You really can't go wrong here.

    There is no depth to education without art.- Amiri Baraka. RIP

    by Free Jazz at High Noon on Sat Jan 18, 2014 at 07:57:17 PM PST

  •  Barbara Tuchman's books are wonderful reads. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    In your time range: (pasted from Wikipedia)

    The Guns of August (1962) details the military decisions and actions that occurred leading up to and during the first month of World War I. It is primarily what established her reputation. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, John F. Kennedy advised the EXCOMM to read this book. Reprinted several times in the 1980s as August 1914.

    The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890–1914 (1966)—Covers the hesitant rise of U.S. imperialism, anarchist assassinations, socialism, communism, and the devolution of the 19th century order in Europe and North America.

  •  I have several suggestions (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RunawayRose, marykk, earicicle

    based on my diaries from the past few days. The Montgomery Bus Boycott was not only not the first bus boycott in the 1950s, it was not the first public transportation boycott in the state. Two waves of such boycotts hit from 1891 to roughly 1907.

    Why two waves? Because the first set of transportation laws did not require segregation, only strongly desired it. Well, segregation was expensive, partly because blacks boycotted segregated travel at every opportunity.

    The Right to Ride covers 1900-1907. I don't know of a book that covers the full 1891-1907 period, alas. If you're open to more books about that general subject, I can just pull URLs from my diaries. If you're busy with something else you've picked, no worries :)

    "Homeless veteran" should be an oxymoron.
    "Please know that I accept you and yours with no need for explanation of [any] kind." -Translator

    by iampunha on Sat Jan 18, 2014 at 10:12:52 PM PST

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