Very Different Age: Americans of the Progressive Era

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The early twentieth century was a time of technological revolution in the United States. New inventions and corporations were transforming the economic landscape, bringing a stunning array of consumer goods, millions of additional jobs, and ever more wealth. Steven J. Diner draws on the rich scholarship of recent social history to show how these changes affected Americans of all backgrounds and walks of life, and in doing so offers a striking new interpretation of a crucial epoch in our history.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Steven Diner's welcome guide to the Progressive Era helps us understand why the decades between 1890 and 1920 are known as the 'watershed' of American history, and how its transformations formed the basis for changes in our own time."—Kathryn Kish Skylar, Distinguished Professor of History, State University of New York, Binghamton

"Succinct and fluid...[a] rewarding social history [that] is an excellent book for both experienced historians and novices."—Library Journal

"A harbinger of a better day for readers interested in American history...Diner writes as a scholar but not as one concerned only about reactions among other scholars. [This work may] indicate not only a closing of the long-standing gap between popular and scholarly historical writing, but also that which has existed in the United States since the 1970s between the historical profession and the public potentially interested in what historians might say."—Ernest R. May, The Times Literary Supplement

Library Journal
Diner (history, George Mason Univ.) examines the dramatic social, economic, political, and other changes experienced by Americans during the first two decades of the 20th century. Incorporating a wide variety of recent historical interpretations, Diner synthesizes the forces that brought the United States into the modern era. The author is adept at summarizing the work of other historians in the roughly ten topics with which he deals. The writing is succinct and fluid, making these chapters excellent introductions to the topics. One major shortcoming is that Diner seems not to have been given adequate space to expand on points he raises in the text. Thus, he sometimes seems derivative. Nonetheless, this rewarding social history is an excellent book for both experienced historians and novices.Charles K. Piehl, Mankato State Univ., Minn.
Crooked politicians and robber barons in today's headlines could learn much from their predecessors at the turn of the century according to Diner (history, George Mason U.) He focuses not on the few who made vast fortunes from progress, but the ordinary small-business owners, industrial workers, farmers, and manual laborers forced to accommodate new technology and labor relations that were tailored for other people's benefit at their expense. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
Kirkus Reviews
While covering no especially new ground, Diner (History/George Mason Univ.) compiles a cohesive look at one of the most change-filled eras in American history.

Diner's view of the Progressive era, stressing the effects of the Industrial Revolution on American society, concentrates on the lives and experiences of workers, women, African-Americans, immigrants, and politicians in that period. With the exception of the latter, there is substantial overlap. For instance, Diner's discussion of the rise of unionization in the face of increased industrial output describes not only the lives of the laborers who unionized, but the experiences of women entering the work force, blacks who were systematically excluded from most unions, and immigrants who were particularly active in the labor movement. The political reaction to the whole process is fittingly summarized by Diner as a case of government responding "not only with the carrot of union recognition and mediation but with the stick of suppression of radicals"—culminating in the jailing of labor leader Eugene V. Debs not only for his strike activities, but for his antiWW I stance during the first "Red Scare." In general, Diner sees the Progressive era as bringing some limited successes but many failures to much of the population. Women ultimately gained suffrage in 1920, but after WW I, African-Americans returned to the dismal prospects of pre-Progressivism America. Diner asserts that the acts of progressive politicians and social reformers in general were sometimes genuine but mostly selfish: Teddy Roosevelt attacking corporate monopoly as it suited his needs, and Woodrow Wilson segregating formerly integrated government departments. Diner is left to conclude that "progressives, like other Americans, joined a contest for control under rules set by industrial capitalism."

Through solid research and apposite anecdotes, Diner is able to demonstrate the emergence of both problems and ideas that still persist in our own "very different age." Sobering and useful.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780809016112
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 8/5/1998
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 882,784
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.25 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Steven J. Diner, professor of history at George Mason University, is the author or editor of five other books, including A City and Its Universities: Public Policy in Chicago. He lives in Washington, D.C.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 3
Prologue: Crisis in the 1890s 14
1 Owners, Managers, and Corporate Capitalism 30
2 Industrial Workers' Struggle for Control 50
3 Immigrants in Industrial America 76
4 Rural Americans and Industrial Capitalism 102
5 African-Americans' Quest for Freedom 125
6 White-Collar Workers in Corporate America 155
7 The Competition for Control of the Professions 176
8 The Progressive Discourse in American Politics 200
9 The Great War and the Competition for Control 233
Notes 265
Bibliographical Essay 276
Index 301
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