Cutting Through the Cant

Rebirth of a Nation
The Making of Modern America, 1877–1920
Jackson Lears
HarperCollins, $27.99, 432 pp.

The great harm done by the promiscuous misuse of superlatives in American literary life is that when a truly superlative piece of work comes along, all the words that might seem appropriate have long since been worn out. A reviewer is left groping for ways to explain, without resorting to clichés, how and why the truly outstanding stands out.

As befits a book that pays tribute to the American tradition of plain speaking, let me try a...

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About the Author

Andrew J. Bacevich is a professor of history and international relations emeritus at Boston University’s Pardee School of Global Studies.