Cover image for Blood of the liberals
Blood of the liberals
Packer, George, 1960-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2000.
Physical Description:
405 pages ; 24 cm
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Material Type
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Item Holds
PS3566.A317 Z465 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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An acclaimed journalist and novelist explores the legacy and future of American liberalism through the history of his family's politically active history George Packer's maternal grandfather, George Huddleston, was a populist congressman from Alabama in the early part of the century--an agrarian liberal in the Jacksonian mold who opposed the New Deal. Packer's father was a Kennedy-era liberal, a law professor and dean at Stanford whose convictions were sorely--and ultimately fatally--tested in the campus upheavals of the 1960s. The inheritor of two sometimes conflicting strains of the great American liberal tradition, Packer discusses the testing of ideals in the lives of his father and grandfather and his own struggle to understand the place of the progressive tradition in our currently polarized political climate. Searching, engrossing, and persuasive, this is an original, intimate examination of the meaning of politics in American lives.

Author Notes

George Packer is an American writer, teacher, and former Peace Corps volunteer. He was also a writing instructor at Harvard, Bennington, and Emerson Universities. Packer was born on August 13, 1960, in Santa Clara, California.

Packer's experience with the Peace Corps helped him write the book The Village is Waiting. He has also written The Half Man, Central Square and The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq. He was a supporter of the Iraq war. He was a finalist for the 2004 Michael Kelly Award. In 2013, Packer's work of nonfiction entitled, The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America, won the U.S. National Book Award.

(Bowker Author Biography) George Packer's journalism & essays have appeared in "Harper's", "Dissent", "The New York Times", "The 1997 Pushcart Prize" anthology, "The Art of the Essay", & elsewhere. His latest books is "Blood of the Liberals" (FSG, 2000). He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

(Publisher Provided)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Family saga and the history of a political idea blend in this thoughtful, gracefully written reflection. Journalist and novelist Packer traces three generations of his own family and the shifting meaning of liberalism over the past century. Packer's maternal grandfather, George Huddleston, represented Birmingham, Alabama, in Congress from 1915 to 1937. A Southern Progressive, a "Thomas Jefferson Democrat," he started out arguing for universal suffrage and unions; he quickly learned to avoid race and gender, but his class-based radicalism was firm until the New Deal's elitist tinkering made him a "state's rights" conservative. Nancy Huddleston married Herbert Packer, a Yale-educated Jewish lawyer who taught at Stanford University; both were "Adlai Stevenson Democrats" and "New Deal liberals." But Packer took on administrative duties at Stanford just as a new generation challenged the rational liberalism he championed; he suffered a stroke and, three years later, committed suicide. Twelve when his father died in 1972, George Packer pursued his own vision of liberalism: at Yale, in the Peace Corps, in volunteerism and political activism. A fascinating, thought-provoking narrative. --Mary Carroll

Publisher's Weekly Review

Journalist and novelist Packer (Central Square) illuminates the evolution of American liberalism by examining three generations of family history in this thoughtful, rueful work. Packer's maternal grandfather, George Huddleston (1869-1960), called himself "a Thomas Jefferson Democrat" and, as an Alabama congressman from 1915 to 1937, fought for the rights of poor people against the increasing power of big business. The author's father, Herbert Packer (1926-1972), member of the new intellectual middle class risen from impoverished immigrant roots, believed in the power of a liberal federal government run by educated professionals to foster a fairer society. Yet Huddleston ended his career as an anti-New Deal conservative, and Herbert Packer committed suicide three years after a stroke brought on in part by his conflicts as a Stanford University administrator with radical students who saw the rule of reason, in which he so fervently believed, as a facade erected by the military-industrial machine. The author, born in 1960, came of age in a society where liberalism was "the L word," the creed of elitists and losers. The liberal postwar order, he notes, "replaced economic issues, on which Democrats had been winning for two decades, with social ones, on which Republicans would win for most of the next four." Politics is now so discredited that "we're left to put our faith in God and the market, a pair of invisible hands." Yet even as he perceptively analyzes liberalism's failings (with appropriate attention devoted to the personal particularities of his own family), Packer pays cogent tribute to the passion for racial and economic justice that are its lasting legacy. "The liberal impulse," he asserts in a moving conclusion, "still beats somewhere under our skin." (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Packer has produced a fascinating personal history while examining why people become liberals even though their efforts frequently seem extremely futile. The author describes the life and times of his Alabama-born maternal grandfather, Congressman George Huddleston, whose brand of liberalism was rooted in Southern agrarian populism and who often opposed FDR's New Deal. Packer also tells of his father, Herbert, whose Jewish American background placed him squarely in the urban liberal tradition of the mid-20th century. His father's life and career ultimately came to a turbulent climax as an administrator at Stanford University during the late 1960s. Finally, in a brief, informative, and moving autobiographical section, Packer recounts the development of his own social and political views following his father's stroke and suicide. The author attempts to demonstrate the ongoing relevance to today's world of a political philosophy that many believe has little future. Packer's combination of personal and historical perspectives, as well as his considerable skill at conveying them, make this work both challenging and enjoyable. Written for the lay reader, it nonetheless avoids oversimplification. Highly recommended.DCharles K. Piehl, Minnesota State Univ., Mankato (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Blood of the Liberalsp. 3
Part 1 The Man and the Dollar
Chapter 1 A Thomas Jefferson Democratp. 13
Chapter 2 Iron and Fleshp. 33
Chapter 3 The Little Bolshevikip. 61
Chapter 4 No Is Always Rightp. 94
Part 2 The Sunlight of Reason
Chapter 5 A Modern Jewp. 131
Chapter 6 Winds of Freedomp. 161
Chapter 7 Golden Agep. 186
Chapter 8 Cults of Irrationalityp. 220
Chapter 9 The Prose and the Passionp. 261
Part 3 The Age of Disbelief
Chapter 10 Free Ridep. 289
Chapter 11 Winners and Losersp. 317
Chapter 12 Twilight of the Godsp. 332
Chapter 13 Birmingham Dreamsp. 352
Chapter 14 Past Is Prologuep. 383
Note on Sourcesp. 403
Acknowledgmentsp. 407