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Terry Golway

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For most Americans, Tammany Hall is a symbol of all that was dishonest, corrupt, illiberal, and venal about urban government and the political machines that ran it in the past, a shorthand for larceny on a grand scale. Not so, says Terry Golway. In his new book Machine Made: Tammany Hall and the Creation of Modern American Politics (Liveright, 2014) Golway argues that Tammany, a popular nickname for the Democratic organization of the County of New York (better known as Manhattan), introduced a “new politics” and a “new social contract” to America. Tammany, he shows, encouraged voters in an undemocratic republican era to look to accessible local figures for protection from the devastations of laissez-faire capitalism in a time before the safety net. Arguing that the Irish who escaped the potato famine brought with them lessons about the importance of power and the usefulness of “transactional” relationships between voters and elected officials, Golway believes that Tammany came to represent the modern way of practicing democracy: interest-based politics. While many of its flaws cannot not be denied, he writes, the popular narrative has also been shaped by the reformers of the past, who tended to mix their critiques with class-based fear and moralism, if not outright anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic, anti-urban sentiment. William “Boss” Tweed personifies the organization for most, although his reign lasted just two years. A better representative, Golway thinks, is Charles Murphy, the longest-running leader of the party chapter, and the man who nurtured the careers of two young legendary, nation-changing reformers, and proud Tammany men: Robert Wagner and Al Smith, forerunners and major architects of the New Deal.

Sure to stir a little debate, Golway’s book is revisionism in a good spirit.


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[Cross-posted from New Books in Genocide Studies] What is justice for a man who supervised the interrogation and killing of thousands?  Especially a man who now claims to be a Christian and to be, at least in some ways and cases, repentant for his crimes? Thierry Cruvellier has written a fascinating book about the trial of ‘Duch’ [...]

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October 29, 2014

[Cross-posted from New Books in East Asia Studies] Ken Brashier’s new book is another tour de force and must-read for scholars of Chinese studies. Public Memory in Early China (Harvard University Asia Center, 2014) offers a history of identity and public memory in early China. An extensive introductory chapter lays a foundation for the rest of the book by [...]

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Robert StolzBad Water: Nature, Pollution & Politics in Japan, 1870-1950

October 2, 2014

[Cross-posted from New Books in East Asian Studies] Robert Stolz’s new book explores the emergence of an environmental turn in modern Japan. Bad Water: Nature, Pollution & Politics in Japan, 1870-1950 (Duke University Press, 2014) guides readers through the unfolding of successive eco-historical periods in Japan. Stolz charts the transformations of an “environmental unconscious” lying at the foundation of [...]

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Kwasi KonaduTransatlantic Africa, 1440-1888

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[Cross-posted from New Books in East Asian Studies] Todd Henry’s new book is a wonderful study of public space as a laboratory for producing the experiences and engines of colonial society. Assimilating Seoul: Japanese Rule and the Politics of Public Space in Colonial Korea, 1910-1945 (University of California Press, 2014) explores the forms of spatialization of colonial Keij? as a [...]

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