"Most Americans first heard of Michael Harrington with the publication of The Other America, his seminal book on American poverty. Isserman expertly tracks Harrington's beginnings in the Catholic Worke"
As Isserman notes, along with Silent Spring and The Feminine Mystique, Michael Harrington's The Other America stood out in the early 1960s as a beacon illuminating a vital, neglected part of America's political landscape. Ironically, although his vocation was as a movement-builder, his book alone sparked no movement; it did swiftly result in policy--President Johnson's War on Poverty--though without the focus or level of funding found in European welfare states that Harrington, a former Catholic Worker turned socialist, argued was necessary. Decades later, several European socialist leaders reputedly believed that had he been European, he would have been a prime minister. But since he wasn't, his life was lived in surroundings too small for his gifts. Sectarian politics swallowed much of his energy in the 1950s, leaving organizational commitments and battle scars that crippled his potential to play a leading role in shaping the political movements of the 1960s. Remarkably, Harrington bounced back to achieve great success in the 1970s, with the Democratic Agenda movement, which crafted significant progressive planks in the Democratic Party platform. Isserman (If I Had a Hammer), a noted historian of the American Left, does an excellent job of drawing the reader in with Harrington's family background and early life, but there's too little exploration of his writing and of the conservative forces arrayed against him in the '70s and '80s for readers to fully appreciate the sweep and sophistication of his intellectual vision or his capacity to adapt. Still, this is a valuable and intriguing look at a major figure of the American left of enduring influence. 8 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW.