Critical Context (Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)
The Autobiography of Lincoln Steffens was an influential book in the 1930’s, providing all leftists, and Marxists in particular, with a way out of the American wilderness created by the prosperity of the 1920’s and the campaign of fear initiated by Attorney General Alexander Palmer. It remains important, even when more radical primers for revolution have been published.
It is first of all a lively history of the United States from 1895 to 1920, featuring vivid, unforgettable portraits of the famous men and women of the time, including Theodore Roosevelt, Wilson, J. P. Morgan, Clarence Darrow, and Tarbell. Further, readers are introduced to or reminded of persons once famous, perhaps now forgotten: reformers such as Charles Parkhurst, Joe Folk, and Brand Whitlock; political bosses such as Richard Croker of Tammany Hall, Matthew Quay, and Martin Lomasny; press barons such as S.S. McClure, E.W. Scripps, and William Randolph Hearst; writers such as Walter Lippmann, John Reed, and Finley Peter Dunne; radicals such as Emma Goldman, Big Bill Haywood, and Mabel Dodge; as well as international figures including Vladimir Ilich Lenin, Venustiano Carranza, and Benito Mussolini.
Beyond the personalities, however, this is the history of radicalism in the United States of Lincoln Steffens. The evolution of Steffens’ thinking parallels the movement of American liberalism from progressivism to socialism to communism. In The Autobiography of...
(The entire section is 523 words.)