Kazin, Michael 1948–
Kazin, Michael 1948–
PERSONAL: Born June 6, 1948, in New York, NY; son of Alfred Kazin (a writer and teacher) and Carol Bookman (in advertising); married Beth Carrie Horowitz (a physician), August 24, 1980; children: Daniel, Maia. Education: Harvard University, B.A., 1972; Portland State University, M.A., 1975; Stanford University, Ph. D., 1983. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Jewish. Hobbies and other interests: Running, baseball (fan of the San Francisco Giants), reading fiction.
CAREER: Historian, educator, and writer. San Francisco State University, San Francisco, CA, lecturer in history, 1978–82; Stanford University, Stanford, CA, visiting assistant professor of history, 1983–85; American University, Washington, DC, 1985–, began as assistant professor, became professor of history; Georgetown University, Washington, DC, professor of history, 1999–. John Adams Chair in American Studies at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, 1996; visiting assistant professor of history at Stanford University, and adjunct professor at San Francisco State University, University of California at Santa Cruz, and San Francisco City College.
AWARDS, HONORS: Herbert Gutman Prize, University of Illinois Press, 1988, for best book in American history published by University of Illinois Press; Smithsonian Institute fellow, 1988–89; senior fellow of the Commonwealth Center, College of William and Mary, 1990–91; Fulbright fellow, 1996; National Endowment for the Humanities fellow, 1998–99; Woodrow Wilson Center fellow, 1998–99; senior faculty research fellow, Georgetown University, 2002–03; John Simon Guggenheim memorial fellow, 2003.
Barons of Labor: The San Francisco Building Trades and Union Power in the Progressive Era, University of Illinois Press (Urbana, IL), 1987.
(Editor, with Joseph A. McCartin) Americanism: New Perspectives on the History of an Ideal, University of North Carolina Press (Chapel Hill, NC), 2006.
A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan, Knopf (New York, NY), 2006.
Sports columnist for Berkeley Barb, 1978–80. Contributor of articles and reviews to magazines and newspapers, including New York Review of Books, Nation, New Republic, and Mother Jones. Member of editorial board of Radical America, 1976–, and Socialist Review, 1978–83; book editor of San Francisco Bay Guardian, 1982–84, and Tikkun, 1987–96; member of editorial board, Dissent, 2000–.
SIDELIGHTS: Michael Kazin's books reflect his decidedly left-wing stance. Kazin began his writing career as a journalist on an underground newspaper during the 1960s, and has described himself as a former member of a "revolutionary youth collective."
In The Populist Persuasion: An American History, Kazin takes a look at the meaning of the term "populist" throughout the history of the United States. It is a broad term with an ever-shifting meaning, one that has at various times encompassed both right-and left-wing viewpoints. It is sometimes used to describe a peculiarly American tradition of political thought, one that includes "a nostalgia for an agrarian society, coupled with a hostility toward urban and industrial civilization; an obsession with economic panaceas,… a conspiratorial interpretation of politics, and an enthusiasm for various forms of direct democracy," according to New Republic contributor Michael Lind. It is also used as a synonym for egalitarianism. Lind called The Populist Persuasion "a rich and thoughtful account of the evolution of populist rhetoric on the left and the right in American politics in the past century—an account that can only increase skepticism about the ability of conventional liberals to counter the populism of conservatives with a populism of their own." Wilson Carey McWilliams, writing in Commonweal, noted: "Kazin does an admirable job of tracing the transformations of the populist 'persuasion,' ending with its recent 'capture' by the Right." Nation contributor Thomas Bender found the commentary on the recent usage of the populist label by right-wing politicians to be the most vital part of this "splendid and timely book."
Kazin and coauthor Maurice Isserman provide a history of one of America's most turbulent periods in America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s. They begin by drawing a parallel between the division and violence of the 1960s and the Civil War that took place in the United States one hundred years earlier. America Divided drew high praise from many reviewers, including Tom Engelhardt in Nation. While he commented on a certain lack of balance, noting that it "seems over-weighted by the civil rights movement, and, similarly, overwhelmed by the Vietnam War," he nevertheless stated that there is "much to recommend" in this "strange, divided book" that reveals "the confounding problems national history faces in capturing the forces that rule our present world." Library Journal contributor Scott H. Silverman identified the authors' most important accomplishment as "demonstrating the rise not only of a New Left but a new and persistent Right." Mary Carroll, writing in Booklist, noted that America Divided "resists easy generalizations, elucidating a confusing time in all its complexity."
In A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan, Kazin focuses primarily on the populist politician's public career, beginning as a U.S. congressman from Nebraska and including his three unsuccessful bids for the U.S. presidency. The author also explores Bryan's reputation as a gifted orator and returns to the 1925 Scopes trial. In the infamous trial, Bryan argued against evolution being taught in the classroom but was roundly defeated by the school teacher John T. Scopes's defense attorney, Clarence Darrow, who successfully cross-examined Bryan about literal Biblical interpretations after the prosecutor had decided to take the stand himself as a witness. According to the author, Bryan's opposition to evolution was not only based on Bryan's belief that such teachings would lead to immoral behavior but also potentially to eugenics, or the selective breeding of people.
Thomas Murphy, writing in America, called A Godly Hero a "revisionist biography," adding that the author "challenges … [many previously held conceptions about Bryan], usually convincingly and always gracefully." Referring to the biography as "fascinating" in the National Review, Matthew Spalding went on to note that the author "makes a compelling argument" that Bryan "did more than any other man—between the fall of Grover Cleveland and the election of Woodrow Wilson—to transform his party from a bulwark of laissez-faire into the citadel of liberalism we identify with Franklin D. Roosevelt and his ideological descendants." Jay Freeman, writing in Booklist, commented: "This superbly written biography greatly enhances our knowledge of the man and a recurring movement in American politics." A Kirkus Reviews contributor called the book a "a real eye-opener for anyone who thinks that fierce debates over tax reform, corporate power, imperialism and evolution are recent developments in American politics and culture."
Kazin once told CA: "My involvement in the New Left during the 1960s and 1970s continues to motivate me intellectually. While I have changed some of my perspectives about the 'revolutionary' politics of that time, I continue to be fascinated by the rise and fall of social movements and by the many ways, cultural as well as political, that they shape history."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
America, May 29, 2006, Thomas Murphy, review of A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan, p. 25.
American Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Volume 545, 1996, review of The Populist Persuasion: An American History, p. 197.
American Historical Review, April, 1988, Bruno Ramirez, review of Barons of Labor: The San Francisco Building Trades and Union Power in the Progressive Era, p. 511.
American Spectator, July, 1995, review of The Populist Persuasion, p. 73.
Booklist, January 1, 1995, review of The Populist Persuasion, p. 797; November 1, 1999, review of America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s, p. 506; February 1, 2006, Jay Freeman, review of A Godly Hero, p. 18.
Christianity Today, June, 2006, Collin Hansen, review of A Godly Hero, p. 64.
Commentary, February, 2000, review of America Divided, p. 67.
Commonweal, June 2, 1995, Wilson Carey McWilliams, review of The Populist Persuasion, p. 24.
Electronic News, September 4, 1995, Robert Sobel, review of The Populist Persuasion, p. 25.
Journal of American History, September, 1988, Shelton Stormquist, review of Barons of Labor, p. 643; March, 1996, review of The Populist Persuasion, p. 1594.
Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 2006, review of A Godly Hero, p. 29.
Labor Studies Journal, winter, 1988, Lois S. Gray, review of Barons of Labor, p. 82.
Library Journal, February 1, 1995, review of The Populist Persuasion, p. 90; October 15, 1999, Scott H. Silverman, review of America Divided, p. 84.
Nation, April 25, 1987, Joshua B. Freeman, review of Barons of Labor, p. 550; March 13, 1995, Thomas Bender, review of The Populist Persuasion, p. 350; December 13, 1999, Tom Engelhardt, review of America Divided, p. 13.
National Review, July 3, 2006, Matthew Spalding, review of A Godly Hero, p. 51.
New Republic, September 4, 1995, Michael Lind, review of The Populist Persuasion, p. 37; April 10, 2006, Jackson Lears, review of A Godly Hero, p. 21.
New York Times Book Review, June 7, 1987, Julia Gilden, review of Barons of Labor, p. 31; February 12, 1995, review of The Populist Persuasion, p. 14; January 16, 2000, Brent Staples, "Blaming Nixon: The Authors Conduct a Post-Mortem on Flower-Power and How It Went Wrong," p. 10.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, March 19, 2006, Len Barcousky, review of A Godly Hero.
Publishers Weekly, December 5, 1994, review of The Populist Persuasion, p. 62; October 4, 1999, review of America Divided, p. 52.
Society, January, 1997, Louis Filler, review of The Populist Persuasion, p. 92.
Washington Monthly, March, 2006, Ed Kilgore, review of A Godly Hero, p. 44.
Wilson Quarterly, spring, 2006, Jacob A. Stein, review of A Godly Hero, p. 110.
Georgetown University Web site, http://explore.georgetown.edu/ (August 26, 2006), faculty profile of author.
Internet Movie Database, http://www.imdb.com/ (August 26, 2006), brief filmography for author.