Scott Sandage: His New Book on Losers

Historians in the News

Bob Thompson, in the Wash Post:

A year before his grandmother died, Scott Sandage sat down with a tape recorder and asked her to talk about her life. She told him how she used to hear her husband crying at night.

Sandage's grandfather was an immigrant kid whose parents pulled him out of school to work in the brickyards in Mason City, Iowa. Surviving the Depression as a traveling salesman, he then started making mattresses, one at a time. He made mattresses for 35 years, taking custom orders in a small shop, scraping by. He would tell his wife he felt like a failure -- I'm not smart enough to keep the family together; you graduated from high school, I didn't even graduate from grade school -- and she would always try to buck him up. Still, she would hear him weeping.

After telling this story, Sandage says, his grandmother was quiet for a long time.

Then she said: "He was a darn good man."

Sandage was 19 at the time. He went off to college, part of the first generation in his family to do so, and ended up as a historian at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. His book "Born Losers: A History of Failure in America" is out this month from Harvard University Press. A serious work of cultural history, built on a decade of research, "Losers" uses the stories of forgotten Americans to offer a new perspective on our conventional national narrative of striving and success.

Strip away the academic trappings, however, and "Born Losers" starts to look like something very different.

It's a self-help book for stressed-out Americans. The problem Sandage is trying to help us with is: Why are we never satisfied with the life we've got? Why do we always want more? ...

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Fred Leonard Dawes - 8/8/2005

That Is a Great story thank you.