Michael Kazin

  • Roll the Union On

    THOMAS BELL'S Out of This Furnace (1941) is a romantic jewel of Popular Front literature, reminding us that white working-class people were once at the forefront of turning the United States into a more egalitarian country. Bell (born Belejcak) framed his autobiographical novel around three generations of Slovak American men who live and labor in the steel mills of Braddock, Pennsylvania, from the 1880s through the 1930s. Kracha, the oldest, hates working for the imperious company that becomes US Steel. He quits and throws away what little money he has on a small business that eventually fails.

  • Left Alone

    A warning to American leftists: These two fine works of history will probably depress you. They may also nudge you to think hard about what your forerunners did to change the country and why they failed to accomplish more.

    Both books mention “limits” in their subtitles, and the authors define the term essentially the same way: Individualist values and the fear of a leviathan welfare state conspired to produce a polity in which conservatism is the default ideology and victories for bottom-up reform are the exception. Each book represents a distinct approach to this subject and to the writing

  • A Shaky Solidarity

    I doubt any writer has suffered longer over the plight of American unions or described their troubles more vividly than Thomas Geoghegan. His first book, Which Side Are You On? (1991), managed to make the struggle to revive what he called the “dumb, stupid mastodon” of organized labor seem heroic, even as the author feared it might be hopeless. Mixing personal anecdotes with his deep knowledge of history and law, Geoghegan, who has been toiling in Chicago as a union-side attorney since Jimmy Carter was a failing president, narrated the movement’s decline through a series of poignant and/or

  • The Lyndon Symphonies

    Near the end of this thick volume, the fourth in his celebrated saga of Lyndon Baines Johnson, Robert A. Caro describes the War on Poverty as the most sincere and boldest initiative of a normally cynical and utterly practical politician. It did not matter that LBJ’s advisers warned him the plan to uplift the nation’s forty to fifty million poor would gain him no additional votes in the next election. “That’s my kind of program,” the new president insisted just a day after he took office in late November 1963. “I’ll find money for it one way or another.”

    As was typical of the man, a personal

  • Socialist Studies

    What was so great about I. F. Stone? For many journalists—most but not all of them on the left—“Izzy” remains the ultimate scribbler of truth to power. Like-minded bloggers claim him as a patron saint; last year, the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard began awarding an annual I. F. Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence. D. D. Guttenplan concludes his new biography, American Radical, “I. F. Stone wrote not to create a sensation, or to promote himself (or his ‘brand’), but to change the world.”

    The future icon achieved his biggest scoop in 1964. Stone debunked the shaky tale the