Jackson Lears

Teddy Roosevelt, Not-So-Great Reformer
What Washington-focused liberals miss about Progressivism
March 14, 2014

The liberal consensus is that Teddy Roosevelt was a great progressive. But his popularity makes it hard to see an alternative: progressivism with power not in the hands of corporate managers, or oligarchs. 

Piety and Plenty: The Buying and Selling of Christmas
December 24, 2012

A Christmas Story: the history of the commodification of Christmas.

The Mormon Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism
October 19, 2012

How the revelation to Joseph Smith led to Bain Capital.

A Boy’s Own Story
April 07, 2011

Colonel Roosevelt By Edmund Morris (Random House, 766 pp., $35)  I. The reputation of Theodore Roosevelt has become as bloated as the man himself. No one of course can deny his fundamental significance in American history, as a central player in the transitions from republic to empire, laissez-faire to regulated capitalism, congressional government to imperial presidency. It should come as no surprise that professional historians still pay close attention to his career. What is surprising is the cult-like status that Roosevelt enjoys outside the academy, especially in Washington.

The Gospel According to Luce
July 23, 2010

The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century By Alan Brinkley (Knopf, 531 pp., $35) I. Sometimes human beings bring sociological theory to life. Consider the career of Henry Luce. A child of Presbyterian missionaries in China, he pursued wealth and power with unremitting zeal, creating the media empire that dominated American journalism for much of the twentieth century: Time, Inc. Yet Luce never lost touch with his didactic origins, never abandoned the conviction that his magazines should teach Americans the right way of thinking about the world.

The Usefulness of Cranks
September 30, 2009

Paradise Found: Nature in America at the Time of Discovery By Steve Nicholls (University of Chicago Press, 524 pp., $30) American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau Edited by Bill McKibben (Library of America, 1,047 pp., $40) Defending The Master Race: Conservation, Eugenics, And The Legacy Of Madison Grant By Jonathan Peter Spiro (University of Vermont Press, 462 pp., $39.95) A Passion for Nature: The Life of John Muir By Donald Worster (Oxford University Press, 535 pp., $34.99) A Reenchanted World: The Quest for A New Kinship With Nature By James William Gibson (Metropolitan Books,

America the Exceptional
July 26, 2004

The Creation of the Media: The Political Origins of Modern Communications By Paul Starr (Basic Books, 484 pp., $27.50)   I. For centuries, Americans have been telling themselves that their nation is not like any other. The most influential version of this notion, stretching back to Puritan times, asserts that the United States has a divinely scripted role to play in the sacred drama of world history. This providentialist fantasy has done no end of mischief: serving as a religious sanction for raw power, justifying the export of American ways--by force if necessary--to a recalcitrant world.

Fighting Words
September 09, 2002

The Language of War: Literature and Culture in the U.S. From the Civil War Through World War II by James Dawes (Harvard University Press, 300 pp., $39.95) "The real war," Walt Whitman wrote soon after Appomattox, "will never get in the books." In "The Wound Dresser" and other poems, Whitman tried to transcribe his Civil War experience in a Washington hospital, where he tended the dismembered and the dying. But he sensed that there was something new about the carnage of modern war, something that resisted literary convention and ultimately language itself. He was not alone.