It’s not every day — it’s not every year — that a book appears that upends all the guiding historical views of the age. Then again, Jon Grinspan’s The Age of Acrimony is that rare disturbance in the waters of the historiography of 19th-century America. It is an engaging, inviting, and ultimately disruptive story of what happened between the assassination of Lincoln and the sinking of the Lusitania, though neither really serves as a bookend to Grinspan’s argument ... Grinspan offers us two books crammed into one hardcover binding ... There are times when the Kelley story seems a digression, but then again there were historical digressions aplenty in that era. Suffice it to say that their passage serviceably illuminates the country’s — from blustery winds of partisanship to more gentle (and genteel) breezes of reform that in time define the country even as they upend the nature of what it is to be an American in a broad half-century period ... Overall, Grinspan delivers a compelling look at America in this period, devoid of the clichés and cloying generalizations of textbook history.
... isn’t a detailed narrative of the era’s political struggles or a political-science thesis with tables and graphs. The wondrous profusion of technological innovation and economic growth of the late 19th century is touched on, but without the robotic denunciations of 'robber barons' that permeate so many historians’ accounts. Mr. Grinspan’s focus is on practical politics, which in this period meant mass politics—the highest rates of voter turnout and mass participation in the nation‘s history.
... brisk, edifying ... A political-history curator at the Smithsonian, Grinspan enlists a large cast of tenacious optimists and mercurial opportunists. Together, their biographies illuminate a half-century of strife and grudging reform ... Reconstruction, the Gilded Age, the Jim Crow South and the Progressive Era already have their definitive texts, and this relatively modest book won't displace them. But Grinspan has skillfully assembled a roster of memorable personalities who embody some of the era's vicissitudes.