cover image Savage Peace: Hope and Fear in America, 1919

Savage Peace: Hope and Fear in America, 1919

Ann Hagedorn, . . Simon & Schuster, $30 (543pp) ISBN 978-0-7432-4371-1

Former Wall Street Journal staffer Hagedorn (Beyond the River ) makes a stylish entry into the history-of-a-year genre with this account of America in upheaval in the wake of WWI. In 1919, both the world and the U.S. were in need of reconstruction: soldiers returning from war needed jobs, and the influenza epidemic wasn't quite under control. Two threads Hagedorn follows are middle-class Americans' fear of Bolshevism, and the struggles of black Americans. U.S. Attorney-General Palmer instigated raids to try to root out leftist activists, and in what may have been "the State Department's first official interference in African-American politics," the agency denied black Americans' request for passports to travel to France and speak to the Paris Peace Conference about racial equality. In a year rife with lynchings in the Deep South, W.E.B. Du Bois, who had urged black Americans to shelve their grievances and fight the Germans, now argued that blacks, having served the nation, deserved to be accorded civil rights. Still, some exciting cultural developments presaged the roaring '20s: F. Scott Fitzgerald's star rose, and the nation's first dial telephones were installed in Norfolk, Va. This vivid account of a nation in tumult and transition is absorbing, and the nexus of global and national upheaval is chillingly relevant. (Apr.)