Title Reviewed:
American Choices: Social Dilemmas and Public Policy since 1960

Author Reviewed:
Robert H. Bremner; Gary W. Reichard; Richard J. Hopkins

Anthony O. Edmonds


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 83, Issue 1, pp 95-96

Article Type:
Book Review

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American Choices: Social Dilemmas and Public Policy since 1960. Edited by Robert H. Bremner, Gary W. Reichard, and Richard J. Hopkins. (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1986. Pp. xiv, 272. Notes, tables, illustration, index. $30.00.)

Collections of essays typically face four potential problems: lack of originality, lack of focus, unevenness, and confusion over audience. Too many of these compendia include essays that have been "published elsewhere"; given modern copying techniques, such works are essentially redundant no matter how creatively edited. Festschrifts in particular share the second problem; they are held together only tenuously by some connection to "the great mentor." All scholars are aware of the reviewer's favorite "collection cliche": "The essays are uneven in their quality." Finally, many editors are woefully unsure of their audience: expert or undergraduate? doctoral candidate or generalist? (Few scholarly collections ever dare aim at the layperson.)

Fortunately, American Choices largely overcomes these problems. For this work the editors specifically commissioned nine original essays from leading scholars concerning the recent American past. Moreover, the essays are tied to a coherent theme—social and economic impacts on policy decisions since 1960—and each serves as an interpretative overview of basic problems, tensions, and trends rather than a foray into arcane original research. The essays are also basically uniform in quality, style, and coverage in spite of the multitude of facets included: poverty, civil rights, the women's movement, education, nuclear issues, the national economy, eneregy transitions, America and the world economy, and the Vietnam generation.

There is some minor confusion over audience, more the result of modern educational disparities than the fault of the editors. Specialists will find little in these essays that is new or surprising, while some generalists may have rough sledding with the sections on economics. First-rate graduate students and weak undergraduates may react similarly. The work is probably best suited for use with upper-level undergraduates and master's candidates. One only hopes that the publishers will bring out a paperback edition of this fine collection for such courses.

Anthony O. Edmonds, Ball State University, Muncie, Ind.

Published by the Indiana University Department of History.