cover image Dissent: The History of an American Idea

Dissent: The History of an American Idea

Ralph Young. New York Univ, $39.95 (640p) ISBN 978-1-4798-0665-2

Temple University historian Young (Dissent in America) delivers a doorstopper that few readers will ever want to misuse in such a manner; his clear and elegant style and a keen eye for good stories make it a page-turner. He takes an elastic view of the concept of dissent, presenting it as anything “going against the grain,” and by not focusing on ideas alone, is able to cover a lot of territory. The result is a work that establishes the “centrality of dissent in American history.” The Puritans had barely arrived in the New World—for their own dissenting religious purposes—when Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson began their agitation against civil and religious authority. Over time, dissent became so widespread and so deeply ingrained in American society that people who shared a cause—for instance, 19th-century advocates for women’s suffrage—disagreed among themselves about the nature and expression of their dissent. Progressive thinkers didn’t have a monopoly on dissent; the Ku Klux Klan arose “to preserve white supremacy,” and, in the 1970s, conservative Christians mobilized to counter 1960s liberalism. Young convincingly demonstrates that the history of the United States is inextricably linked to dissent and shows how “protest is one of the consummate expressions of ‘Americanness.’ ” Illus. [em](May) [/em]