THE GREAT TAX WARS: Lincoln to Wilson: The Fierce Battles over Money and Power That Transformed the Nation

Steven R. Weisman, Author . Simon & Schuster $27 (432p) ISBN 978-0-684-85068-9

Must the story of taxes be taxing? Apparently not. Weisman, a New York Times editorial writer, turns the usually leaden story of income taxes, tariffs, wealth redistribution and the politics of finance into an educational and readable tale. He starts, as he must, with the Civil War income tax, and progresses through the Gilded Age and the years of Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Wilson and Taft to the 16th Amendment of 1913, which gave sanction to income taxes after the Supreme Court had outlawed them. While the story is a serious one, tax battles gave rise to much laughable drivel, which Weisman reports with delicious relish. Sometimes, however, his overattention to detail obscures his focus, such as in his discussion of the economics of the Civil War, and he slights the states, where many innovations in taxes were born. In choosing color over analysis, he misses opportunities to ask important questions, such as why the Confederacy, claiming distinctiveness as well as independence from the North, implemented Northern-style taxes. What Weisman does make clear is that since 1920, the debate over the income tax ("one of the most important progressive achievements in the making of modern America") has never strayed far from the question of tax rates. It's hard to see how we'll ever escape that debate, he says, because it arises from different conceptions of the nation's promise. This is an important, relevant and well-written story, even if, in the end, it may prove not quite satisfactory to serious historians. Agent, Amanda Urban.(Sept. 12)

Reviewed on: 06/24/2002
Release date: 09/01/2002
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 432 pages - 978-0-7432-4381-0
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