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The American Gilded Age and The Populist and Progressive Era
Reading Group

This is a friendly group of people interested in reading great books about the American Gilded Age and The Populist and Progressive Eras c.1877 to 1920. It includes the American World War I home-front.

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Thank you for your interest.

Reading Table of Contents

Prologue and Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7

Our Current Book and Reading

Current Book Reading Schedule :: Week and Chapter

  1. Prologue: The Capitalist Revolution and Chapter 1: Speculation as Martial Art

    Thought Questions:
    - What factors after 1860 contributed to the Capitalist Revolution?
    - How did access to information become preeminent on Wall Street?
    - How did the development of transportation and communication infrastructure development change the United States after 1860?
    - How did government respond to the Capitalist Revolution after the end of the Civil War?
    - What role did patriarchy play in the development of American Capitalism?

    Brief Biography of Andrew Carnegie
    Brief Biography of Daniel Drew
    Brief Biography of John D. Rockefeller
    Brief Biography of J.P. Morgan
    Brief Biography of Jay Cooke
  2. Chapter 2: One Nation Under Rails

    Thought Questions
    - Describe the controversy over internal improvements and how it was resolved for the transcontinental railroad.
    - How were the Central Pacific and Union Pacific organized and how did they complete the transcontinental railroad?
    - How did California and Civil War politics effect the transcontinental railroad?
    - What role did Chinese immigrants play in creating the transcontinental railroad?
    - How did the transcontinental railroad effect relations with Native Americans in California?
    - How did the transcontinental railroad effect relations with the Great Plains Indians?
    - What similar and unique circumstances did the Union Pacific and Central Pacific face?
    - What was the general plan for development along the route of the railroad?

    Optional Supplemental Reading
    - Begin Reading Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
    (We will be reading Leaves of Grass until the end of American Colossus)
  3. Chapter 3: The First Triumvirate

    Thought Questions
    - How were the steel, oil and financial industries connected and how did this connect their respective capitalists?
    - How did each of the Triumvirate use knowledge as power?
    - How do the relationships between the centers around the triumvirates reflect the broader developing relationships between finance and industrial capitalism?
    - How did risk factor into the plans of each of the triumvirate?
    - How did the Carnage and Rockefeller empires reflect horizontal and vertical industrial consolidation/integration?
    - What was a "Trust" and how and why did it develop?
    - Describe the "Oil War" and the formation of the Standard Oil Company
    - What role did religion and philosophy play in the personal lives and business practices of the triumvirate?

    Vertical integration - The Economist
    What is the difference between horizontal integration and vertical integration?
    Horizontal Integration

    Optional Supplemental Reading
    - Continue Reading Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
    (We will be reading Leaves of Grass until the end of American Colossus)
  4. Chapter 4: Toil and Trouble

    Thought Questions
    - How did the industrial and capitalist revolution effect the value of labor and develop a working class in the United States?
    - How did the change in working conditions and patterns effect American society?
    - What were the environmental and human conditions of coal mining and how did this evolve over time?
    - What were the names coal miners gave to different types of gases in the mine?
    - What was the Avondale Mine disaster?
    - How did monopoly capitalism effect working conditions for primary and secondary labor pools that served various industries?
    - What was the Long Strike and who were the Molly Maguires?
    - How did ethnic and religious animosities effect working class solidarity?
    - Who were Allan Pinkerton and James McParlan?
    - How did the railroad industry impact labor management and unions?
    - What was the false equivalence of dividends and wages that developed in industrial warfare?
    - How did management use violence to control labor? How did labor use violence to impact management?
    - How did the government use violence to control the working class and what difficulties did they face in using force?

    Optional Supplemental Reading
    - Continue Reading Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
    (We will be reading Leaves of Grass until the end of American Colossus)
  5. Chapter 5 :: The Conquest of the South

    Thought Questions
    - How was the question of the balance of power a factor at the end of the civil war - for both American and state institutions?
    - How did the issue of class effect the development of the balance of power in the United States? (South and North: Freed Slaves, Free Working Blacks and Whites and Planters)
    - How did attitudes towards race change in the Northern and Southern states? How would the Western migration effect issues of race?
    - In what ways did the issue of land and economic stability effect freed blacks at the end of the war?
    - Who was J.T. Throwbridge and what insight do we gain from him?
    - What were "Black Codes" and how did they develop and how do they evolve?
    - How were Black Codes in the North different from Black Codes in the South?
    - In what ways did southerns continue to resist capitalism as an economic system after the war?
    - In what ways was the South successful in creating a communal feudalism to replace slavery and repress capitalism?
    - Compare and contrast how the communal feudalism that developed in the south effected white and black labor?

    Response / Thought Quotes
    - “Slavery is receiving by irresistible power the work of another man, and not by his consent. The freedom, as I understand it, promised by the proclamation, is taking us from under the yoke of bondage and placing us where we can reap the fruit of our own labor, and take care of ourselves and assist the government in maintaining our freedom.”
    - "Sherman was one of the many Northerners—starting with Lincoln and running far down the chain of command—whose views on the race question changed dramatically during the course of the war."
    - "This is not the condition of really free men. You ask us to forgive the landowners of our island. You only lost your right arm in the war, and might forgive them. The man who tied me to a tree and gave me 39 lashes, who stripped and flogged my mother and sister and who will not let me stay in his empty hut except I will do his planting and be satisfied with this price, and who combines with others to keep away land from me, well knowing I would not have anything to do with him"
    - “I had been a wild boy before the war,” he told Trowbridge. “I had plenty of money with no restrictions upon my spending it. But I tell you, I was never so happy in my life as when I was at work for my living in that store. My employer liked me, and trusted me, and I liked the people.”
    - “If you will write and say what wages you will give me, I will be better able to decide whether it would be to my advantage to move back again.”

    Primary Sources
    Up from Slavery: An Autobiography by Booker T. Washington
    Sherman's Field Order No. 15
    The Desolate South, 1865-1866 by John T. Trowbridge
    Mississippi Black Code - November 1865
    North Carolina Black Code - 1866

    Booker T. Washington Brief Biography
    Sherman's Field Order No. 15

    An interesting book demonstrating the complexity of race in this transformative era is Black and Brown: African Americans and the Mexican Revolution, 1910-1920 by Gerald Horne

    Optional Supplemental Reading
    - Continue Reading Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
    (We will be reading Leaves of Grass until the end of American Colossus)
  6. Chapter 6 :: Lakota's Last Stand

    Thought Questions
    - In what ways did the end of the Civil War effect the relationship between the sectional regions - North and South with the West?
    - What does the author mean when he says the west has always been a "comparative concept"?
    - How did the settlement of the post civil war West reflect capitalist development? Does the author overstate this point?
    - Briefly describe an outline of Sioux history from colonial contact to the end of the Civil War? How did the end of the Civil War effect the Sioux?
    - What was the Sand Creek Massacre and how did the response to it symbolize the American Indian policy?
    - Who was Red Cloud and how did he oppose assimilation and fight the destruction of Native Americans?
    - What was the Fort Laramie Pact and how did it impact Native American polities?
    - What role did Grant, Sherman and other American officers perform in the Plains Indian genocides?
    - In what ways did migrant settlers participate in and benefit from the Plains Indian genocides?
    - Who were Crazy Horse and Sitting bull and what motivated their conflict settlers and the Army?
    - What role did Civil War debt and government financing play in the conquest of the Black Hills?
    - What was Black Elk's vision?
    - What forces contributed to the destruction of the plains Buffalo and what consequences would this have on Native Americans?

    Response / Thought Quotes
    - "When the Cheyennes and Arapahos expressed their desire for peace with the whites, Evans balked. “What shall I do with the Third Colorado Regiment if I make peace?” he demanded of an officer who thought the governor ought to accept the Indians’ proposal. “They have been raised to kill Indians, and they must kill Indians.” Chivington was even more emphatic. “Kill all the Indians you come across,” he ordered his soldiers. Nor did he except women and children. “Nits make lice,” he explained to a Denver audience."
    - "Black Elk was old enough to mutilate an enemy but young enough to want his mother to be the first to know about it."

    - Brief Biography: Red Cloud
    - Brief Biography: Sitting Bull
    - Brief Biography: Crazy Horse
    - Brief Biography: Black Elk

    Primary Sources
    - Treaty of Fort Laramie (1868)
  7. Week 7 :: Chapter 7: Profits on the Hoof - American Colossus by H.W. Brands

    Thought Questions
    - How was the Cattle Industry similar to non-animal capitalist industries?
    - In what ways did "Cattle culture" create a shared border region in the Southwest?
    - How did the Civil War effect the Texas cattle herds and industry?
    - Describe the conflict that erupted between Texas and Missouri during the opening of the cattle frontier
    - How were the cattle frontier and farming frontier related to each other?
    - Describe the evolution of Abilene as a cattle town
    - How was the division of labor arranged on the cattle trails? How was the composition of a team of cattlemen?
    - What was daily life like for individuals on a cattle drive?
    - Describe the experience of Theodore Roosevelt in the Dakota Territory
    - How was the Northern cattle trade different from the Southern cattle trade?

    Response / Thought Quotes
    - "The men slept on the ground with the lariat wrapped around the wrist and with the horse so close he could be mounted at a bound. Sometimes the demands were so urgent that a man’s boots would not be taken off his feet for an entire week. The nerves of the men usually became wrought up to such a tension that it was a standing rule that no man was to be touched by another when he was asleep until after he had been spoken to. The man who suddenly aroused a sleeper was liable to be shot, as all were thoroughly armed and understood the instant use of the revolver or the rifle."
    - "The cattle congregated into a mass of unmanageable animals, milling and lowing in their fever and thirst. The milling only intensified their sufferings from the heat, and the outfit split and quartered them again and again, in the hope that this unfortunate outbreak might be checked. No sooner was the milling stopped than they would surge hither and yon, sometimes half a mile, as ungovernable as the waves of an ocean.… We threw our ropes in their faces, and when this failed, we resorted to shooting. But in defiance of the fusillade and the smoke they walked sullenly through the line of horsemen across their front. Six-shooters were discharged so close to the leaders’ faces as to singe their hair. Yet, under a noonday sun, they disregarded this and every other device to turn them, and passed wholly out of our control. In a number of instances wild steers deliberately walked against our horses. And then, for the first time, a fact dawned on us that chilled the marrow in our bones—the herd was going blind!"

    Articles and Resources
    - For those interested, two excellent books on the Cattle frontier are:
    - - Cattle Kingdom: The Hidden History of the Cowboy West by Christopher Knowlton
    - - Cattle Towns by Robert Dykstra

American Gilded Age and The Populist and Progressive Era Group Reading List

  1. Rebirth of a Nation: The Making of Modern America, 1877-1920 by Jackson Lears
  2. American Colossus: The Triumph of Capitalism, 1865-1900 by H.W. Brands
  3. The Response to Industrialism, 1885-1914 by Samuel P. Hays
  4. The Populist Vision by Charles Postel
  5. A Fierce Discontent: The Rise and Fall of the Progressive Movement in America, 1870-1920 by Michael McGerr
  6. Over Here: The First World War and American Society by David M. Kennedy
  7. The Republic for Which It Stands: The United States during Reconstruction and the Gilded Age, 1865-1896 by Richard White
  8. The Populist Moment: A Short History of the Agrarian Revolt in America by Lawrence Goodwyn
  9. Greenbackers, Knights of Labor, and Populists: Farmer-Labor Insurgency in the Late-Nineteenth-Century South by Matthew Hild
  10. The War Lovers: Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst, and the Rush to Empire, 1898 by Evan Thomas
  11. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West by Dee Brown
  12. Cattle Kingdom: The Hidden History of the Cowboy West by Christopher Knowlton
  13. Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America by Richard White
  14. The Heart of Everything That Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud, An American Legend by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin
  15. The Devil Is Here in These Hills: West Virginia's Coal Miners and Their Battle for Freedom by James Green
  16. Black and Brown: African Americans and the Mexican Revolution, 1910-1920 by Gerald Horne
  17. The Earth Is Weeping: The Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American West by Peter Cozzens
  18. American Nightmare: The History of Jim Crow by Jerrold M. Packard
  19. At America's Gates: Chinese Immigration during the Exclusion Era, 1882-1943 by Erika Lee
  20. The Buffalo Soldiers: A Narrative of the Black Cavalry in the West by William H. Leckie and Shirley A. Leckie
  21. Encounter on the Great Plains: Scandinavian Settlers and the Dispossession of Dakota Indians, 1890-1930 by Karen V. Hansen
  22. The Apache Wars: The Hunt for Geronimo, the Apache Kid, and the Captive Boy Who Started the Longest War in American History by Paul Andrew Hutton
  23. Sisters: The Lives of America's Suffragists by Jean H. Baker
  24. Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940 by George Chauncey
  25. Powder River: Disastrous Opening of the Great Sioux War by Paul L. Hedren

After the first books listed above we will select the next books we read from the list below. Provide us feedback and suggestions for our next book by clicking here.

To view the books on our American Gilded Age, Populist and Progressive Era History Reading List click here