Editor’s note: This preview is excerpted from an article originally published by our friends at The New Criterion. We hope you enjoy!
Great Society: A New History is enjoyable and enlightening. Selecting stories as ably as she tells them, Amity Shlaes makes sense of the tumultuous 1960s by relating some of its most significant figures’ quests and clashes. Among her accomplishments is the rescuing from obscurity of men who shaped America’s modern political history and discourse, such as the labor leader Walter Reuther, the economist Arthur Burns, and the banker William McChesney Martin.
To fully appreciate Great Society, however, one must read (or re-read) Shlaes’s 2007 bestseller, The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression. That the books form a two-volume set is appropriate: because Lyndon Johnson was obsessed with Franklin Roosevelt, he shaped the Great Society to resemble, complete, and surpass his hero’s New Deal.
The New Deal was born of an unprecedented economic contraction, the Great Society of an unprecedented expansion. One might suppose, then, that these two domestic policy crusades would end up being very different. Shlaes, however, makes clear that it’s the similarities between the New Deal and the Great Society that are striking and important, and the reason for this continuity is that the same restless ideology—progressivism—animated both.