The all-time favorite history books of the New Republic's John B. Judis

Historians in the News

very year someone asks me to compile a list of that year's best books, and every year (except one) I have refused. I don't read enough current books to offer an educated opinion. But there are books that I occasionally recommend to my friends and colleagues--sometimes to the point where they become exasperated with me. ("Not that Sklar book again," Jonathan Chait exclaims.) This year, I thought that, in lieu of continuing to harass them, I would list some of my favorites here--with an emphasis on subjects I know something about and books that are no longer well known, or even well thought of. Here they are in no particular order.

• Up until thirty years ago, American historians regularly attempted to capture the thrust of our history. Some of the best efforts came in the decades after World War II when historians were trying to reconcile America's commitment to democracy with its rejection of socialism and embrace of racism and America's rejection of imperialism with its support for an aggressive expansionism. My two favorites are Louis Hartz's The Liberal Tradition in America and William Appleman Williams's The Contours of American History. Hartz was a less felicitous writer than Richard Hofstadter but had a more profound grasp of America's enduring liberalism. Williams became best known for his revisionist views of American foreign policy, but Contours, which explains America's shift from mercantile to laissez-faire to corporate-liberal nation, is his most important book.

• I am a godless, non-practicing Jew who has always been fascinated by the Christian roots of American history and foreign policy. Perry Miller's Errand Into the Wilderness (particularly the lead essay) got me started years ago, but I am a big fan of Ernest Tuveson's Redeemer Nation (the best book on Americans' conception of themselves as a chosen people), William G. McLoughlin's Revivals, Awakenings, and Reform, Nathan Hatch's The Sacred Cause of Liberty (where he introduces the idea of civil millennialism), and Richard Fox's biography of Reinhold Niebuhr....

[Judis goes on to cite Ronald Steel's Walter Lippmann biography, Lou Cannon's biography of Ronald Reagan, President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime, Perry Miller, C. Vann Woodward, Eric Foner et al.]

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