Ruling America: A History of Wealth and Power in a Democracy, Edited by Steve Fraser and Gary Gerstle

Article excerpt

Americans are a people who have a notoriously difficult time speaking about class. When they do, they usually invoke value-laden terms like "welfare mothers," "society matrons," and "elites" as synonyms for such basic and fundamental concepts as "rich" and "poor." Given the facts that most low-income people never speak about themselves in such pejorative ways, and that Republicans are frequently fond of invoking the term "elite" to deride their liberal opponents, it's not hard to figure out who it is that really defines how Americans discuss economic inequality.

In Ruling America, editors Steve Fraser and Gary Gerstle have gathered together a number of eye-opening articles that examine how America's elites have historically exercised control over the country's economic, social, and cultural life. Taken individually, these essays provide a wealth of historical detail and information about each privileged group.

The major strength of this anthology, however, is its brilliantly assembled structure. Set in chronological order, starting with an essay examining colonial elites, Ruling America traces the rise and fall of each group that has attempted to rule the United States against 250 years of history, political and economic struggles, and social changes. Historical periods overlap when the fall of one dominant group gives rise to another. As the exigencies of democracy bring one down, the next steps in to exercise its prerogatives and assume hegemony. …


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