Radical Beginnings

Richard Hofstadter and the 1930s

by Susan Stout Baker

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November 1985


Pages 268
Volumes 1
Size 5 1/2 x 8 1/2
Topics American History/General

This in-depth study draws on never-before-published early personal correspondence and interviews to trace Richard Hofstadter's early career from his family's background in Poland and Germany through his childhood, high school, and training years at the University of Buffalo and Columbia University. The political and educational influences of these years are introduced, as well as their effect on his writings. Hofstadter's development as a historian and the important influences which formed the basis for his orientation toward history and which served to integrate all his work into one coherent whole are also assessed.



Drawing upon a psychoanalytic framework, particularly Erik Erikson's identity theory, Baker explores Hofstadter's early years, links his intellectual development to his identity formation, and demonstrates how it provides a conceptual framework that underlaid his scholarship. Baker finds that Hofstadter's undergraduate days at the University of Buffalo and his graduate studies at Columbia contributed to a Marxist didactic of change to his intellectual outlook. She then proceeds to explore how this influenced his treatment of populism in The Age of Reform (1955), politics in Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (1963), and the Founding Fathers' resistance to the idea of a legitimate opposition in The Idea of a Party System. Thus Baker portrays Hofstadter as link between the concerns of the Old and New Left... Baker's study is an unparalleled achievement in biographical historiography that must be taken as a starting point in future assessments of Hofstadter's place in American historiography.—Choice


Choice Outstanding Academic Book, 1986

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