rusq: Vol. 54 Issue 1: p. 63
Sources: Encyclopedia of Populism in America: A Historical Encyclopedia
Rick Robison

Dean of the Library, California State University, Maritime Academy, Vallejo, California

The Encyclopedia of Populism in America fills a significant gap in the reference literature. Considering America’s current political climate where Populist ideas percolate through both sides of the political spectrum, it arrives at an opportune time. Just as Populism as a political movement grew from the discontent of America’s small farmers in the nineteenth century against corporations, banks, railroads, and other big monied interests, we continue to see Populist ideas emerge to confront these same interests in contemporary political movements ranging from “Occupy Wall Street” to the “Tea Party.”

What makes this work so valuable is how its 330 plus entries illustrate how deeply interwoven the ideas and concepts of Populism are throughout the culture of the United States. For example, the entry “Baseball and Populism” reveals how baseball reemerged in popularity in rural America in the mid-1880s right at the height of Populism’s fight against distant banking and corporate interest. Baseball, in the minds of the farmers, succeeded only with “Populist principles like cooperation, modern organization, and rational rules of fair play” (70), principles not believed to be adhered to by the banking and corporate interests.

Searches of OCLC’s WorldCat database fail to uncover a similar reference work fully devoted to this topic. A number of classic historical reference works, such as the multi-volume sets American Decades (Gale, 2001) and American Decades Primary Sources (Gale, 2003), include numerous entries related to Populist subjects and key individuals. Likewise, many nonreference works have tried to cover the entire history of Populism in America, including seminal works such as Lawrence Goodwyn’s Democratic Promise: The Populist Movement in America (Oxford University Press, 1976), Michael Kazin’s The Populist Persuasion: An American History (Cornell University Press, 1998), and Charles Postel’s The Populist Vision (Oxford University Press, 2009). Yet, the Encyclopedia of Populism in America appears to be the first reference work wholly dedicated to this important subject.

The entries in this work are arranged alphabetically across two volumes. A “Guide to Related Topics” is included to help researchers connect similar entries under topical themes such as “Big Ideas,” “Race and Sex,” and “Technology.” Each entry is thoroughly researched and includes numerous references to aid researchers wishing to explore more in-depth. The writing style is fluid and clear, and the reading level is appropriate for general readers, including high school and college students.

In sum, the scope, quality, and uniqueness of this work are exceptional. As previously noted, this work fills a significant gap in the reference literature and is highly recommended for addition to any public or academic library collection.

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