The Inheritance

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In a chronicle of three generations of three working-class families, award-winning journalist Samuel G. Freedman tells the human story of the political transformation of twentieth-century America - the rise and fall of FDR's New Deal coalition and its displacement by the new conservatism of Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich. This is the single most important political phenomenon of our times. Freedman has selected three families who are at once singular and broadly representative. They are families who reached this country just as the century was beginning and struggled as blacksmiths and domestics and butchers and plumbers to gain a foothold. They are families who acted on their beliefs not only by voting but also by organizing neighborhoods and leading union chapters, canvassing precincts and watching polls and marching in torch-light parades. These families were pillars of the Democratic coalition that largely led America from 1932 until 1968 - community activists, trade unionists, machine politicians, with loyalties based on religion, ethnicity, and social class. These families equally embody the forces that shifted the majority into Republican hands for all but four years between 1968 and 1992 - grievances about taxes, crime, and reverse discrimination; the rise of suburbia and a shift to a new political machine based on private financing for development rather than public works. They are individuals who shifted from New Deal Democrats to Reagan Republicans to a mixture of GOP stalwarts, hesitant Clinton backers, and political dropouts. And in so doing, they carried with them a nation's destiny. The Inheritance will change our understanding of how and why America selects its leaders.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Freedmana former New York Times reporter and author of two reportorial gems, Small Victories (focusing on an innovative Manhattan teacher) and Upon This Rock (about a popular black church in Brooklyn)here turns to a broader canvas with an impressive grasp of detail and a feeling for his subject that, in this election year, should finally win him the wider audience his earlier books also deserved. Combining sociology with political science and a good deal of old-fashioned city-room legwork, Freedman follows three generations of three very different working-class immigrant families as they progress from being FDR Democrats to Gingrich-era activist Republicans. The approach may remind some of Anthony Lucas's Pulitzer Prize-winning Common Ground, but this is a more immediate, more personal account, one that only rarely steps back from its close-ups of the families to present a broader picture. The result is a series of unforgettable portraits and a vividly individual history of America in the second half of the 20th century. One family is Irish, another Italian. Both of them settled in New York City or its environs. The third is Polish and settled in Baltimore. With its emphasis on trade unions and politics on the precinct level, and its underlying theme that the reality of the New Deal is being forgotten by both parties, this is a skillful and artful account of how we got where we are. (Sept.)
Library Journal
This compelling story of the political journey of three generations of three ethnic Catholic families is a spellbinding account of the rise and fall of liberalism during the 20th century. The first generation of immigrantsan Irish domestic, an Italian plumber, and a Polish numbers-running ward heelerowed their lives and their votes to the New Deal during the 1930s. The commitment of the next generation to liberal politics weakened as the families began to enjoy prosperity. By the 1980s and 1990s, the third generation embraced conservatism because of the corruption of the big-city machine politics, the social eruptions of the 1960s, the conundrum of affirmative action, and spreading crime. The inheritors of the mixed blessings of a large activist government became vanguards of a conservative Republican party. Freedman (Small Victories, LJ 5/1/90, one of LJ's Best Books of 1990) offers an unforgettable portrayal of the impact of politics on ordinary people. This blockbuster-to-be is social history at its best. Highly recommended for all public libraries.Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Township Lib., King of Prussia, Pa.
Renee Loth, The Boston Globe
"The Inerhitance goes far to challenge easy orthodoxies of American politics. Freedman's moving, important book explains not just how America moved from Roosevelt to Reagan, but why."
"Not since Common Ground...has any bookso successfully captured the sweep of political history in the lives of ordinary citizens." --Steven Pearlstein, The Washington Post Book World
Kirkus Reviews
An intimate look at three generations of three white, ethnic Catholic families, and their eventual transformation from Democrats to Republicans, from a highly regarded former New York Times reporter.

Working backwards from three Republican party activists—Tim Carey, Leslie Maeby, and Frank Trotta—Freedman (Upon this Rock, 1992; Small Victories, 1990) deconstructs their family trees to explain their third-generation mutation away from Depression-era, New Deal Democratic roots. He offers richly detailed portraits of dirt-poor, working-class immigrant patriarchs and matriarchs, their children and grandchildren, and many of the people among whom they live and lived. Freedman presents these families as paradigms of America's shift to the right; he writes that this "historic realignment depended extensively, even disproportionately, on families like those of Tim Carey, Leslie Maeby, and Frank Trotta—Catholics with Democratic pasts." Freedman offers no simple explanations for this realignment. Some family members shifted allegiance from Democratic machines to Republican ones in their move from the city to the suburbs; others resented the welfare system and minority demands, comparing them unfavorably to their own by-the-bootstraps experiences. And some—including the three contemporary subjects—turned to conservatism as idealists, in opposition to the perceived failures of liberalism, especially as it affects their class and kind. Freedman deserves credit for not attempting simplistic explanations for this rightward realignment. At the same time, however, he lets the wealth of information he accumulated in his research get away from him, telling us more than we need to know about the inner workings of Montgomery Ward (in connection with the Maeby family) or the tactics employed by Maeby and Carey in recent election campaigns.

A book of great value as a manual to Democratic and Republican operatives, and of great interest, as autobiograpy, to the Republican descendants of ethnic New Deal Democrats. A hundred pages shorter, it would appeal to an even broader audience.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780684835365
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 3/25/1998
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 464
  • Product dimensions: 1.04 (w) x 5.50 (h) x 8.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Samuel G. Freedman is a columnist for The New York Times and a professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He is the author of six acclaimed books, four of which have been New York Times Notable Books of the Year. Freedman also has written frequently for USA TODAY, New York magazine, Rolling Stone, The Jerusalem Post, Tablet, The Forward, and He lives in Manhattan with his fiance and his children.
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