Creating a Top Ten List for the Gilded Age/Progressive Era is challenging. There are an extraordinary number of outstanding books on this period. These books are a selection of our favorites. Most of these books are focused on trying to define this era as whole, instead of focusing on a single issue. In other words, several of these books are seeking to create a grand narrative of the era to help their readers understand it.
Admittedly, the border between the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era is somewhat murky. There are not any of the easy starting and stopping points that can be pointed to for defining eras such as Colonial America, the American Civil War, Reconstruction or the Cold War. Arguably, even the term Gilded Age is somewhat archaic and perhaps the era should be renamed.
In a way, this listed is focused on the last thirty years of the Nineteenth Century and the implications of those decades on the start of the Twentieth Century. Many people have pointed to similarity of the issues between the Gilded Age/Progressive Era and our present America (technology, income inequality, immigration, expansion of government, big business, extreme wealth, etc.)
As with all of our lists, we are open to suggestions. If you think we left a book off (we left off a number of books that deserve to be on the list) please leave us a comment. We will happily republish a new and revised list based on your comments.
1. Richard Hofstader, The Age of Reform (Vintage Books, 1955)
2. Nell Painter, Standing at Armageddon: The United States, 1877-1919 (W.W. Norton & Company, 1989)
3. Charles Postel, The Populist Vision (Oxford University Press, 2009 – paperback)
4. Michael McGerr, A Fierce Discontent: The Rise and Fall of the Progressive Movement in America, 1870-1920 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
5. W. H. Brands, American Colossus: The Triumph of Capitalism, 1865-1900 (Random House, 2010)
6. Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore, Gender and Jim Crow : Women and the Politics of White Supremacy in North Carolina, 1896-1920 (96 Edition), (UNC Press, 1996)
7. Edward L. Ayers, The Promise of the New South: Life After Reconstruction (Oxford University Press, 2007 – 15th Anniversary edition)
8. Louis Menand, The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2002)
9. Daniel T. Rodgers, Atlantic Crossings: Social Politics in a Progressive Age (Belknap Press, 2000 )
10. Robert H. Wiebe, The Search for Order, 1877-1920 (Hill and Wang, 1966)
Check out the our Bookshelf at Powell’s Books.