Wilentz’s verdict, fortified by examples from Jefferson to Jefferson Davis, and from Grover Cleveland presumably through the conventions in July: Partisanship is not only good, it is also productive. Who knew? ... In the course of all this Wilentz sets forth a provocative idea that may provide vital perspective to the politics of this very year.
I wish Wilentz had made his point with greater modesty. The subtitle of his book includes the word 'hidden' and the first sentence the word 'secrets,' as if Wilentz alone sees clearly what is obscure to everyone else. Yet the 'keys' to understanding American politics he uncovers are strikingly mundane: Political parties are important, and so is economic inequality ... The oddity here is that if Wilentz really believes that 'the issue of economic equality has been the great perennial question in American political history,' and if he also wishes to develop in his audience an appreciation for our political parties, why would he tackle those themes with a string of loosely stitched, previously published essays, many of them book reviews?
Wilentz finds in America’s founding a deep commitment to egalitarianism, and while this engrossing and deeply enriching book is both history and argument, much of it is devoted to the long struggle for that equality that John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Paine, and a surprising number of the Founders embraced, at least rhetorically ... Unless you’re a professional scholar, much of what Wilentz describes will be like discovering a rich new dessert ... he wants you to understand is that Hillary Clinton was right: Social movements are important in establishing awareness of problems and a demand for solutions. But the solutions come not merely from demands but from effective political action...That point having been made, however, Wilentz's further argument — his case for stronger parties — begins to slip.