White’s fascinating and comprehensive book could not be more timely. When questions of race, economic inequality, and the rise of giant corporate monopolies and a plutocratic elite dominate U.S. politics, it is time to take another look at Reconstruction and the Gilded Age, the period of American history stretching, roughly, from the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln in 1865 to William McKinley’s election as president in 1896. This was a frustrating time. The Civil War did not end with the triumph of democracy and racial brotherhood but rather in an ugly and ultimately losing fight against the forces of white supremacy. The Industrial Revolution left Americans divided by class; meanwhile, mass immigration led to ethnic polarization. It was a time when U.S. institutions and ideologies were unable to cope with the problems the country faced and when populist movements surged as governments failed to meet public needs. The rich history of those years can be difficult to follow; readers will thank White for the clear prose and strong narrative drive that makes this complicated story easier to understand.
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