The American Christ

He was a capitalist. He was an urban reformer. He was a country boy. He was “Comrade Jesus,” a hardworking socialist. He was the world’s first ad man. For a century and a half, novelists have been trying to recapture the “real” Jesus.

The two most popular novels in nineteenth-century America were Lew Wallace’s Ben Hur (1880) and Charles Sheldon’s In His Steps (1896). (In fact, Sheldon’s book remained the dominant twentieth-century best-seller right up until Peyton Place overtook it in the late 1950s.) Although the first of these two books is set in ancient Palestine and the second takes place in the contemporary American Midwest, they are dominated by the same central character, Jesus.Read more »

How Media Politics Was Born

To keep Upton Sinclair from becoming governor of California in 1934, his opponents invented a whole new kind of campaign

The American political campaign as we know it today was born on August 28, 1934, when Upton Sinclair, the muckraking author and lifelong socialist, won the Democratic primary for governor of California. Sinclair’s landslide primary victory left his opponents with only ten weeks until election day to turn back one of the strongest mass movements in the nation’s history.Read more »

George Orwell’s America

The author of ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ never set foot on our shores, but he had a clear and highly personal vision of what we were and what we had been

FOR A WHILE George Orwell thought of calling his novel about life in a totalitarian future The Last Man in Europe. But in the end that title didn’t quite satisfy him, and he chose another simply by reversing the last two digits of the year in which he finished the manuscript.Read more »

“as Warm A Heart As Ever Beat”

Gene Debs was America’s leading socialist, but just about everyone agreed he had

In the decades before the First World War he was the most dynamic, persuasive, and at the same time the most lovable figure that American Socialism had produced. He hated capitalism but could hate no man. Hoosier-born, he combined in his gangling person a rural nativist populism and the class-conscious zeal of the urban foreign-born worker.Read more »

A Season In Utopia

At Brook Farm a handful of gentle Bostonians launched a noble but short-lived experiment in communal living.

In the first week of April, 1841, some eight or ten thoughtful, cultivated Bostonians bundled their possessions, their children, and themselves into country-going carriages and drove eight miles to a pleasant, roomy homestead in West Roxbury. Their destination, then known as the Ellis Farm, was later to be called Brook Farm, a name they made famous as the most literary—and, in ways, the least fortunate—of American Utopias. This small band, led by Mr. and Mrs.Read more »