Friday, December 9, 2011

Book Review: 1948 by David Pietrusza (Union Square Press, 2011)

Could David Pietrusza's latest campaign history be falling victim to the "Law of Diminishing Election Returns"? 1920 was superb; 1960, a bit less satisfying, but still very enjoyable. With the '48 election's dramatic historical backdrop -- the earliest stirrings of the Cold War and the civil rights movement, the nation's ungainly postwar stumbles back to full prosperity, the birth of Israel and the "Red Scare" -- and four-candidate field, Pietrusza should have had no trouble at all fashioning a compelling narrative here. The book, however, seems unfocused at the start, jumping from point to point in time in a most jarring manner. Not until the conventions and the campaign itself does Pietrusza really get a grip on the goings-on. Even then, the author fails to deliver a coherent explanation of why, exactly, 1948 "transformed America" (or, as the inside title page puts it, "transformed America's role in the world"; some editors at Union Square apparently weren't talking to one another as this book went to press). In that respect, 1948 falls short of Zachary Karabell's earlier work, THE LAST CAMPAIGN, which had fewer zingy anecdotes but a considerably stronger theme.

If Pietrusza is planning another campaign tome, I'd suggest he tackle 1968 -- and pay attention to what he did better in his two previous books.

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