Lichtenstein, Nelson 1944-

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LICHTENSTEIN, Nelson 1944-

PERSONAL: Born November 15, 1944, in Frederick, MD; son of Theodore Samuel and Beryl Rose Lichtenstein; married Eileen Boris, January 26, 1979; children: Daniel. Ethnicity: "Jewish." Education: University of California—Berkeley, Ph.D. (history), 1974. Politics: Socialist. Religion: Jewish. Hobbies and other interests: Skiing, running, mountaineering.

ADDRESSES: Office—Department of History, University of California, Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA 93106. E-mail—[email protected].

CAREER: Catholic University of America, Washington, DC, assistant professor, then associate professor of history, 1981-89; University of Virginia, Charlottesville, professor of history, 1989-2001; University of California, Santa Barbara, 2001—.

MEMBER: American Historical Association, Organization of American Historians, Labor and Working Class History Association.

AWARDS, HONORS: University of Virginia, Phi Beta Kappa Book Award; National Endowment for the Humanities fellowships, 1982, 1993; William E. Dornan Prize for Teaching Excellence, 1986; John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellowship, 1998; Rockefeller Bellagio fellowship, 1999; Oregon Center for the Humanities fellowship, 2000.


(Editor) Political Profiles: The Johnson Years, Facts on File (New York, NY), 1976.

(Editor) Political Profiles: The Kennedy Years, Facts on File, 1976.

Labor's War at Home: The CIO in World War II, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1982, with a new introduction, Temple University Press (Philadelphia, PA), 2003.

(Editor, with Stephen Meyer) On the Line: Essays in the History of Auto Work, University of Illinois Press (Urbana, IL), 1989.

(Editor, with Eileen Boris) Major Problems in the History of American Workers: Documents and Essays, D.C. Heath (Lexington, MA), 1991, 2nd edition, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2003.

(Editor, with Howell John Harris) Industrial Democracy in America: The Ambiguous Promise, Woodrow Wilson Center Press (New York, NY), 1993.

(With Henry Kraus) Heroes of Unwritten Story: The UAW, 1934-39, University of Illinois Press (Urbana, IL), 1994.

The Most Dangerous Man in Detroit: Walter Reuther and the Fate of American Labor, Basic Books (New York, NY), 1995, published as Walter Reuther: The Most Dangerous Man in Detroit, University of Illinois Press (Urbana, IL), 1997.

What's Next for Organized Labor?: Report of the Century Foundation Task Force on the Future of Unions, Century Foundation Press (New York, NY), 1999.

(With Joshua Freeman and Stephen Brier) Who Built America?: Working People and the Nation's Economy, Politics, Culture, and Society, Worth (New York, NY), 2000.

State of the Union: A Century of American Labor, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 2002.

WORK IN PROGRESS: Triumphalism and Apocalypse: Thinking about Capitalism in Twentieth-Century America.

SIDELIGHTS: Historian and educator Nelson Lichtenstein has written on a number of topics related to twentieth-century American labor history, but the first titles associated with his name were two presidential biographies published in 1976, Political Profiles: The Johnson Years and Political Profiles: The Kennedy Years, which he edited for Facts on File, Inc. Lichtenstein's first full-length book came six years later with Labor's War at Home: The CIO in World War II, a revision of his doctoral dissertation. He posits that during the war, the leadership of the Congress of Industrial Unions—with its five million members one of the largest organized labor forces in the United States at the time—subordinated the interests of rank-and-file workers to the Roosevelt Administration's demand for social peace and war production.

Using information from labor archives, Labor's War at Home charts the shift in the CIO's goals. In the 1930s it was a radical, decentralized organization whose member unions, like the powerful United Automobile Workers on whom the book concentrates, were not averse to shutting down factories in their struggle to win fair pay and safe working conditions for American workers. World War II, however, brought changes to how the CIO leadership cooperated with the federal government, as Lichtenstein demonstrates. When it became evident that uninterrupted wartime production was crucial to victory against Germany and Japan, the CIO agreed that in exchange for a no-strike policy, companies would now deduct union dues from members' paychecks. Such a deal enriched the coffers of the CIO, but often left the rank and file dissatisfied, having essentially lost two of their most powerful tools—the right to strike and the right to withhold dues. Maurice Isserman of the Nation termed Labor's War at Home "an impressive work which offers a useful perspective on the origins of the crisis the labor movement faces today."

Lichtenstein further explored the relationship between the country's most prominent industrialized sector, the auto industry, and the development of unionism in the United States in On the Line: Essays in the History of Auto Work, a 1989 work he edited with Stephen Meyer. For the book he contributed "'The Man in the Middle': A Social History of Automobile Industry Foremen." Concentrating specifically on the line bosses at the Ford Motor Company, Lichtenstein "shows how wartime conditions encouraged the proletarianization of low-level supervisors and how their white-collar status was only re-established in 1947 when management crushed the Foremen's Association," noted Ronald Edsforth in the Journal of American History. This work was followed with two books edited by Lichtenstein: Major Problems in the History of American Workers: Documents and Essays and Industrial Democracy in America: The Ambiguous Promise, the second which was coedited with Howell John Harris.

Lichtenstein, by this time a professor at the University of Virginia, gained more attention outside of academic circles with his book on labor leader Walter Reuther. Published in 1995, The Most Dangerous Man in Detroit: Walter Reuther and the Fate of American Labor examines the long crusade of the autoworker-turned-CIO president that began with his engineering of a sitdown strike at General Motors in 1937. Prior to that, he had been a die-maker at Ford, the last of the automakers to unionize.

In The Most Dangerous Man in Detroit Lichtenstein comments that his work "demonstrates that Reuther became a 'prisoner' of the institutions he helped to build: the bureaucratic UAW, routinized collective bargaining, and the Democratic Party." Lichtenstein also chronicles the friendship Reuther enjoyed over the years with a succession of U.S. presidents, and his outspoken support of the civil rights movement. "Recounting Reuther's maneuverings during World War II, Lichtenstein's assessment of the UAW leader becomes more critical," noted Robert Bussel in Industrial and Labor Relations Review. In the labor leader's "quest for political influence," Bussel continued, the author argues that Reuther "embraced a 'Faustian bargain,' muting 'shop-floor syndicalism' and criticism of the New Deal state in exchange for institutional acceptance and what turned out to be a limited role in shaping wartime production and industrial policy." Later, as president of the UAW, Reuther succeeded in again leading a 1946 strike against GM that culminated in what has come to be seen as a landmark labor agreement. Reuther died in 1970 in a plane crash.

Reviewing The Most Dangerous Man in Detroit, Bussel praised the author's research while noting that Lichtenstein "does not consistently examine the interplay between Reuther's public and private identities that might explain his motivation." Other reviewers held fewer reservations, Washington Post Book World critic Jeffrey E. Garten terming the book "a meticulously researched, clearly written and quickly paced story," and concluding: "Reuther's life, as portrayed by Lichtenstein, is also a story about the rise of the middle class in America as both an economic reality and a political force, and its symbiotic relationship with the growth of labor unions." To Labor Studies Journal contributor Ken Fones-Wolf, the author has produced "what will surely become the standard biography of Reuther." For his part, Lichtenstein once told CA: "The publication of my Reuther biography coincided with the election of a reform leadership in the AFL-CIO. Thus I have had the opportunity and credibility to become active as an organizer of conferences and symposia linking the trade union leadership and academic intellectuals once again."

In Volume 2 of the textbook series Who Built America? subtitled Working People and the Nation's Economy, Politics, Culture, and Society, Lichtenstein and his coeditors examine the state of labor since 1877. "Many students are surprised by what they find in these pages," noted Lisa Phillips in a review for Teaching History. Noting that in the past, history writers usually focused on similar groups of people, Phillips added that the Who Built America? writers "structure the narrative so that these 'groups' of people are the driving force behind the major developments traditionally discussed in American history." By spotlighting the influence of farmers, immigrants, women, and African Americans in shaping labor's history, Lichtenstein's book "makes clear, in a way in which other texts do not, the role of 'ordinary' people in influence the events we deem central in American history," Phillips continued.

Lichtenstein marked one hundred years of trade unionism with his 2001 release State of the Union: A Century of American Labor. The author traces organized labor from its days as a male-oriented bastion of heavy industry to the more modern view of unions as heavily slanted toward government workers, service workers, and teachers. In the view of Library Journal critic Duncan Stewart, the author "examines both the positive and the negative sides of American labor—unions have been champions of civil rights . . . and economically self-interested clubs." Contemporary union leaders such as John Sweeney, whom Lichtenstein identifies as an advocate of a "social wage" and a nationalized health system, "embody the author's vision," added Booklist contributor Gilbert Taylor, "of the labor movement's agenda."



American Historical Review, April, 1979, p. 591; June, 1984, p. 866; February, 1991, p. 312; October, 1997, review of The Most Dangerous Man in Detroit: Walter Reuther and the Fate of American Labor, p. 1250.

Booklist, March 15, 2002, Gilbert Taylor, review of State of the Union: A Century of American Labor.

Business History Review, winter, 1993, p. 656.

Choice, July/August, 1977, p. 654; September, 1983, p. 154.

Contemporary Psychology, November, 1978, p. 197.

Contemporary Sociology, March, 1997, review of The Most Dangerous Man in Detroit, p. 165.

Industrial and Labor Relations Review, January, 1997, Robert Bussel, review of The Most Dangerous Man in Detroit, p. 363.

Journal of American History, December, 1983, p. 719; December, 1991, Ronald Edsforth, review of On the Line: Essays in the History of Auto Work, p. 114.

Journal of Economic History, March, 1984, p. 220; March, 1992, p. 251.

Labor Studies Journal, fall, 1997, Ken Fones-Wolf, review of The Most Dangerous Man in Detroit, p. 103.

Library Journal, February 1, 1977, p. 370; April 1, 2002, Duncan Stewart, review of State of the Union, p. 124.

Monthly Labor Review, May, 1994, p. 64.

Nation, April 30, 1983, p. 544.

Publishers Weekly, October 9, 1995, p. 71.

RQ, fall, 1977, p. 80.

Teaching History, spring, 2002, Lisa Phillips, review of Who Built America?: Working People and the Nation's Economy, Politics, Culture, and Society, p. 44.

Washington Post Book World, November 26, 1995, Jeffrey E. Garten, review of The Most Dangerous Man in Detroit, p. 1.

Wilson Library Bulletin, June, 1977, p. 815.

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