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Richard Hofstadter: An Intellectual Biography

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Richard Hofstadter (1916-70) was America’s most distinguished historian of the twentieth century. The author of several groundbreaking books, including The American Political Tradition, he was a vigorous champion of the liberal politics that emerged from the New Deal. During his nearly thirty-year career, Hofstadter fought public campaigns against liberalism’s most dynamic Richard Hofstadter (1916-70) was America’s most distinguished historian of the twentieth century. The author of several groundbreaking books, including The American Political Tradition, he was a vigorous champion of the liberal politics that emerged from the New Deal. During his nearly thirty-year career, Hofstadter fought public campaigns against liberalism’s most dynamic opponents, from McCarthy in the 1950s to Barry Goldwater and the Sun Belt conservatives in the 1960s. His opposition to the extreme politics of postwar America—articulated in his books, essays, and public lectures—marked him as one of the nation’s most important and prolific public intellectuals.  In this masterful biography, David Brown explores Hofstadter’s life within the context of the rise and fall of American liberalism. A fierce advocate of academic freedom, racial justice, and political pluralism, Hofstadter charted in his works the changing nature of American society from a provincial Protestant foundation to one based on the values of an urban and multiethnic nation. According to Brown, Hofstadter presciently saw in rural America’s hostility to this cosmopolitanism signs of an anti-intellectualism that he believed was dangerously endemic in a mass democracy.  By the end of a life cut short by leukemia, Hofstadter had won two Pulitzer Prizes, and his books had attracted international attention. Yet the Vietnam years, as Brown shows, culminated in a conservative reaction to his work that is still with us. Whether one agrees with Hofstadter’s critics or with the noted historian John Higham, who insisted that Hofstadter was “the finest and also the most humane intelligence of our generation,” the importance of this seminal thinker cannot be denied. As this fascinating biography ultimately shows, Hofstadter’s observations on the struggle between conservative and liberal America are relevant to our own times, and his legacy challenges us to this day.


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Richard Hofstadter (1916-70) was America’s most distinguished historian of the twentieth century. The author of several groundbreaking books, including The American Political Tradition, he was a vigorous champion of the liberal politics that emerged from the New Deal. During his nearly thirty-year career, Hofstadter fought public campaigns against liberalism’s most dynamic Richard Hofstadter (1916-70) was America’s most distinguished historian of the twentieth century. The author of several groundbreaking books, including The American Political Tradition, he was a vigorous champion of the liberal politics that emerged from the New Deal. During his nearly thirty-year career, Hofstadter fought public campaigns against liberalism’s most dynamic opponents, from McCarthy in the 1950s to Barry Goldwater and the Sun Belt conservatives in the 1960s. His opposition to the extreme politics of postwar America—articulated in his books, essays, and public lectures—marked him as one of the nation’s most important and prolific public intellectuals.  In this masterful biography, David Brown explores Hofstadter’s life within the context of the rise and fall of American liberalism. A fierce advocate of academic freedom, racial justice, and political pluralism, Hofstadter charted in his works the changing nature of American society from a provincial Protestant foundation to one based on the values of an urban and multiethnic nation. According to Brown, Hofstadter presciently saw in rural America’s hostility to this cosmopolitanism signs of an anti-intellectualism that he believed was dangerously endemic in a mass democracy.  By the end of a life cut short by leukemia, Hofstadter had won two Pulitzer Prizes, and his books had attracted international attention. Yet the Vietnam years, as Brown shows, culminated in a conservative reaction to his work that is still with us. Whether one agrees with Hofstadter’s critics or with the noted historian John Higham, who insisted that Hofstadter was “the finest and also the most humane intelligence of our generation,” the importance of this seminal thinker cannot be denied. As this fascinating biography ultimately shows, Hofstadter’s observations on the struggle between conservative and liberal America are relevant to our own times, and his legacy challenges us to this day.

30 review for Richard Hofstadter: An Intellectual Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    James Bechtel

    A much, much better treatment of Hofstadter's works and the scholars and academics who were part of his circle than I was expecting. I have read almost all of Hofstadter's books - some of the essays multiple times. A much, much better treatment of Hofstadter's works and the scholars and academics who were part of his circle than I was expecting. I have read almost all of Hofstadter's books - some of the essays multiple times.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Greg Strandberg

    I got this book in 2006 when it was new, and feeling like the hot shit young historian that I thought I was, I wrote about it in my Historiography 400-level class. Professor Drake was impressed with my awareness of Hofstadter, an historian whom he obviously admired. With his 3-piece-suit, Italian shoes, and penchant for looking down upon all works not collecting as much dust as his on the fourth level of the library, Drake was a hard one to please. Alas, my look at amateur historians Shelby Foote I got this book in 2006 when it was new, and feeling like the hot shit young historian that I thought I was, I wrote about it in my Historiography 400-level class. Professor Drake was impressed with my awareness of Hofstadter, an historian whom he obviously admired. With his 3-piece-suit, Italian shoes, and penchant for looking down upon all works not collecting as much dust as his on the fourth level of the library, Drake was a hard one to please. Alas, my look at amateur historians Shelby Foote and Bruce Catton did not appeal to his more refined tastes. I got a gentleman's C on the paper. I still have this Hofstadter book, as well as Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. Both are collecting dust in a box in my mom's garage. Perhaps it's time to dig them back out again. If you're looking for a good read, this is it. Hofstadter died young, and was quite the hot shot historian himself. He put out 'out-there' books from his perch at the University of Maryland and later the prestigious Columbia. He was one of America's premier historians, and won the Pulitzer in 1956 and 1964.

  3. 5 out of 5

    George

    This was one of my required reading material for my Contemporary American History class. Though I readily admit the importance Richard Hofstadter had as a historian in the 1950's, I was profoundly bored with Brown's biography. I learned a lot through this book and I particularly had an epiphany when Brown described in excruciating (and compulsive) detail Hofstadter's criticisms of WASP (White Anglo Saxon Protestant) values, the populist movement, and other historians (such as Charles Beard) who This was one of my required reading material for my Contemporary American History class. Though I readily admit the importance Richard Hofstadter had as a historian in the 1950's, I was profoundly bored with Brown's biography. I learned a lot through this book and I particularly had an epiphany when Brown described in excruciating (and compulsive) detail Hofstadter's criticisms of WASP (White Anglo Saxon Protestant) values, the populist movement, and other historians (such as Charles Beard) who embraced the idea of U.S. history as a socio-economic group conflict. To be blunt, I really don't give a shit about the guy which is why my rating is so low. If your not doing a dissertation on this gentleman or majoring in history (which I am) with a fondness for Contemporary US History (which I don't) then this biography is not for you.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Seth

    I'm relying heavily on Brown's account of Hofstadter for dissertation research. Contrary to many reviews of Brown's work, I think Prof. Brown work on Hofstadter is enlightening and revealing. Hofstadter understood the complexity of the human condition late in his career, although he died at the young age of 54. Good book. I'm relying heavily on Brown's account of Hofstadter for dissertation research. Contrary to many reviews of Brown's work, I think Prof. Brown work on Hofstadter is enlightening and revealing. Hofstadter understood the complexity of the human condition late in his career, although he died at the young age of 54. Good book.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Tristan

    This is the biography of one of the most famous historians in American historiography. If you wish to know about this very interesting person, this book does it very well. However, this likely won't appeal to many who are not deeply entrenched in history academia. This is the biography of one of the most famous historians in American historiography. If you wish to know about this very interesting person, this book does it very well. However, this likely won't appeal to many who are not deeply entrenched in history academia.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jim Talbott

    One of the best books I've read this year, especially with the recent death of Arthur Schlessinger. A fantastic testimony to the capacities, rolls, and insights of public intellectual historians. One of the best books I've read this year, especially with the recent death of Arthur Schlessinger. A fantastic testimony to the capacities, rolls, and insights of public intellectual historians.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    This was excellent, but I docked it a star because I like Anti-Intellectualism... much more than he does. I know that this isn't really fair, but is anything? This was excellent, but I docked it a star because I like Anti-Intellectualism... much more than he does. I know that this isn't really fair, but is anything?

  8. 4 out of 5

    Erik

  9. 4 out of 5

    Thomas Baughman

  10. 4 out of 5

    Randy Morrison

  11. 4 out of 5

    Krista

  12. 4 out of 5

    Angeline

  13. 4 out of 5

    Anirudh Karan Parihar

  14. 4 out of 5

    José Miguel Judice

  15. 5 out of 5

    Tim Lacy

  16. 5 out of 5

    Brenda

  17. 4 out of 5

    the lateadopter

  18. 5 out of 5

    Michael D.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Tim

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jason Heppler

  21. 5 out of 5

    Glen

  22. 4 out of 5

    Harry Klinkhamer

  23. 5 out of 5

    Mike O'Connor

  24. 5 out of 5

    Robert Alwin

  25. 5 out of 5

    LP

  26. 4 out of 5

    Pm

  27. 5 out of 5

    Nicholas Swails

  28. 4 out of 5

    Liquidlasagna

  29. 4 out of 5

    George

  30. 4 out of 5

    Bob Farwell

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