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THE SEEKING. By Will Thomas. Edited by Mark Madigan. University of New England Press, 344 pages, 2013 edited reprint of 1953 original.
The Seeking slipped under the radar, but deserves new attention. My copy literally got buried under an avalanche of titles that came my way and I failed to notice that my longtime Northeast Popular Culture Association colleague Mark Madigan, edited this volume. It should be considered a companion to Jane Beck’s Daisy Turner’s Kin (2015), which mines the same turf: experiences of African Americans in Vermont.
The Seeking is, at turns, fascinating and frustrating. It was penned by African American journalist, novelist, and scriptwriter Will Thomas, the nom de plume of William “Bill” Smith (1900-70). He’s a nearly forgotten writer whose best-known work was his 1947 novel God is For White Folks. The Seeking focuses on the years 1946 to 1953, after Thomas sold his home in Los Angeles and moved his young to Westford, Vermont, a small village is a remote corner of Chittenden County. His reasons for doing so, by his own admission, were not entirely logical, and the fact that he first contemplated relocating to Haiti instead is testament to his conflicted mind. Thomas was a contemporary of Richard Wright and, like he, struggled to make sense of the vagaries of race in America.
The Seeking is another challenge to viewing race as a simplistic binary. Thomas’ father was white and he didn’t begin to think of himself as black until after his father’s death. His mother moved the family from Kansas City to a black Chicago neighborhood, where Will assumed the last name of his African-American stepfather. Thomas later married Elise Leseur, who was 1/8th black, and they parented three children. The Seeking often feels as if Thomas is working out an identity crisis. It was a challenging time to do so. World War Two brought triumph over the perverse racial theories of fascism, yet American racial progress had scarcely advanced since the collapse of Reconstruction in the 1870s. By the time Thomas landed in Westford, he had abandoned Christianity as an oppressor’s religion and was on the cusp of losing his national faith as well.
Thomas spoke with the fervor of a Frederick Douglass as filtered it through the accommodationism of a Booker T. Washington. This probably explains why his work fell into obscurity during the Black Power-influenced late 1960s. Thomas’ personal bifurcation comes across during his Vermont sojourn. Fiery words and complaints of racism stand side by side with vigorous pursuits of white patronage, burning desire to be viewed as a serious writer, and efforts to fit into rural Vermont village life. He was a casual friend of Wright and knew James Baldwin, but spent more time with black intelligentsia such as Ralph Bunche, Horace Clayton, Jr. and Chester Himes. By 1953, when Thomas published The Seeking and appeared on Edward R. Murrow’s “This I Believe” program, This’ tone was more that of the optimist than the activist.
Thomas admits he was ready to take offense at every glance, frown, and stray word, yet he found warmth among flinty New Englanders. He does not make Vermont into a Utopia and notes casual animus towards Jews, Catholics, and French-speaking residents—not to mention the stray racial slur, but he found acceptance among his neighbors and respect from Vermont’s arts community. He is especially praiseful of Dorothy Canfield Fisher, the Green Mountain State’s grand femme de lettres. His account is out of synch with recent critics who charge Ms. Fisher was a bigot.
Whom do we trust? Thomas’ prose is old-fashioned and lacks the timeless qualities of Wright or Baldwin. Little of book’s dialogue rings true. In fact, much of it has been deliberately crafted to enhance self-perceptions of literary brilliance, manliness, wisdom, and steely head-of-family decision-making. Elise Thomas emerges as a nay-saying foil for her husband’s musings rather than an independent mind or helpmeet. As NPR’s Dan Gediman reveals in the afterward, there is much about Thomas/Smith to tarnish his exalted claims—multiple marriages, a peripatetic lifestyle, shaky finances, and poor health. The Thomases divorced in 1955, with Will staying in Vermont until around 1960. It took sleuthing to unearth the final decade of his life.
We are left with a tantalizing account of a black family in isolation in one of the whitest states in the Union. It makes a nice companion piece to Beck’s work on Daisy Turner, but what do we make of either book? My take away is that folks judge their neighbors differently than they categorize people in the abstract, that New Englanders respect honest effort, and a race-blind society remains elusive.
Robert E. Weir
University of Massachusetts Amherst
The Banjo: America’s African Instrument. By Laurent Dubois, Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2016.
Laurent Dubois, professor of Romance Studies and History and director of the Forum for Scholars and Publics at Duke University, asks a seemingly simple question early on in his book: “What sound will accompany the end of days?” (19). The question serves as the beginning of the story of the banjo that draws upon the history of instrument making in tenth-century Spain and the prominence of lutes. Dubois notes that the lute began to transition during this time period from an instrument with a wooden body and an opening under the strings to a new instrument made of a hollowed wooden body that was round or oval and covered with animal skin. The new instrument became known as the banjo. A prolific author with books on Haiti (2004, 2011) and the politics of soccer (2012), Dubois completed his research on the banjo with support from a Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Humanities Fellowship, and a Mellon New Directions Fellowship.
In his book, Dubois seeks to provide the reader with a biography of the banjo through its emergence in Africa to the folk music of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger from the 1940s and beyond (though post-1970s uses are more of a coda). The descriptions of the banjo in West African culture provide the reader with a detailed history of how the creation of certain instruments has a major impact on cultural conventions. Dubois explains that the banjo was used to “connect with both the past and the present, to build a bridge of memory and recall. It welcomed different styles, generating solidarity and community through its sound” (52). While this description is offered as a reflection of the early days of the banjo, Dubois shows how the ability of the banjo to link the past to the present and to cross cultural divides continued as the instrument grew in popularity among certain populations, including the newly invented genre of bluegrass after 1946, and the (mostly) white folk music revival that stretched from the 1940s through the 1960s.
While one may be able to find a book on the history of the banjo for a certain period of time, Dubois breaks new ground by offering a thorough biography of an instrument riddled with a diverse history. One of the strengths of Dubois’ book is his ability to move from time period to time period while keeping his reader engaged. Dubois does not shy away from politically complicated topics as he reflects on the role of the banjo as an integral part of minstrelsy. Further, Dubois details the role of the banjo in slave culture and how this was used as a means of protest as well as a means of escaping slavery.
Dubois’ book would be most appealing to those interested in music and popular culture. However, his writing and his ability to weave multiple areas of popular culture including art and literature into his explanations, makes this book suited to a wider population. The execution of the research and writing on the banjo as America’s African instrument is appealing to those who may question how history intersects with artifacts of which we pay little attention. For example, it remains underappreciated that the banjo’s centrality in “white” Appalachian music from the 19th century on was an appropriation of black culture. While most people have seen and heard a banjo, learning about how this instrument played a significant role throughout history may make the reader believe that a banjo very well be one of the sounds accompanying the end of days.
Andi M. McClanahan
East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania
Dava Sobel. The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars. New York: Viking, 2017. 324 Pg. $30.
Dava Sobel has written another wonderful book about women and science. The Glass Universe tells the story of the dozens of women who worked in the Harvard College Observatory in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. She lovingly narrates the biographies and contributions of these hard-working students, college graduates and family members who painstakingly interpreted the images of stars that the male astronomers of Harvard had captured on their glass plates. Sobel sings the praises of the patrons, human computers, spectographers, mathematicians and aspiring astronomers who worked long hours for very little pay to contribute to the growth of astronomy.
The story begins with Anna Draper, the generous widow who, in 1883, donated numerous telescopes and the glass plates containing stellar photographs to the Harvard Observatory. The director, William H. Pickering, another great hero of this story, recognized the potential of these instruments and hired as many willing assistants as he could regardless of gender. Dozens of young women applied and moved to Cambridge to begin logging long hours in the Observatory interpreting the glass plate images of stars and then creating new systems of classification and measurements of the stars. The women whose stories Sobel tells include: Willamina Fleming, Antonia Maury, Henrietta Swan Levitt, Annie Jump Cannon and Cecelia Payne.
Pickering and his team of “computers”—those individuals capable of high-level mathematical computation—studied Draper’s glass plates, each of which contained an image of a star that had been captured from a long-exposure camera. At first, the images were used to help understand each star’s spectrum, which enabled useful categorization of stars. As the women worked, they were also able to use the plates to calculate the star’s matter and to also calculate the distance between stars. Pickering sent his male assistants (and later Annie Cannon) to the Andes and to California to take more photographs. This required that they lug expensive and sensitive equipment up mountaintops, treat the glass plates with photographic emulsion fluid, and then carefully pack the delicate plates to be loaded onto ships and sent back to Cambridge so that these women could analyze them. Although it took years, Harvard eventually created nearly half a million glass plate photographs that are still archived at the Observatory. Pickering’s ambitious project required great discipline, hard work, and a dedicated team willing to experiment with new methods and to ignore restrictive social convention. He seems to have recognized how fortunate he was to have such talented “ladies” on his staff.
Sobel writes beautifully. Her novelized style draws readers into the story and creates connections with each of the individuals she discusses. She frequently quotes letters and diaries and confidently ascribes emotions and an inner life to each of these women, thereby investing readers in their successes and challenges. Sobel describes complex scientific concepts and processes so deftly that any reader can understand them and get caught up in the excitement of these initial discoveries. Clearly, Sobel admires these pioneering young scientists who contributed so much and received so little recognition from Harvard during their lifetimes.
Sobel uses a diverse array of sources, including journal articles published from the findings of her subjects. In addition, she consults diaries, letters, lab notebooks, symposia proceedings, and newspaper advertisements written by the men and women who participated in these experiments. Her monograph includes eight pages of images that range from photographs, reprints of the glass plates, and portraits of the “ladies” themselves. This book also contains a useful glossary and timeline. Her meticulous research and inclusion of such personal images and sources contributes to the intimate feel of her text.
The Glass Universe is enjoyable and compelling. This book would be perfect for a women’s studies class or a history of science class.
Western Connecticut State University
Hollywood Riots: Violent Crowds and Progressive Politics in American Film (2016). By Doug Dibbern. I.B. Tauris, 205 pp.
A few years before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) conducted its witch-hunt to ferret out alleged communists in the Hollywood film industry—it held hearings in 1947 and 1951—there had been violent, racially-motivated disturbances in Los Angeles known as the Zoot Suit Riots (1943). There had also been brutal clashes between striking union workers and studio strikebreakers in the film industry (1945-47). According to film scholar Doug Dibbern (NYU), these instances of civil strife inspired a raft of independently produced Leftist “message movies” that featured violent crowds unleashed by a cynical press in order to promote fear, enforce social conformity, and bolster the new and more deeply repressive social order that emerged in the United States after the Second World War.
In his book, Hollywood Riots, Dibbern has identified a cycle of sixteen films made between 1949 and 1951 “in which mass violence is paramount and in which the causes of the violence are explained by the power of reactionary newsmongers to incite angry mobs that persecute minority victims” (17). Dibbern rightly sees these films as the allegorical means by which progressive filmmakers fought the blacklist and the conservative daily newspapers of that era, i.e., forces promoting political paranoia that valorized discrimination and inflamed public opinion against organized labor, minorities, radicals, and dissidents of all kinds.
Much has been written about the shameful period that Lillian Hellman called “scoundrel time,” but until Dibbern’s superb study appeared, no one seems to have noticed, much less written about, the valiant rearguard action that had been waged by progressive filmmakers on America’s movie screens as America veered sharply to the political Right at mid-century.
Dibbern divides his book into three parts. In Part I (“Postwar Anxieties, Independent Aspirations: Political Filmmaking and the Economics of the film Industry”), Dibbern provides historical context behind the cycle of mob violence-themed films he is examining by delineating the economic factors that gave rise to independent film production, as well as the political factors that virtually destroyed the American Left in the late 1940s. In Part II (“Incendiary Ideologies, Reactionary Crowds”), Dibbern analyzes the political role played by L.A. metropolitan dailies, weeklies, and monthlies in shaping popular opinion and inciting mob violence. In Part III (“Creative Artists, Activists Historians”), Dibbern narrows his focus in order to examine and explicate the four most representative films in the mob violence cycle: Joseph Losey’s The Lawless (1950); Cy Endfield’s The Underworld Story (1950) and The Sound of Fury (1950), and The Well (1951), directed by Russell Rouse and Leo Popkin. Dibbern concludes his book by discussing the decay of progressive filmmaking: “By the end of the 1950s, the political factors that gave rise to the movies of mob violence had dissipated. The blacklist eventually came to an end, but its victims were no longer [Communist] Party members… [Los Angeles] was now a one-union town. The Civil Rights movement was gaining steam: race riots and lynchings seemed like they might have become a thing of the past … The movies of mob violence themselves disappeared from critical consciousness” (160).
Concise, well-organized, meticulously researched, and written with the utmost clarity, Hollywood Riots tells a fascinating story well-grounded in political science, economics, social history, and film theory; it constitutes a valuable contribution to American film studies. Published some months before the election of Donald Trump, Hollywood Riots also seems to have taken on greater relevance of late. In today’s racially charged and divisive political climate, marked by civil unrest, red-baiting and increasingly shrill appeals to patriotism—ginned up by reactionary elements of the nation’s press and abetted by a rabble-rousing Chief Executive—a study of the media manipulation of popular opinion—and the progressive filmmakers who stood in opposition—offers instructive lessons from dark days not so long past.
St. Michael’s College
Redman, Samuel. Bone Rooms: From Scientific Racism in Human Prehistory to Museums. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2016. Pp. 373. $29.95
Samuel Redman’s new monograph explores an interesting topic: the history and cultural significance of the vast collections of human skeletons that flooded museums and public fairs in the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. By focusing his text on the careers and motivations of the collectors who stocked these Bone Rooms, Redman argues that this increasingly popular trend of disinterring ancient skeletons for the sake of scientific knowledge and public display defined and perpetuated scientific racism, the practice of using scientific evidence to support racist ideas.
Redman focuses on the period between the Civil War and World War II, a period generally characterized by movement and displacement in American history. As the American West opened and pioneers transformed the land, scientists took advantage of access to new regions and especially to battlegrounds and gravesites, which they eagerly opened. These gravesites yielded ancient skeletons of unfamiliar peoples and cultures that fascinated anthropologists and biologists who were looking for clues about race, biology and prehistoric migration. The bones they uncovered were usually disinterred, removed from their final resting places, and then shipped back to museums to be studied and cataloged. Many were also displayed for the scientific community and for the public. Bone Rooms became very popular and well populated, as many other museums including the Smithsonian, the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia and the Field Museum in Chicago received thousands of skeletons from avid collectors.
Redman captures the exuberance and the excitement that these early scientists felt at their discoveries and notes their complete lack of hesitation or reticence in desecrating gravesites and removing people’s earthly remains. Redman repeatedly asserts that these anthropologists, driven by their disrespect of non-white peoples’ bodies and cultures, institutionalized scientific racism, perpetuated racial divides, and contributed to the development of eugenics, a growing field at the time.
Specifically, Redman follows the careers of a number of men who were at the center of this movement: Aleŝ Hrdliĉka, a Czech-born physical anthropologist at the Smithsonian; Franz Boas, a Prussian cultural anthropologist at Columbia University, Alfred Kreoeber, Boas’ student, and W. Montague Cobb, an American anatomist and physical anthropologist at Howard University. Redman spends a great deal of his book tracing these men’s biographies and careers and describing their contributions to the development of Bone Rooms and scientific racism. Hrdliĉka comes across as a particularly odious person. Appointed to the Smithsonian as the curator of the Bone Rooms in 1903, he aggressively competed with other collectors to amass the largest collection and to ensure that his cataloging and interpretation of skeletal significance dominated the field. Hrdliĉka dedicated his career to trying to uncover the patterns of prehistoric human migration to North America and seems to have truly believed that a biological analysis of the racial identity of the skeletons would reveal those answers. Hrdliĉka’s greatest rival was Fran Boas, who had trained as a physicist, geographer and anthropologist-ho spent his career studying Eskimo-Aleuts and other indigenous peoples across North America. He later became a curator at the American Museum of Natural History. Boas not only collected bones for scientific inquiry, but also sold them to the public. Redman presents both men as obsessive collectors who were so driven by their need to catalog human subjects and type them racially that they never once thought to reflect upon the ethics of their activities.
- Montague Cobb, who was hired by Howard University in 1932 and thus belonged to a later generation, did raise ethical questions, though he was also a collector. Cobb collected over 700 skeletons for Howard and also kept the skeletons from the cadavers that he used in the medical classes that he taught. Cobb differed from his predecessors in that he emphasized similarities among races rather than differences. Cobb, who was widely respected and influential, helped initiate a shift in thinking about bones and race and turn the tide against scientific racism. Cobb later became an activist and served as the president of the NAACP from 1976-1982. By using his scientific evidence and expertise, he was able to promote racial equality through his many compelling and authoritative publications.
Bone Rooms contains a vast collection of wonderful photographic reprints that depict both the individuals Redman discusses and the exhibits and the bone rooms themselves.
This book would be well used in classes interested in public history, sociology, anthropology, or racial politics. Although Redman’s topic would spark discussion among popular culture scholars, he does not ask the same kinds of questions that a scholar of pop culture would. Redman, a historian, does look at the displays of bones in museums and at World Fairs, but is much more interested in dissecting the personalities of the great collectors of the age and condemning the field of racial science, which, fortunately, seems to have disappeared from legitimate scientific studies and museum exhibits. In 1990, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act initiated the process of returning many of these bones to their rightful locations. In his epilogue, Redman reflects on mortality and humanity within the context of these cultural and political changes.
Western Connecticut State University
Legends Never Die: Athletes and Their Afterlives in Modern America. By Richard Ian Kimball. Syracuse University Press, 2017.
On July 4, 1939, New York Yankees first baseman Lou Gehrig bade farewell in a speech that has found its way into the pantheon of American history’s most famous orations. When Gehrig told a Yankee Stadium crowd of 61,808 that he considered himself “the luckiest man on the face of the earth,” there was nary a dry eye to be seen. All knew that Gehrig was stricken with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which robbed him of his strength and life before he reached his 38th birthday.
In a sense, argues Brigham Young University history professor Richard Ian Kimball, Gehrig was indeed lucky; he became a forever-young immortal. Kimball’s is a study of how American culture canonizes athletes who die in the bloom of life. In a deft introduction, Kimball places sports stars that flamed out early within a grander sweep of Western luminaries, including Achilles, Pheidippides, battlefield soldiers, John F. Kennedy, and Princess Diana. He invokes A. E. Housman’s 1896 poem “To an Athlete Dying Young” to affirm journalist Simon Barnes’ observation that “only the unfinished is perfect” (3). In Kimball’s words, “The black hole of unfulfilled potential magnifies the energy in the universe of memory” (4). Young athletes who perish tap into collective mourning rites as few others do.
Kimball is perhaps hyperbolic to claim that sports deaths help Americans cope with their own mortality, but he is correct to assert that such passings are imbued with public significance. He illuminates this through selected case studies, beginning with the only athlete whose early death rivals Gehrig’s in the public imaginary: Notre Dame football star George Gipp. If you have any doubt that sports matter, consider how Gipp’s 1920 parting subsequently advanced the careers of his coach, Knute Rockne, and the man who played “The Gipper” in a 1940 Hollywood film: Ronald Reagan.
Kimball packs a lot into just 144 pages of text, with each figure standing as synecdoches for American society. The deaths of rodeo stars Bonnie McCarroll (1929) and Lane Frost (1989) hardened gender roles, with McCarroll’s tragic bronco ride leading to enduring limitations on events open to women, and Lane’s demise reinforcing perceptions of male toughness. Call it the difference between tragic victimhood and brave martyrdom. The sexual spin-off of this is the 1962 death of boxer Benny Paret at the hands of welterweight Emile Griffith. Many date the decline of boxing’s popularity from this public death, but a greater irony lies with the savagery of Griffith’s blows after Paret uttered a homophobic slur. Griffith was a known bisexual. That such an individual was compelled to preserve his manhood with such bloodlust speaks volumes. NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt represents the other end of public morality scale. Kimball whimsically references him as “Princess Diana with a push broom moustache” (100), but his death at the 2001 Daytona 500 took on redemptive meanings for numerous evangelical Christians, complete with perceived miracles. Earnhardt’s death also provided a template for the phenomenon of “cybermourning” (10) in the emerging electronics age. Kimball connects each athlete to popular culture; after all, mourning remains mostly private unless print, film, television, music, or cyberspace universalizes and memorializes loss.
Kimball concludes with a look at three baseball legends that were not “lucky” enough to die young: Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and Ted Williams. Each lived long enough for revisionists to tarnish their images. DiMaggio’s persona as a suave sophisticate gave way to stories of his jealousy, money obsession, and egoism. Mantle’s once hidden vices such as his alcoholism and womanizing became public knowledge. It’s hard to imagine a sadder exit than that of Williams, who was already viewed as a misanthrope. But that is inconsequential in comparison to the family squabble that led to Williams being cryogenically frozen after death, his body in one tube, his severed and battered head in another. One might argue that Mantle is out of place in this chapter, as before his death he did public penance for his misdeeds and is now invoked as a cautionary tale—a new life for an old legend. But such a quibble hardly diminishes Kimball’s larger point that athletes who outlive their fame are heroes for a season, whereas those taken prematurely are immortals.
Legends Never Die is a natural for undergraduate classes given its brevity and its easy-to-digest prose. It would work quite well in a sports history course, but also in classes focusing on aspects of American culture such as celebrity and fandom studies, identity politics, folklore, civic religion, and explorations of death and dying.
Robert E. Weir
University of Massachusetts Amherst
YOUNG RADICALS: IN THE WAR FOR AMERICAN IDEALS (2017)
Random House, 340 pages.
I didn’t like this book; I adored it! It is so well written that it reads like novel. Among the unorthodox things Jeremy McCarter has done is pen it in the present tense. Another is to make its major theme the death of idealism. Or perhaps I should say its betrayal.
McCarter, a Chicago-based writer and critic, turns his gaze to the first two decades of the 20th century, a time in which American socialism sprouted, blossomed, and was pulled up by the roots—its dreams of a global cooperative community sacrificed upon World War One’s altar of militarism, nationalism, greed. Rather than tell this tale through the usual channels of analyzing historical forces, material conditions, and mounting tensions, McCarter shows how larger dramas played out in the lives of five fascinating characters: Max Eastman (1883-1969), John Reed (1887-1920), Alice Paul (1885-1977), Walter Lippmann (1889-1974), and Randolph Bourne (1886-1918). He chose well, as between them, they moved in circles that represented the numerous strains within American culture.
The book’s title is apt, for the five radicals were indeed young and were, in their own ways, warriors within the “war for American ideals.” If you associate socialism with glum Russian apparatchiks, think again. Max Eastman was the editor of The Masses, a publication that was as much bohemian as socialist. Its pages supported labor unions, social equality, and pacifism, but also sported graphic art, poetry, and fiction that ranged from agit-prop to whimsical. It survived on a hope, serendipitous donations, and Eastman’s dogged determination to keep it afloat.
Journalist “Jack” Reed was an energetic swashbuckler crossed with a frat boy. He seduced and exasperated, pontificated at one moment and betrayed his half-baked views the next, pissed off his friends as he exhaled and charmed them on the inhale. He was the very scarred embodiment of a fast, hard, full, short life. He needed to be where the action was, which is why he didn’t allow a lost kidney to keep him out of Europe as war clouds gathered and why he was a firsthand witness to the Russian Revolution.
Alice Paul wasn’t good at moderation either. Like a reckless campus radical, she put her body on the line for the cause of suffrage and wore out others in the process, including Inez Milholland Boissevain who died from taking part in Paul-orchestrated non-stop agitation. Paul’s was a world of picketing, workhouse internments, force-feedings, and embarrassing President Wilson. One of the book’s many revelations is the depth of mutual contempt between Paul and Carrie Chapman Catt. Catt saw Paul as an impetuous troublemaker who threatened her careful one-state-at-a-time strategy and nearly cost Wilson the White House; Paul saw Catt as a self-aggrandizer willing to tolerate the status quo to be an insider player in the Wilson administration.
The latter charge was also leveled at Lippmann, with some justification. Lippmann, who co-founded the New Republic, was an intellectual who had trouble reconciling idealism and pragmatism. As war loomed, he jettisoned socialism for liberalism and joined Wilson’s team in the vain hope that the war would “make the world safe for democracy.” Lippmann actually wrote most of Wilson’s famed 14-Points, but their abandonment led him to leak an internal document that doomed Wilson’s nationwide campaign for the League of Nations.
A good tale requires a tragic figure and few were more so than Randolph Bourne. His was one of the most inventive minds of his day. Bourne dreamt of transnational identities, cosmopolitanism, and universal citizenship decades before Greenwich Villagers imagined themselves global villagers. His capacious mind was housed in a sickly hunchbacked body that he felt was doomed to be unloved. He was wrong; the beautiful free spirited actress Esther Cornell seems to have accepted his marriage proposal, only for Bourne to perish in the postwar influenza epidemic.
The postwar fallout took more than Bourne with it. Socialism’s promise also faded—not just because of wartime repression and the postwar Red Scare—but because idealists often battled with each other, and bitterly so over the war. It has been said that World War One was the only war wished into being by the left. Though somewhat hyperbolic, roughly half of U.S. socialists—including Lippmann and John Dewey—supported the conflict. Pro-war socialists were mistaken. History would soon judge the Great War a disaster in nearly every way one can measure such things. Ideals such as transnationalism gave way to cynicism and insularity. Paul would hold fast to her principles, but Eastman and Lippman would embark on several journeys between left, center, and right before settling into contrarianism.
McCarter’s book is a masterpiece of forgotten and overlooked detail. It is also an examination of how dream worlds and officialdom overlapped and separated. The book is so compellingly written that I shall refrain from quoting so you can make your own discoveries and savor the richness of its prose. Kudos to McCarver for restoring the “story” in history and making tales come alive in real time. One can dispute whether the hopes of McCarter’s five young radicals were admirable or misguided, but there is something tragic in the observation that we now live in a world too parochial to conceive of globalism in non-economic terms.
University of Massachusetts Amherst