Herbert Croly’s The Promise of American Life may be the most influential book nobody has heard of. Well, that may be an overstatement. Obviously, historians take the book seriously, as do scholars of political science, government, and public policy. But Croly’s magnum opus is hard to read, repetitive, and obscure. It does not seem, at first reading, to be a passionate manifesto for the reinvention of America so much as a meandering essay about the history of our democracy. Croly never uses one sentence when four sentences will do, or, for that matter, a page when a...
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