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Thomas Nast: The Father of Modern Political Cartoons
     

Thomas Nast: The Father of Modern Political Cartoons

by Fiona Deans Halloran
 

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Thomas Nast (1840-1902), the founding father of American political cartooning, is perhaps best known for his cartoons portraying political parties as the Democratic donkey and the Republican elephant. Nast's legacy also includes a trove of other political cartoons, his successful attack on the machine politics of Tammany Hall in 1871, and his wildly popular

Overview

Thomas Nast (1840-1902), the founding father of American political cartooning, is perhaps best known for his cartoons portraying political parties as the Democratic donkey and the Republican elephant. Nast's legacy also includes a trove of other political cartoons, his successful attack on the machine politics of Tammany Hall in 1871, and his wildly popular illustrations of Santa Claus for Harper's Weekly magazine. Throughout his career, his drawings provided a pointed critique that forced readers to confront the contradictions around them.
In this thoroughgoing and lively biography, Fiona Deans Halloran focuses not just on Nast's political cartoons for Harper's but also on his place within the complexities of Gilded Age politics and highlights the many contradictions in his own life: he was an immigrant who attacked immigrant communities, a supporter of civil rights who portrayed black men as foolish children in need of guidance, and an enemy of corruption and hypocrisy who idolized Ulysses S. Grant. He was a man with powerful friends, including Mark Twain, and powerful enemies, including William M. "Boss" Tweed. Halloran interprets Nast's work, explores his motivations and ideals, and illuminates Nast's lasting legacy on American political culture.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Thomas Nast may be known as “The Father of Modern Political Cartoons,” but history teacher Halloran’s thorough biography of the 19th-century journalist is much more than mere caricature. The author springboards from Albert Bigelow Paine’s 1904 biography of Nast to cover his early years before focusing on his illustrious career and complicated relationship with various political players. A pioneer of illustrated journalism, Nast produced cartoons as diverse in tone and subject matter as Santa Claus (for Harper’s Weekly) and the now ubiquitous metaphoric portrayals of the Democratic and Republican parties as donkey and elephant, respectively. Halloran describes Nast’s rise and fall at Harper’s, his relentless campaign against the corrupt New York politician Boss Tweed, his idolization of President Grant, as well as his role as dedicated family man. The narrative starts slowly and occasionally lapses into dry academese, but a healthy sampling of Nast’s cartoons—which showcase his meticulous attention to detail, keen eye for satire, and occasional tinge of whimsy—keep things lively in this rich portrait of the multifaceted artist, social crusader, political commentator, and devoted father and husband. Illus. (Jan.)
From the Publisher
Thomas Nast may be known as 'The Father of Modern Political Cartoons,' but history teacher Halloran's thorough biography of the 19th-century journalist is much more than mere caricature. . . . [A] rich portrait of the multifaceted artist, social crusader, political commentator, and devoted father and husband.—Publishers Weekly

This detailed biography will appeal to historians of the Gilded Age and to scholars interested in the development of the political cartoon. . . . The book is beautifully illustrated with Nast's work.—Library Journal

[A] bright book.—Michael Kammen, Los Angeles Review of Books

[A] cogent and highly readable biography.—Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly

One of the great pleasures of Halloran's biography is watching Nast go from being a mere artist to a political-cartooning superstar.—Bookforum

The most exhaustive and well-researched look at Nast to date.—Salt Lake Tribune

Library Journal
In the 1860s, Nast was a familiar name to literate Americans who saw his cartoons in Harper’s, but people today know little of his legacy, even that he popularized the use of the donkey and elephant to represent Democrats and Republicans. In this biography, Halloran (history, Rowland Hall-St. Mark’s Sch.) examines Nast’s work in the context of Gilded Age politics, documenting Nast’s significance as founding father of political cartooning. Nast began his career illustrating the news, transitioning into political caricaturing in the 1860s when he famously took on the machine politics of Tammany Hall. In Nast’s later years, Harper’s began exerting more control over the political content of his work, and his influence waned. Halloran argues persuasively that scholars need to pay more attention to political cartoons as a form of primary historical evidence. Verdict This detailed biography will appeal to historians of the Gilded Age and to scholars interested in the development of the political cartoon. While aspects of Nast’s personal life are interwoven, it is not a juicy biography and will be of limited interest to general readers. The book is beautifully illustrated with Nast’s work.—Judy Solberg, Seattle Univ. Lib.

(c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780807835876
Publisher:
The University of North Carolina Press
Publication date:
01/07/2013
Edition description:
1
Pages:
384
Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.50(d)

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
An excellent, lively, well-researched biography of an important and surprisingly little-discussed figure in American politics and art. It's great fun to read.—Alice Fahs, University of California, Irvine

Meet the Author

Fiona Deans Halloran teaches history at Rowland Hall-St. Mark's School in Salt Lake City, Utah.

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