America's Gilded Age: Intimate Portraits from an Era of Extravagance and Change, 1850-1890

Milton Rugoff, Author Henry Holt & Company $24.45 (374p) ISBN 978-0-8050-0852-4
The societal, cultural and technological upheavals in the U.S. that occurred from roughly the middle of the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th were influenced significantly by, and reflected in, the lives of the 36 people portrayed here. Starting with a mini-biography of troubled dreamer Horatio Alger, Rugoff ( The Beechers ) selects his subjects from a variety of fields: journalism, industry, religion, politics and the military. Social climbers and leaders of the inchoate women's rights movement are also represented. The format inhibits the depiction of fully satisfactory portraits, but the author nonetheless presents some interesting sketches, notably the sexual meanderings of Henry Ward Beecher, the haughty ambition of John C. Fremont and the staunch convictions of Sojourner Truth. Rugoff's thesis--that this era contained the seeds of many modern-day perils--is only vaguely supported at times, but his enchantment with the period, whether describing the financial manipulations of Jay Gould or the scandals of the Grant administration, is contagious. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 01/01/1989
Release date: 01/01/1989
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