Politician, evangelist, and reformer William Jennings Bryan was the most popular public speaker of his time. In this acclaimed biography–the first major reconsideration of Bryan’s life in forty years–award-winning historian Michael Kazin illuminates his astonishing career and the richly diverse and volatile landscape of religion and politics in which he rose to fame. Kazin vividly re-creates Bryan’s tremendous appeal, showing how he won a passionate following among both rural and urban Americans, who saw in him not only the practical vision of a reform politician but also the righteousness of a pastor. Bryan did more than anyone to transform the Democratic Party from a bulwark of laissez-faire to the citadel of liberalism we identify with Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1896, 1900, and 1908, Bryan was nominated for president, and though he fell short each time, his legacy–a subject of great debate after his death–remains monumental. This nuanced and brilliantly crafted portrait restores Bryan to an esteemed place in American history.
Kazin is at times far too soft on his subject…But A Godly Hero is still a must readnot because Bryan laid the foundations for 20th-century liberalism but because populism is the default sensibility of American politics, whether it takes the leftist route of insisting on economic security or the rightist one of searching for moral certainty. Michael Kazin, already our leading scholar of populism, is now our best interpreter of its greatest practitioner. It would be difficult to imagine a biography of any early 20th-century political leader more relevant to the early 21st century than this one.