August 6, 2015, by Emma Rayner

‘Remarkable’ new history of Radicals in America

The first complete and continuous history of left-wing social movements in the United States from the Second World War to the present has been written by an American historian at The University of Nottingham.

Published on the eve of the first official presidential debate which takes place in Cleveland, Ohio today, Radicals in America is a highly readable and up-to-the-minute examination of how left-wing movements and causes continue to shape and inform the contemporary political scene.

“Most histories of American radicalism, predictably enough, come to an end after the sixties,” says Christopher Phelps, Associate Professor in the Department of American and Canadian Studies, “because of the collapse of Black Panther Party and Students for a Democratic Society. But our research shows that even in the more conservative decades that followed, radicals pursuing equality and democracy exerted a real influence.”

Radicals in America, published by Cambridge University Press and co-authored by Phelps and Professor Howard Brick from the University of Michigan, explains why despite their marginal status radicals have been able to successfully connect with mainstreams, compelling the society to adopt many of their most visionary aims.

March for Freedom

March for Freedom

Phelps points to feminism, environmentalism, LGBT activism, and groups protesting rising economic inequality as movements that have burgeoned since the 1970s, often reshaping American politics and culture.

“We see this even this year, in the unfolding Democratic Party primary, where socialist Bernie Sanders is giving the more establishment candidate, Hillary Clinton, a run for her money,” he states.

While published by a distinguished academic publisher, Cambridge University Press, Radicals in America is written in a popular way. Each chapter begins with a particular life story, including a Harlem woman deported in the McCarthy era, a gay Japanese-American opponent of the Vietnam War, and a Native American environmentalist, vignettes that bring to life the personal within the political.


From the Second World War and the repression of the Red Scare in the 1950s, the book’s coverage extends through the radical effusions of the 1960s and all the way down to the present, its coverage extending to the Battle of Seattle and Occupy Wall Street.

Advance Praise for Radicals in America

“The true history of radicalism over the past fifty years is often lost and never found, or distorted, smeared, or colored by old sectarian feuds. Brick and Phelps have connected the past to the present in ways that are accessible, understandable, and without grudge or judgment. An excellent work.” Tom Hayden.

“This is a remarkable book, undoubtedly the most comprehensive and synthetic history of the post-World War II American left we have or are likely to get at any time in the near future.” Nelson Lichtenstein, author, State of the Union.

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