Adam Hochschild’s book turns the spotlight on the 1910s, when anyone questioning the status quo faced vicious reprisals
By Brook Masters, November 30, 2022
If you think the political situation in the US now looks terrible, Adam Hochschild is here to remind you that things have previously been much worse. American Midnight, his new book about the US domestic scene in the years during and just after the first world war, describes a society that more patriotic histories generally gloss over.
Riven with racial and ethnic prejudice, 1910s America was obsessed with suppressing union activism and political dissent by any means necessary. Hochschild describes vicious lynchings, mass arrests and systematic abuse of prisoners, all justified first by the exigencies of the great war and then fears of communist revolution.
Best known for his 1998 book King Leopold’s Ghost, which introduced many western readers to the horrors of Belgian rule in what is now Congo, Hochschild has developed something of a speciality in delving into dark periods of world history. He forces readers to confront the abuses and remember those who had the courage to fight against militarism and speak up for the powerless and dispossessed, from the British antislavery movement to antiwar activists in the first world war.