cover image The Most Exclusive Club: A History of the Modern United States Senate

The Most Exclusive Club: A History of the Modern United States Senate

Lewis L. Gould, . . Basic, $27.50 (402pp) ISBN 978-0-465-02778-1

The history of the U.S. Senate in the 20th century is one of evolution from a genteel debating society into a collection of bitterly partisan politicians, half of them seeming to eye runs for the White House as they joust for media coverage. As Gould, a historian at the University of Texas (Grand Old Party ) relates this disheartening history, a number of themes recur, including periodic battles over the filibuster (especially its use by Southern Democrats defending Jim Crow from the 1930s to the 1960s) and too many senators' chronic alcoholism, sexism and egomania. Inevitably, the book focuses on shifting institutional mores (such as the emergence of year-round fund-raising and campaigning after the advent of television) rather than the substance of policy debates. Gould's assessment of the Senate's historical performance is relatively bleak, noting that, for "protracted periods," it functioned "as a force to genuinely impede the nation's vitality and evolution." And he offers jaundiced assessments of the legacies of some men routinely described as giants of the Senate, such as Robert La Follette, Robert Taft and especially Richard Russell, the much admired six-term senator from Georgia, whose political gifts were deployed in the service of virulent racism. 20 b&w photos. Agent, Jim Hornfischer. (Nov.)