Age of Betrayal is a brilliant reconsideration of America's first Gilded Age, when war-born dreams of freedom and democracy died of their impossibility. Focusing on the alliance between government and railroads forged by bribes and campaign contributions, Jack Beatty details the corruption of American political culture that, in the words of Rutherford B. Hayes, transformed “a government of the people, by the people, and for the people” into “a government by the corporations, of the corporations, and for the corporations.” A passionate, gripping, scandalous and sorrowing history of the triumph of wealth over commonwealth.
Atlantic Monthly editor Beatty (The Rascal King) clearly invokes a comparison with the present in writing of how, he says, corporations, not the people, ruled America in the Gilded Age. He examines the role of the railroads as the engine of capitalism, the role of protectionist tariffs in raising prices for the common man and how "representative government gave way to bought government." But Beatty ignores the latest literature on that period by the likes of Charles R. Morris, Maury Klein, David Nasaw and David Cannadine. Instead, the post Civil War industrial boom depicted by Beatty mimics that described by the now largely discredited Matthew Josephson author in the 1930s of The Robber Barons whose works Beatty cites. Beatty also references other now-marginalized class-warrior historians, such as Gustavus Myers, in portraying capitalism as a sort of zero-sum game where a dollar pocketed by one individual is inevitably a buck stolen from someone else, overlooking the notion of visionary entrepreneurs creating a surging tide of capital upon which all boats rise. Beatty's view of history seems guided by his liberal impulses and his disillusioned view of American democracy today not the best way to approach history. B&w illus.