Alan Brinkley: A Life in History

by David Greenberg

Columbia University Press 
2019 / hardcover / ISBN 9780231187244
232 pages / History

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Few American historians of his generation have had as much influence in both the academic and popular realms as Alan Brinkley. His debut work, the National Book Award–winning Voices of Protest, launched a storied career that considered the full spectrum of American political life. His books give serious and original treatments of populist dissent, the role of mass media, the struggles of liberalism and conservatism, and the powers and limits of the presidency. A longtime professor at Harvard University and Columbia University, Brinkley has shaped the field of U.S. history for generations of students through his textbooks and his mentorship of some of today’s foremost historians.

Alan Brinkley: A Life in History brings together essays on his major works and ideas, as well as personal reminiscences from leading historians and thinkers beyond the academy whom Brinkley collaborated with, befriended, and influenced. Among the luminaries in this volume are the critic Frank Rich, the journalists Jonathan Alter and Nicholas Lemann, the biographer A. Scott Berg, and the historians Eric Foner and Lizabeth Cohen. Together, the seventeen essays that form this book chronicle the life and thought of a working historian, the development of historical scholarship in our time, and the role that history plays in our public life. At a moment when Americans are pondering the plight of their democracy, this volume offers a timely overview of a consummate student—and teacher—of the American political tradition.

“A marvelous and moving tribute to a historian who changed our understanding of political history and of the twentieth century. The book is testimony to the way he touched so many minds and hearts.”

Drew Gilpin Faust, Harvard University

“A beautiful tribute to one of the great historians of our time. His students and friends offer powerful essays about how Columbia’s Alan Brinkley profoundly influenced the field of American political history and how that field can help us understand the political struggles of the twentieth century.”

Julian E. Zelizer, Princeton University

Alan Brinkley: A Life in History is full of personal insight and historical perspective. The essays and reflections don’t just bring to life a man of remarkable talent and extraordinary modesty, but reveal how the field of political history has evolved over the past four decades. Scholarly yet accessible, it will be of interest to both historians and general readers. A wonderful book.”

Steven Gillon, University of Oklahoma

“This superb volume offers readers a deeply revealing portrait of Alan Brinkley, the leading modern American political historian of his generation. In sparkling prose, his students, colleagues, friends, and family explore Brinkley’s brilliant perspective on the history of our times, illuminating the man and the nation to which he has devoted his life’s work.”

Ellen Fitzpatrick, University of New Hampshire

“It is a rare pleasure to read this collection of essays on Alan Brinkley and his work. The authors and editors have done a wonderful service to all of us who study American history, with a book that affords its readers the chance not only to marvel at Brinkley’s remarkable mind and incomparably decent character but also to consider what sort of person becomes a great historian.”

Eric Rauchway, University of California, Davis