In his sweeping account, Kazin takes a big step back to see a way forward, searching for clues to Democrats’ successes and failures over the last 200 years. It is an illuminating shift of perspective for Democrats now transfixed by internal struggles and dispirited by their grim prospects in this year’s midterm elections ... This is not a new line of argument, but Kazin provides rich historical context for a longstanding debate about Democratic priorities that today can often seem shortsighted and shallow ... Kazin brings the care of a scholar to a big subject, but he also has a storyteller’s gift for making it accessible. He paints lively portraits of standout figures ... He is upfront about his own partisan leanings ... not a cheerleading history that air-brushes the party’s dark side ... Kazin’s engaging history is a welcome turn to broader questions about the Democratic Party’s purpose and strategy, which have been overshadowed of late by Democrats’ legislative preoccupations.
... very fine ... captures that hard core of pragmatism embedded in what he notes is 'the oldest mass party in the world' ... Kazin’s exploration of this ideological tenet is rich and nuanced, but he’s too careful a historian not to cover numerous party efforts that don’t really fit the bill ... While powerfully evoking this lost organizational world, Kazin doesn’t quite do justice to the substantive coherence of nineteenth-century Democrats’ twinned commitments to white popular democracy and racial subjugation. He is, to be sure, careful to keep the party’s racism, from Jackson onward, at center stage...But he treats the racism more as a residual, contradictory shortcoming than a constitutive element of the party’s political project ... Kazin’s account of the Democrats’ post-’70s travails blends a critical tone with a reticence to make concrete claims about who was responsible or what alternative paths were plausible—a frustrating combination ... Did Jesse Jackson’s innovative, hard-edged presidential campaigns in 1984 and 1988, to which Kazin devotes some richly moving pages, offer the key to a different political world in their articulation of a new kind of multicultural economic populism? Kazin doesn’t say, just as he skirts the edge of agreement with internal Democratic critics concerning the allegedly baleful influence of 'identity politics' without quite committing to it ... a rich but accessible book. Kazin shows great instincts throughout for discerning which specific cases to zoom in on and which historical actors to foreground, all in service of his core argument. And he ends his narrative in a tone of sober uncertainty that, at least as it concerns the party’s trajectory, nicely matches the moment.
... a wonderfully detailed record of the Democratic Party, from its beginnings to the present ... Kazin captures the successes and failures, personalities, and intersections with movements that continue to shape an ever-evolving nation. While noting party-defining transformations over time, Kazin honestly and forthrightly frames the party’s achievements, but also its contradictions, imperfections, and blemishes, especially regarding its nascent views on slavery, women’s rights, and the rights and land of Native Americans ... Accomplishments and flaws continue and will be debated for years to come, especially in this turbulent political climate, but Kazin’s account is an unvarnished and illuminating look at the past and potential future of a political party that endures.