Today’s Reading: Fin de siècle America

Check it: I’m a French-using snob. Anyway, I’ve been plotting out my prelim reading (holy FUCK there’s a lot), and here’s what’s on tap for today:

Walter Nugent, Crossings: The Great Transatlantic Migrations, 1870-1914
Roger Daniels, Guarding the Golden Door: American Immigration Policy and Immigrants Since 1882
John M. Cooper, Pivotal Decades: The United States, 1900-1920
David Kennedy, Over Here: The First World War and American Society
Lester Chandler, America’s Greatest Depression

Thoughts?  Suggestions?  Concise book reviews that would keep me from having to read these things?  Kidding, kidding.

3 thoughts on “Today’s Reading: Fin de siècle America

  1. So, I only got around to three of the books, having spent half of the day helping a friend move.

    Nugent’s Crossings is an interesting comparison of immigration to the United States, Brazil, Argentina, and Canada between 1870-1914, when steam-powered travel, the need for labor, and lax immigration laws drew tons of people to the Americas. Nugent argues that since other countries got immigrants too, the US isn’t all that exceptional. Except that it is in terms of the sheer quantity and, more importantly, diversity of the immigrants the US received (thus stymieing class consciousness; see Rauchway’s Blessed Among Nations). Nugent makes one interesting observation, though: the high rate of repatriation among immigrants to the US really pissed of some nativists, who thought that going home after working in the US amounted to a slap in the face.

    Daniels’s Guarding the Golden Door is a big, fat bore of a book. Stuffed with details on immigration law since 1882 (when the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed), the book has a no-shit-sherlock thesis: American immigration policy has been structured around keeping people out (Chinese, illiterate, various nationalities, etc.). Oh, and the INS is a bunch of meanies. Maybe good for those wanting detailed background on immigration policy, but not much in terms of an argument.

    Kennedy’s Over There is one of my favorite books. It provides a very thorough account of the years of the first world war (avoiding too much detail re: battles). It’s also a great way to look at Progressivism. The war killed Progressivism in a few ways. First, conservatives Republicans used it as an opportunity to empty their party of Progressives. Second, Wilison’s administration really screwed up an opportunity to realize Progressive dreams, half-assing the WIB (under Baruch), the Food Administration (under Hoover), and railroad organization (under McAdoo). But most importantly, the war revealed how hard it was for Progressives to work against America’s affinity for small government; no matter how much some people may have wanted to nationalize the railroads, most Americans–including Wilson and McAdoo–had no desire to go down that path. Finally, the war didn’t go on long enough to provide Wilson with the sort of emergency that he could have used to push Progressivism (which is something many Progressives hoped for, and therefore supported the war). It’s a richly detailed and nuanced book–highly recommended.

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