The Autobiography of Lincoln Steffens Analysis

Lincoln Steffens

Form and Content

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

By the time that he completed The Autobiography of Lincoln Steffens, this veteran journalist had nearly forty years of experience in writing for newspapers and magazines with wide public appeal. Steffens organized his autobiography in an uncomplicated and direct way in order to reach as many readers as possible. The book is divided into five parts that are, in turn, subdivided into compact chapters that emphasize action and character description. The text also reprints relevant portions of articles written by Steffens. There are several photographs of important people in Steffens’ life, including his parents, several of his journalist colleagues such as Jacob Riis, and powerful government leaders such as Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Venustiano Carranza, and V. I. Lenin.

The first four parts of The Autobiography of Lincoln Steffens coincide with specific periods in the author’s life. For example, the section entitled “A Boy on Horseback” is a memoir of his youth in and around Sacramento, California, his college education at the University of California at Berkeley, and his postgraduate studies in Europe. “Seeing New York First” involves Steffens’ early work as a reporter, often in collaboration with Riis. He covered stories that involved the mighty and the meek—from interviews with Wall Street banker J. P. Morgan to conversations with the impoverished inhabitants of immigrant neighborhoods. In the third section,...

(The entire section is 410 words.)

Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

When The Autobiography of Lincoln Steffens was first published, it was a surprising commercial success. Produced in two volumes, totaling nearly nine hundred pages, Lincoln Steffens’ story is a tribute to evolutionary and revolutionary thinking. To a world experiencing a catastrophic economic depression, such an expansive (and expensive) treatise on the changing political and social theories of a journalist whose popularity had reached its zenith some twenty-five years earlier might be considered somewhat excessive. Yet the autobiography achieved for Steffens a paramount commercial triumph and, more important, a great critical success as well. Given Steffens’ undisputed talents as a chronicler of the American and international political scenes, the critical acclaim accorded The Autobiography of Lincoln Steffens could hardly have been unexpected. Even so, Steffens had long since arrived at the dubious honor of being too radical for the American journalism establishment and too philosophical for his socialist activist colleagues and friends. After World War I, he had found himself in a publishing no-man’s-land. The Autobiography of Lincoln Steffens served to restore Steffens to a place of honor among journalists and radicals and, moreover, affirmed his reputation as an important historian of the contemporary social and political picture.

Famed as a “muckraker”—to use Theodore Roosevelt’s colorful pejorative— and...

(The entire section is 581 words.)


(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Aaron, Daniel. Writers on the Left, 1961.

Filler, Louis. Crusaders for American Liberalism, 1939.

Filler, Louis. Progressivism and Muckraking, 1976.

Kaplan, Justin. Lincoln Steffens: A Biography, 1974.

Lasch, Christopher. The New Radicalism in America, 1965.

Stinson, Robert. Lincoln Steffens, 1979.

Tarbell, Ida. All in the Day’s Work, 1939.

Winter, Ella, and Herbert Shapiro, eds. The World of Lincoln Steffens, 1962.