With a preface by Thomas Frank and an introduction by Michael Kazin
Out of print for decades, The Politicos: 1865-1896, Matthew Josephson’s sequel to his instant classic, The Robber Barons, is even more resonant—indeed, cautionary—a historical account today than it was when first published seventy years ago. Written during the most desperate time in twentieth-century America, this biting chronicle of the Gilded Age confirmed in most Americans’ minds why they had voted overwhelmingly for FDR and had embraced the New Deal’s reforms. In his insightful introductory essay to this new edition, Michael Kazin (author of A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan) notes that “Josephson was able to convince readers living through the worst of the Great Depression that the roots of their calamity could be traced to the power and greed so notorious at the end of the last century.” In his preface to the book, Thomas Frank (author of What’s the Matter with Kansas) praises it as the “volume of history that has the most to teach us about the present.”
The eminent American historians Richard Hofstadter and C. Vann Woodward both lauded Josephson’s book. Hofstadter called it “by far the most illuminating book on the politics of the entire period,” while Woodward described it as “masterly.” For a contemporary reader, however, what is most disturbing about Josephson’s work is how closely it seems to be related to the alarming facts of American life in the first decade of the twenty-first century. At a time when income inequality in the United States is by every measure the worst it has been since the Great Depression, it is clear why Thomas Frank writes that The Politicos is “the volume of history with the most to teach us about the present.”
Chapter One is available to download.
From the Introduction
…The Politicos, Josephson boasted to his publisher, was “by my own sense, the best thing I have ever done.”
Many of his fellow historians and journalists agreed. Charles Beard, whose example and friendship had inspired The Robber Barons, thought The Politicos a superior work, and its deft ironies quite “French.” The brilliant young scholar C. Vann Woodward…thought The Politicos was “masterly” and assured Josephson that his colleagues at the University of North Carolina agreed. In the New York Times, veteran reporter Charles Willis Thompson compared the new work to a fine novel, describing it as a “wise, able, and most notable book” about an unfairly neglected era. A decade later, Richard Hofstadter paid tribute to Josephson’s work…which [he] called “by far the most illuminating book on the politics of the entire period.”
—From the introduction by Michael Kazin, professor of history, Georgetown University, and author of A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan and The Populist Persuasion: An American History.
…We still live in the world he Josephson described—when money and politics intersect in ways that persistently undermine the public interest.
—Eric Foner, DeWitt Clinton Professor of History, Columbia University, and author, most recently, of Forever Free: The Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction.
About the Author
Matthew Josephson was born in Brooklyn in 1899. In addition to The Politicos, 1865-1896 (1938) and The Robber Barons: The Great American Capitalists, 1861-1901 (1934), he was the author of two other studies of American politics and society, The President Makers: The Culture of Politics and Leadership in an Age of Enlightenment, 1896-1919 (1940) and The Money Lords: The Great Finance Capitalists, 1925-1950 (1972), as well as biographies of labor leader Sidney Hillman (1952), Thomas Alva Edison (1959), and New York governor Al Smith (1969). Josephson was also deeply immersed in French culture, and wrote biographies of Zola, Rousseau, Hugo, and Stendhal. He died in Santa Cruz, California, in 1978 at the age of seventy-nine.