Gillon, Steven M.

views updated

GILLON, Steven M.


ADDRESSES: Offıce—Honors College, University of Oklahoma, 1300 Asp Ave., Norman, OK 73019-6061. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER: Historian. Yale University, New Haven, CT, member of faculty; University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK, Carol E. Young Professor, dean of Honors College; History Channel, historian, host of History Center.


Politics and Vision: The ADA and American Liberalism, 1947-1985, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1987.

The Democrats' Dilemma: Walter F. Mondale and theLiberal Legacy, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 1992.

(With Diane B. Kunz) America during the Cold War, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich (Fort Worth, TX), 1993.

That's Not What We Meant to Do: Reform and ItsUnintended Consequences in Twentieth-Century America, W. W. Norton (New York, NY), 2000.

(With Cathy D. Matson) The American Experiment: AHistory of the United States, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2002.

The American Paradox: A History of the United States since 1945, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2003.

Boomer Nation: The Largest and Richest GenerationEver and How It Changed America (companion book to History Channel program), Free Press (New York, NY), 2004.

SIDELIGHTS: Steven M. Gillon is an historian whose areas of specialty include the politics of modern America. His first volume, Politics and Vision: The ADA and American Liberalism, 1947-1985, is a study of the Americans for Democratic Action, or ADA. The ADA was formed during the 1940s by New Dealers worried about President Truman's leanings to the right, as well as about communist influences on the left, particularly from the Progressive Party of Henry Wallace. The liberal ADA functioned through the 1950s and 1960s but could not survive the Vietnam conflict.

In The Democrats' Dilemma: Walter F. Mondale and the Liberal Legacy, Gillon follows the career of the Minnesota attorney general who served as vice president under President Jimmy Carter during the 1970s and subsequently failed in his own bid for the presidency in 1984. A Publishers Weekly contributor noted that Gillon gives credit to Mondale for helping build a consensus among factions of the Democratic Party, "but faults his increasingly irrelevant political vision."

Wilson Quarterly reviewer Marty Linsky called That's Not What We Meant To Do: Reform and Its Unintended Consequences in Twentieth-Century America "a delightfully subversive book about how reform legislation goes awry." Gillon profiles five laws, beginning with the provision added to the Social Security Act in 1935 to help widows with children. This act was the foundation for the later Aid to Families with Dependent Children, which also benefited mothers who had never married or who had been divorced, and thus required greatly increased funding. The intention of the Community Mental Health Act of 1963 was to transition patients into community settings, but subsequent congresses underfunded the program, resulting in the large number of mentally ill homeless who ended up on U.S. streets. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was established to eliminate segregation. While it barred quotas, two federal agencies that initiated affirmative action programs essentially established quotas. The affirmative-action mandate became widespread in both public and private hiring practices, drew controversy when its repercusions were felt, and ultimately resulted in a backlash.

Gillon also studies the Immigration Act of 1965 and the Federal Election Campaign Finance Reform Act amendments of 1974. The former was passed to establish greater diversity in immigration, but a consequence has been the unforeseen number of people who have been allowed into the country under the family-unification provision, which Gillon notes was adopted "without carefully calculating potential consequences." Legislation addressing Campaign finance reform was supposed to eliminate political influence by large donors, but that goal was side-stepped by the formation of the large numbers of political action committees, or PACs, that proliferated during the 2004 presidential campaign and through which candidates continue to be funded by specialized interests.

Gillon notes that failed liberal policies that have been instituted to solve social situations have done so largely because the federal government has not invested the time, thought, and funding necessary to make them successful. Booklist's Vanessa Bush wrote that Gillon advocates heightening awareness "of the complexities of modern life and of the basic values that public policies are designed to serve."

In addition to his other obligations, Gillon has served as historian for the History Channel. His Boomer Nation: The Largest and Richest Generation Ever and How It Changed America is the companion book to a show he hosted and chronicles the lives of six baby boomers, including several who became nationally prominent. Vietnam veteran Bobby Muller became an activist after he was paralyzed in that conflict and founded Vietnam Veterans of America. Attorney and cancer survivor Fran Visco became president of the National Breast Cancer Coalition. The others include advertising success and television celebrity Donny Deutsch, architect and developer Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, Thirty-Something creator Marshall Herskovitz, and Albert Wilson, who became a Christian educator after overcoming substance abuse and poverty.

A Publishers Weekly reviewer noted that Gillon "touches on iconic events and influences—Catch-22, Woodstock, the cold war, the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King—but he is refreshingly unnostalgic about them." In his book Gillon explains that the core values of the boomers have continued into the Gen X generation—born between 1965 and 1976—and Gen Y generation—born between 1977 and 1995. His main thesis is that boomers "at heart were consumers, not revolutionaries."

A Kirkus Reviews critic felt that although boomers are often described as self-absorbed, Gillon "believes such criticism sells short the generation that expanded personal freedom in the United States by championing, not only civil rights, but gay rights, women's rights, handicapped rights, and the right to privacy." "This tale of the boomers who reshaped America is fascinating" commented Mary Whaley in Booklist. Library Journal reviewer Jack Forman felt that Gillon's study and television program "are likely to lead to a renewed interest in the generation that now leads our nation."



America, October 7, 2000, Clayton Sinyai, review of That's Not What We Meant to Do: Reform and Its Unintended Consequences in Twentieth-Century America, p. 24.

Booklist, May 15, 2000, Vanessa Bush, review of That's Not What We Meant to Do, p. 1707; April 1, 2004, Mary Whaley, review of Boomer Nation: The Largest and Richest Generation Ever and How It Changed America, p. 1336.

Freeman, July, 2001, Philip Murray, review of That'sNot What We Meant to Do.

Independent Review, fall, 2001, Robert Heineman, review of That's Not What We Meant to Do, p. 275.

Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2004, review of BoomerNation, p. 209.

Library Journal, June 15, 2000, Duncan Stewart, review of That's Not What We Meant to Do, p. 99; May 1, 2004, Jack Forman, review of Boomer Nation, p. 125.

New Leader, October 5, 1987, Barry Gewen, review of Politics and Vision: The ADA and American Liberalism, 1947-1985, p. 17.

Publishers Weekly, June 22, 1992, review of TheDemocrats' Dilemma: Walter F. Mondale and the Liberal Legacy, p. 54; March 8, 2004, review of Boomer Nation, p. 62.

Teaching History, fall, 2004, William E Doody, review of The American Paradox: A History of the United States since 1945, p. 110.

Washington Monthly, February, 1988, Finlay Lewis, review of Politics and Vision, p. 58.

Wilson Quarterly, autumn, 2000, Marty Linsky, review of That's Not What We Meant to Do, p. 133.*

About this article

Gillon, Steven M.

Updated About content Print Article