Neglected Book

Hofstadter, Richard / Polanyi, Karl, The Age of Reform / The Great Transformation (1955).

More than any other two books these made me the historian that I became. It is hard to call The Age of Reform neglected because it won the Pulitzer Prize and for years made the required reading list for many undergraduate US history courses. Today, however, it seems seldom read by undergraduates and even graduate students unless their mentors demand it. But when it first appeared at the start of my graduate education, to coin a cliche, it struck me as a bolt of lightning. Hofstadter made me and many other young historians rethink the meaning and place of the reform tradition in the US, to examine its darker implications as well as extol the aims or accomplishments of Populists, Progressives, and New Dealers. It also made me more sensitive to the use of language by historians' subjects in the past as well as how historians use language to shape alternative visions of many pasts, for Hofstadter was a true master of the English language. Polanyi, I expect, remains unread by most US historians but his book gives capitalism and the history of markets a real past, one that goes back to antiquity; he also offers readers a sense of how broadly markets vary and serve different purposes, and how historically specific was the origin and spread of the "capitalist market." A social anthropologist's dissection of the triumph and dissolution of what Eric Hobsbawm in the title of one of his books called "The Age of Capital."

Recommended by Melvyn Dubofsky, Binghamton University, SUNY

Distinguished Professor of History & Sociology and author of numerous books and essays in labor history (notably We Shall be All: A History of the IWW and The State and Labor in Modern America) and 20th century US history, most recently Hard Work: The Making of Labor History. He has taught in Europe, Israel, and several US universities.