ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE UNITED STATES IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
Stanley I. Kutler et al., eds. Macmillan. 4 vols. 1,941 pp. $385
The tone of this excellent new reference work is that of the academy in the 1990s—neither cheerleading nor doomsaying, skeptical of government’s ability to do good but wary of the presumed magic of markets. "Nostalgia is our greatest barrier to historical understanding," writes editor in chief Kutler (a historian at the University of Wisconsin and editor of Reviews in American History). There is nothing nostalgic about the articles dealing with governance and public policy. Historian James Patterson, for example, gives a masterful account of government efforts to shape the contours of wealth and poverty. Harry Schieber’s article on federalism provides much needed perspective on current fantasies of a benign, decentralized, Tocquevillian future. And political scientist Bert Rockman’s brilliant review of the 20th-century presidency concludes that, for all the increased visibility and bureaucratization of the White House, "it is not clear that the office is any more powerful in 1993 than it was in 1893." As Rockman quips, "the buck stops nowhere in the American system." In historians’ handbooks, it is rare to find such a fine, dry spirit of realism.