Nasaw, David 1945-

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Nasaw, David 1945-


Born July 18, 1945, in Cortland, NY; son of Joshua J. (a lawyer) and Beatrice (a teacher) Nasaw; married Dinita E.R. Smith (a writer), June 10, 1978; children: twins, Peter and Daniel. Education: Bucknell University, B.A., 1967; Columbia University, Ph.D., 1972. Religion: Jewish.


Home—New York, NY. Office—History Program, City University of New York Graduate Center, 365 5th Ave., New York, NY 10016. Agent—Andrew Wylie, 250 W. 57th St., Ste. 2114, New York, NY 10017. E-mail—[email protected].


Historian, educator, and writer. City University of New York (C.U.N.Y.), 1973—, began as associate professor of history at the College of Staten Island, became Arthur M. Schlesinger Professor of American History at The Graduate Center and chair of the C.U. N.Y. history department, executive officer of Ph.D. program, and director of the Center for the Humanities at the Graduate Center. Has appeared as himself in documentaries, including The American Experience, 1996, and Ten Days That Unexpectedly Changed America: The Homestead Strike, and Ten Days That Unexpectedly Changed America: The Assassination of President McKinley, both 2006.


American Historical Association, Organization of American Historians.


National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship for college teaching, 1981-82; National Book Critics Circle Award nomination, 2001, Bancroft Prize, 2001, Sperber Prize for Biography and J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize, all for The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst.



(Editor) Starting Your Own High School, Random House (New York, NY), 1972.

Schooled to Order: A Social History of Public Schooling in the United States, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1979.

Children of the City: At Work and at Play, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1985.

(Editor) The Course of United States History, Dorsey Press (Chicago, IL), 1987.

Going Out: The Rise and Fall of Public Amusements, BasicBooks (New York, NY), 1993.

The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2000.

(Selector and author of introduction) Andrew Carnegie, The "Gospel of Wealth" Essays and Other Writings, Penguin Books (New York, NY), 2006.

Andrew Carnegie, Penguin Press (New York, NY), 2006.

Contributor of articles to periodicals, including American Heritage, Harvard Education Review, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, London Review of Books, and Nation.


Historian and professor David Nasaw has written numerous books on history and education, including Schooled to Order: A Social History of Public Schooling in the United States, Children of the City: At Work and at Play, and Going Out: The Rise and Fall of Public Amusements. His The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst, was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award in 2001.

In Schooled to Order, Nasaw analyzes the social function of public education. Nasaw once told CA: "Schooled to Order was written to demonstrate how the schools function not simply as ‘educational’ agencies, but as social and cultural agencies as well. Their task is not only or primarily to ‘educate’ society. The history of public schools demonstrates the ways in which elementary schools in the 1830s through the 1850s, high schools at the turn of the twentieth century, and colleges and universities in the post-World War II era were transformed in ‘mission’ as they were expanded to include the ‘plain’ people of working-class origins who had previously been excluded."

Nasaw's Children of the City examines the lives of turn-of-the-century children and disputes the common belief that 1900 to 1920 was an extremely unpleasant and dangerous period for city children. The book concentrates on "children born to working-class parents who owned little or no property, had received little or no formal education, and worked for wages or piece rates at skilled or unskilled jobs," commented Nasaw. In Children of the City, "Nasaw is up to a bit of historical revisionism and he makes a most persuasive job of it," wrote Jonathan Yardley in Washington Post Book World, "his research has convinced him that while life for city children in these years was far from easy, on the whole it was educational, productive and enjoyable." According to Nasaw, life in the streets was "an active, organized community with its own structures of authority, law and order. The streets were not jungles and the children were not savages."

In Nasaw's 1994 Going Out, he turns his attention to the ways in which public recreation has grown and changed over the course of the last hundred years. Nasaw notes that the increasing availability of electric lighting at the turn of the twentieth century altered public spaces after dark. Where before only ‘sporting’ men frequented dank, rank barrooms, better lit streets and public places lured unmarried working men and women as well as families to after-dark entertainments, including amusement parks, vaudeville stages, penny arcades, and baseball games. Within these public spaces, new immigrants who were otherwise segregated by neighborhood and jobs, could "submerge themselves in a corporate body, an ‘American’ public, that transcended these divisions," wrote Warren Goldstein in Nation. Where ethnic differences might be a source of jokes on vaudeville stages, immigrants used boycotts and protests if the jokes got ugly; the power of their purses kept show business entrepreneurs in line. For African-Americans, however, another dynamic prevailed.

Vaudeville shows and other forms of popular entertainment maintained the racial stereotypes found in minstrel shows from before the Civil War; while white actors donned black-face to perform such stereotypes, African-American actors were forced to perform the same insulting roles. According to Goldstein, Nasaw argues that "what enabled members of a heterogeneous white audience to come together, to forge a newly American identity, was its simultaneous ability to laugh generously at its own members (thereby enacting anew the experience of white solidarity inside every performance) while building and reinforcing—through humor, insult, song and caricature—the unbreachable wall separating whites from African Americans."

From the twenties onward, movie houses began to dominate public entertainment, and, along with the advent of television and a growing middle-class fear of urban spaces, have contributed to the demise of the great demotic public attractions. As an example, Nasaw tells us that "over twenty million men, women, and children visited Coney Island alone during the 1909 season," a number, according to Goldstein, that even today's Disneyland does not attract.

Critics were uniformly impressed with Nasaw's scholarship and argumentation. Arts Education Policy Review writer Samuel Hope commented that the book "helps us to face the dangers of cultural fragmentation with useful historical information and to deal thoughtfully with questions about the viability of public presentation in our own turn-of-the-century world." In his lengthy review Warren Goldstein commented: "No other book brings together so much material about so many different urban entertainment forms—and connects their history with a few simple and powerful overarching themes." Entertainment Weekly contributor D.A. Ball called the book "superb."

In The Chief, Nasaw sought to challenge the myth of William Randolph Hearst that Orson Welles so convincingly created in his film Citizen Kane, and substitute a more informed understanding of the influential newspaper publisher and multimillionaire.

Hearst was born in San Francisco in 1863, the son of a panhandler, George Hearst, who made an amazing fortune first in gold and then in mining. Hearst's mother set her son up to be an American aristocrat as befitted his wealth, organizing "a European tour, then prep school for the boy in New Hampshire, followed by admission to Harvard College," according to a Business Week contributor. After being expelled from Harvard for his poor academic performance and decadent lifestyle, Hearst began to study newspaper production. In 1887, he took over the San Francisco Examiner, a daily owned by his father. He spent lavishly on equipment and writers, and his pro-labor, anti-railroad paper doubled its circulation in a year. Based on his success in San Francisco, Hearst decided to try his hand in New York in the mid-1890s with the New York Journal. "Its prototypical story featured corrupt officialdom, a victimized public, and the newspaper as rescuing hero. And it was unflinchingly Democratic," wrote a Business Week contributor.

Soon Hearst began to use his newspaper influence to garner political power; Nasaw writes that Hearst was "the first publisher to understand that the communications media was potentially more powerful than the parties and their politicians." He used this insight to get himself elected to represent New York in Congress in 1902. He later pursued the Democratic nomination for the presidency. Failed bids for the New York governor's office and the New York City mayor's office finally convinced Hearst to end his political aspirations. Instead, he turned his energies back into media, purchasing newspapers nationwide and eventually setting up a movie studio to feature the talents of his girlfriend Marion Davies, a chorus girl he had met when she was eighteen. (Hearst remained married to Millicent Willson, another former chorus girl, whom he set up in a Long Island mansion but almost never saw once he met Davies.)

As time went on, Hearst's politics shifted rightward, and his newspapers began to support Republican candidates. Although he supported Franklin Delano Roosevelt's election as president, he later began a virulent anti-communism crusade that went to the point of calling Roosevelt a "red." He solicited newspaper columns from Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler. His extreme anti-communism led liberals and leftists to boycott Hearst's newspapers, and eventually to the temporary demise of his empire; "in the late 1930s, as millions in debt came due, creditors seized control of Hearst's media properties," wrote the Business Week contributor. America's involvement in World War II boosted the public's interest in newspapers, and Hearst's papers rebounded. But he never again achieved the political and financial stature he possessed in the first twenty years of the century.

Nasaw's biography was hailed by critics as a major work on a major figure, and reviewed widely and in great depth. Reviewers were generally impressed with the detail of Nasaw's research, but differed on his presentation of the facts of Hearst's life. The reviewer from Business Week wrote that The Chief is "rigorously impartial, to the point of avoiding Judgments." The reviewer added: "Nasaw all but says, here are the facts in all of their voluptuous complexity—you decide what to make of them." Whereas Booklist reviewer Gilbert Taylor was grateful that "Nasaw, blessedly, eschews psychobiography," other critics wanted more analysis. An Economist reviewer stated that "[Hearst's] life, as told by Mr Nasaw, is a cautionary tale of how a young idealist can degenerate into a rancid reactionary." Harold Evans, who reviewed the book for the New York Times Book Review, was enthusiastic about Nasaw's work, noting that "he is a meticulous researcher and a cool analyst." Evans added: "At the end of his examination of all the material, Nasaw confesses that Hearst's confidence in Hitler remains ‘baffling.’ The conclusion is symptomatic of the scrupulous honesty that distinguishes this biography." Orville Schell, who also reviewed the book for the New York Times Book Review, wrote: "Even to open ‘The Chief,’ David Nasaw's wonderful new biography of William Randolph Hearst, is to be swept away by the narrative flowing through its pages."

In Andrew Carnegie, Nasaw's biography of the Scotland native turned Pittsburgh steel tycoon, the author recounts Carnegie's rise to success and his inner drive to take his wealth and impact the society at large around him, which encompassed not only his philanthropic efforts—including the endowment of more than 2,000 libraries throughout the country—but also his writings about philosophy and politics and his philanthropic efforts. Although the author writes about Carnegie's famous battles with his workers, including the violent and deadly Homestead Strike of 1892 that critically damaged Carnegie's reputation, Nasaw also delves into Carnegie's efforts as a peace activist and his fight against American imperialism. "Nasaw … understands narrative well, making the Carnegie biography a lively reading experience as well as a rewarding scholarly mission," wrote Steve Weinberg in the Houston Chronicle. A contributor to the Economist pointed out: "Mr Nasaw … seeks to humanise Carnegie by giving more attention than other biographers have to the steelman's private life, drawing extensively on unpublished bits of his autobiography, love letters and the diaries of his relatives and close friends." T.J. Stiles, writing on the Web site, commented that the author "has produced the most thorough, accurate and authoritative biography of Carnegie to date." Stiles went on to note: "Carnegie has been the subject of a number of studies, and authored an autobiography of lasting influence. It speaks highly of Nasaw's prowess as a researcher, then, that he has uncovered entire episodes previously unknown to historians." Frederick J. Augustyn, Jr., writing in the Library Journal, noted that Nasaw "adds a new century's insight into a figure whom we all thought we knew so well."



Nasaw, David, Children of the City: At Work and at Play, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1985.

Nasaw, David, Going Out: The Rise and Fall of Public Amusements, BasicBooks (New York, NY), 1993.

Nasaw, David, The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2000.


American Spectator, September, 2000, John Corry, review of The Chief, pp. 70-72.

Arts Education Policy Review, September-October, 1994, Samuel Hope, review of Going Out, pp. 37-38.

Booklist, April 15, 2000, Gilbert Taylor, review of The Chief, p. 1498; August 1, 2006, Jay Freeman, review of Andrew Carnegie, p. 4.

Business Week, June 12, 2000, "Publishing Magnate, Political Chameleon," p. 26.

Chronicle of Philanthropy, October 26, 2006, Anne W. Howard, review of Andrew Carnegie.

Economist, June 17, 2000, "Media Mogul—Better Dead than Ready," p. 6; November 4, 2006, review of Andrew Carnegie, p. 93.

Entertainment Weekly, December 3, 1993, D.A. Ball, review of Going Out, p. 66; June 16, 2000, Suzanne Ruta, review of The Chief, p. 84.

Fortune, October 16, 2006, Anne Fisher, review of Andrew Carnegie, p. 224.

Houston Chronicle, November 17, 2006, Steve Weinberg, review of Andrew Carnegie.

Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 2006, review of Andrew Carnegie, p. S18; August 1, 2006, review of Andrew Carnegie, p. 770.

Library Journal, September 1, 2006, Frederick J. Augustyn, Jr., review of Andrew Carnegie, p. 157.

Nation, September 5, 1994, Warren Goldstein, review of Going Out, pp. 244-247; July 10, 2000, Dana Frank, "The Devil and Mr. Hearst," p. 33.

New York Review of Books, August 10, 2000, Russell Baker, review of The Chief, pp. 4-6.

New York Times Book Review, June 28, 2000, Orville Schell, "Hearst, Man and Mogul: Going beyond the Myths;" July 2, 2000, Harold Evans, "Press Baron's Progress"; November 5, 2006, Richard Parker, review of Andrew Carnegie, p. 10.

Pittsburgh City Paper, October 19, 2006, Chris Potter, "A Conversation with David Nasaw."

Publishers Weekly, May 22, 2000, review of The Chief, p. 84; August 7, 2006, review of Andrew Carnegie, p. 44.

Time, August 7, 2000, John F. Stacks, "For Better or Hearst," p. 86.

Washington Post Book World, March 27, 1985, Jonathan Yardley, review of Children of the City.

World and I, November, 2000, Lloyd Eby, "Life and Times of a Press Lord," p. 228.

ONLINE, (February 9, 2007), Robert Finn, review of Andrew Carnegie.

City University of New York Web site, (October 16, 2003).

Internet Movie Database, (February 9, 2007), information on author's film work., (October 25, 2006), T.J. Stiles, review of Andrew Carnegie.