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National Bestseller • One of the year's most acclaimed works of nonfiction
A BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR: New York Times, Washington Post, New Yorker, Chicago Tribune, Kirkus, New York Post, Fast Company
From legendary historian Adam Hochschild, a "masterly" (New York Times) reassessment of the overlooked but startlingly resonant period between World War I and the Roaring Twenties, when the foundations of American democracy were threatened by war, pandemic, and violence fueled by battles over race, immigration, and the rights of labor
The nation was on the brink. Mobs burned Black churches to the ground. Courts threw thousands of people into prison for opinions they voiced—in one notable case, only in private. Self-appointed vigilantes executed tens of thousands of citizens’ arrests. Some seventy-five newspapers and magazines were banned from the mail and forced to close. When the government stepped in, it was often to fan the flames.
This was America during and after the Great War: a brief but appalling era blighted by lynchings, censorship, and the sadistic, sometimes fatal abuse of conscientious objectors in military prisons—a time whose toxic currents of racism, nativism, red-baiting, and contempt for the rule of law then flowed directly through the intervening decades to poison our own. It was a tumultuous period defined by a diverse and colorful cast of characters, some of whom fueled the injustice while others fought against it: from the sphinxlike Woodrow Wilson, to the fiery antiwar advocates Kate Richards O’Hare and Emma Goldman, to labor champion Eugene Debs, to a little-known but ambitious bureaucrat named J. Edgar Hoover, and to an outspoken leftwing agitator—who was in fact Hoover’s star undercover agent. It is a time that we have mostly forgotten about, until now.
In American Midnight, award-winning historian Adam Hochschild brings alive the horrifying yet inspiring four years following the U.S. entry into the First World War, spotlighting forgotten repression while celebrating an unforgettable set of Americans who strove to fix their fractured country—and showing how their struggles still guide us today.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
In this fascinating survey of America during and immediately after World War I, historian Adam Hochschild remedies our incomplete view of the era. Most histories and stories leap from the horrors of the European battlefield to the prosperity of the Roaring ’20s and frivolity of the Jazz Age. In reality, things were much messier on the home front. It was a time when racist and anti-Semitic proclamations were often masked as patriotism and big business used the economic whirlwind of the war to crush the burgeoning labor movement. Hochschild, co-founder of the crusading magazine Mother Jones, doesn’t make the parallels to our current global political moment overly explicit, but they certainly enrich his fast-paced and richly detailed book of political and social history. American Midnight is an eye-opening reminder that “the good old days” were hardly great for everyone.
President Woodrow Wilson's call for the U.S. to enter WWI to make the world "safe for democracy" ironically set the stage for an unprecedented attack on Americans' civil liberties, according to this expert and eye-opening account. Historian Hochschild (Rebel Cinderella) notes that increasing numbers of immigrants from Italy, Eastern Europe, and Russia during the early 20th century provoked nativist resentments and violent attacks from Americans whose Protestant ancestors came from England and northwestern Europe. Even more common, however, was violence against coal miners, steel workers, and other laborers attempting to unionize. Hochschild documents how new laws ostensibly passed to protect America's national security, including the Espionage and Sedition Acts, were weaponized against the foreign born, labor activists, and pacifists. Though few records remain, Hochschild cites claims by one lawyer that between 1917 and 1921, 462 men and women were jailed by the federal government for a year or longer for their written or spoken words. He also documents outbreaks of racial violence, anarchist bombings, and the 1919 Palmer raids, which targeted the Union of Russian Workers. Meticulously researched, fluidly written, and frequently enraging, this is a timely reminder of the "vigilant respect for civil rights and Constitutional safeguards" needed to protect democracy and forestall authoritarianism.