The Federal Writers' Project was a division of the Works Progress Administration founded in 1935 to employ jobless writers, from once-bestselling novelists and acclaimed poets to the more dubiously qualified. Scott Borchert's Republic of Detours tells the story of this undertaking by delving into the experiences of key figures and tracing the FWP from its optimistic early days to its dismemberment by the House Committee on Un-American Activities.
... impressive ... Borchert’s survey is absorbing from beginning to end and impeccably researched and written; it neglects neither telling details nor big-picture conclusions, and it lets each of its central figures come alive on the page. I have only three quibbles: I wish it had devoted more space to Kellock, the guides’ intrepid editor; included even a cursory list of the project’s publications [...] and quoted more material from the guides themselves.
... engaging ... a lively chronicle of the rambunctious years of the FWP ... Borchert has produced an essential road map [...] Republic of Detours is a lively history of the project and its writers, but it offers something even more valuable: a lesson in the organizational challenges and poisonous politics that eventually doomed the FWP not in spite of its best intentions, but because of them.
... as inviting, compelling, comprehensive, and endearingly quirky as the volumes it celebrates and explains ... Borchert’s brilliant account of how Representative Martin Dies Jr., whose chairmanship of the House Un-American Affairs Committee won him historical opprobrium, took on — or more, precisely, attempted to take down — the project is a discordant coda to the surprise symphony of the American Guides series.