Rarely does a work of history contain startling implications for the present, but in The People, No Thomas Frank pulls off that explosive effect by showing us that everything we think we know about populism is wrong. Today “populism” is seen as a frightening thing, a term pundits use to describe the racist philosophy of Donald Trump and European extremists. But this is a mistake.
The real story of populism is an account of enlightenment and liberation; it is the story of American democracy itself, of its ever-widening promise of a decent life for all. Taking us from the tumultuous 1890s, when the radical left-wing Populist Party—the biggest mass movement in American history—fought Gilded Age plutocrats to the reformers’ great triumphs under Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman, Frank reminds us how much we owe to the populist ethos. Frank also shows that elitist groups have reliably detested populism, lashing out at working-class concerns. The anti-populist vituperations by the Washington centrists of today are only the latest expression.
Frank pummels the elites, revisits the movement’s provocative politics, and declares true populism to be the language of promise and optimism. The People, No is a ringing affirmation of a movement that, Frank shows us, is not the problem of our times, but the solution for what ails us.
"Frank describes an indigenous radical tradition that descends from Jefferson and Paine and stretches forward to Franklin Roosevelt and Martin Luther King Jr. . . . compelling."—The New York Times Book Review
"Brilliantly written, eye-opening . . . Frank is the ideal public intellectual to grapple with the duality of populism . . . Readers come away knowing that at its heart, populism means just one thing: This land was made for you and me."—The Washington Post
"Tom Frank does what few writers today are capable of doing—he criticizes his own side."—The Wall Street Journal
"Rousing . . . central to the challenge of our times . . . A call to arms against the plutocratic elites of both America’s main parties . . . Frank’s real strength lies in his energetic optimism."—Financial Times
"Deserves your attention . . . The People, No describes meticulously how over the last 120 years, reigning elites—whether conservative, liberal, or progressive—have regularly attacked populists with the same falsehoods . . . Welcome."—Forbes
"With his usual verve, Frank skewers the elite voices of condescension that vilify the egalitarian and democratic strivings of working people. In so doing, he offers a passionate defense of populism, which he reveals as a deep and wide political tradition that remains as essential as ever for the hopes of a more just and equitable society.”—Charles Postel, author of Equality: An American Dilemma, 1866–1896
"An illuminating book, the best one I've read about the sound and fury of America's 2020 Election campaign."—Lewis H. Lapham
"Populism is not just an old American way of doing politics, the author argues, but fundamentally a progressive one as well . . . convincing . . . an eminently readable contribution to political discourse."—Kirkus Reviews
"Frank brilliantly places populism in the context of seminal historic events . . . His provocative conclusions, about elites and the people, turn common assumptions upside down—all the better for making readers think."—Booklist (starred review)
"Frank blends diligent research with well-placed snark to keep readers turning the pages. Liberals will be outraged, enlightened, and entertained."—Publishers Weekly
What Was Populism?
Populism was the first of America’s great economic uprisings, a roar of outrage from people in the lower half of the country’s social order. It was a quintessential mass movement, in which rank-and-file...