Age of Betrayal
The Triumph of Money in America, 1865-1900
By Jack Beatty
(Knopf, Hardcover, 9781400040285, 512pp.)
Publication Date: April 10, 2007
Other Editions of This Title: Paperback
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A brilliant reconsideration of the Gilded Age in America, when an oligarchy of wealth triumphed over democracy, when dreams of freedom and equality died of their impossibility. Jay Gould, the “Mephisto of Wall Street,” never runs for office, but he rules. This was his time (and John D. Rockefeller’s and Andrew Carnegie’s), and this was his country.
At the end of the Civil War, with the rebellion put down and slavery ended, America belonged to Lincoln’s “plain people.” But “government of the people” and economic democracy were betrayed by political parties that fanned memories of the war to distract Americans from government of the corporation.
Synthesizing the research of a new generation of scholars, Jack Beatty gives us a fresh look at the “revolution from above” of industrialization that forged modern America. In Age of Betrayal, Supreme Court justices turn the Fourteenth Amendment’s promise of “equal protection of the laws” to the freed slave into the shield of the corporate “person.” The presidents of the Pennsylvania and Southern Pacific railroads engage in a bidding war for congressmen. A depression brought on by railroad speculation throws millions out of work, the hungry riot for bread in Buffalo, the homeless sleep on Chicago’s streets, “tramps” are arrested, strikers are shot, and the nation’s presidents avert their eyes.
In the 1890s the Populist revolt from below challenges the revolution from above. Entrepreneurial capitalism ends in the early 1900s, as 1,800 giant firms are compacted into 157 behemoths. God instructs President McKinley to invade Cuba and seize the Philippines from Spain; turning from liberators to occupiers, U.S. troops slaughter and starve the (Roman Catholic) Filipinos in the name of “Christianizing” them. In perpetrating this “infamy,” William James cries out, “We have puked up our traditions”—revealing how these sordid decades had remade us.
A passionate, gripping, often shocking history of wealth over commonwealth—thirty-five years of American history in which we see the reflection of today’s gilded age.
Jack Beatty is a senior editor at The Atlantic Monthly and news analyst for On Point, a National Public Radio news and public affairs program. He is the author of The Rascal King, winner of an American Book Award, as well as the editor of Colossus: How the Corporation Changed America. He lives in Hanover, New Hampshire.
“The passion infusing Beatty’s critical history originates less in the past than in the present; his indignation at the earlier age of betrayal shines through as an impassioned indictment of what he sees as our current one . . . excellent historical analysis.”
“A thrillingly eloquent polemic, savage in its denunciations.”
-Mark Lewis, The New York Times Book Review
“An ambitious and politically charged work . . . Beatty is skilled at connecting unlikely dots and revealing unintended consequences.”
-Carlos Lozada, The Washington Post Book World
“Passionate . . . vivid.”
-The Washington Times
“[Full of] clarity, passion, and a fine sense of drama . . . engaging, responsible, and compelling book.”
-The San Diego Union Tribune
“Conveys the opinions and outrage of an essayist mourning the lost opportunity to create a fair and open society.”
-Christian Science Monitor
“Readers will immediately be impressed by the range of subject matter [Beatty] can handle . . . [they] will also find a narrative that is absorbing in its detail and refreshingly uncompromising in its perspective.”
-Boston Sunday Globe
“Illuminated and enlivened by its author’s eye for the telling detail . . . stirring . . . a tour de force of legal analysis . . . relentless . . . this ability to hot-wire our history to the here and now is what gives “Age of Betrayal” its distinctive bite.”
-The Los Angeles Times
“[The Guilded Age is] brought to life in this book by the author’s political passion and narrative power.”
-The Washington Monthly
“Well-researched [and] interesting . . . One of the most enjoyable aspects is Beatty’s ability to write playfully without becoming saccharine.”
“Angry and insightful . . . meticulously researched.”
-The Daily News
“The NPR pundit’s lively interpretation of the era should engage those interested in social and economic history.”
-Booklist (April 1, 2007)