The Inheritance: How Three Families and America Moved from Roosevelt to Reagan and Beyond

Samuel G. Freedman, Author Simon & Schuster $27 (464p) ISBN 978-0-684-81116-1
Freedman--a former New York Times reporter and author of two reportorial gems, Small Victories (focusing on an innovative Manhattan teacher) and Upon This Rock (about a popular black church in Brooklyn)--here turns to a broader canvas with an impressive grasp of detail and a feeling for his subject that, in this election year, should finally win him the wider audience his earlier books also deserved. Combining sociology with political science and a good deal of old-fashioned city-room legwork, Freedman follows three generations of three very different working-class immigrant families as they progress from being FDR Democrats to Gingrich-era activist Republicans. The approach may remind some of Anthony Lucas's Pulitzer Prize-winning Common Ground, but this is a more immediate, more personal account, one that only rarely steps back from its close-ups of the families to present a broader picture. The result is a series of unforgettable portraits and a vividly individual history of America in the second half of the 20th century. One family is Irish, another Italian. Both of them settled in New York City or its environs. The third is Polish and settled in Baltimore. With its emphasis on trade unions and politics on the precinct level, and its underlying theme that the reality of the New Deal is being forgotten by both parties, this is a skillful and artful account of how we got where we are. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 09/02/1996
Release date: 09/01/1996
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