Books

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Poetry Night at the Ballpark, by Bill Kauffman

Bill Kauffman has carved out an idiosyncratic identity quite unlike any other American writer. Praised by the likes of Gore Vidal, Benjamin Schwarz, and George McGovern, he has, with a distinctive and slashingly witty, learnedly allusive style, illumed forgotten corners of American history, articulated a defiant and passionate localism, and written with love and dark humor of his repatriation. Poetry Night at the Ballpark gathers the best of Bill Kauffman’s essays and journalism in defense and explication of his alternative America–or Americas. Its discrete pieces are bound by a thematic unity and propulsive energy and are full of unexpected (yet startlingly apposite) connections and revelatory linkages. Whether he’s writing about conservative Beats, backyard astronomers, pacifist West Pointers, or Middle America in the movies, Bill Kauffman will challenge, maybe even change, the way you look at American politics and the American provinces.

Copperhead (Screenplay), by Bill Kauffman

COpperhead-3DThe Copperhead, first published in 1893, is an extraordinary tale by the Upstate New York-bred novelist and New York Times London correspondent Harold Frederic. Now it is a feature film, directed by Ron Maxwell (Gettysburg, Gods and Generals) and with a screenplay by Bill Kauffman.

The Copperhead is the story of Abner Beech, a stubborn and righteous farmer of Upstate New York, who defies his neighbors and his government in the bloodyd and contentious autumn of 1862. The great American critic Edmund Wilson praised The Copperhead as a brave and singular work which “differs fundamentally from any other Civil War fiction.” The Copperhead depicts the Civil War at home–a family ripped apart by war, fathers set against sons and daughters, a community driven to an appalling act of vandalism against a man who insists upon exercising his right to free speech during wartime. It is a deeply moving examination of the price of dissent, the place of the individual amidst the hysteria of wartime, and the awful cost of war–a cost measured not in dollars but in fractured families, broken loves, suspicion and paranoia, and men dead before their time.

Bye, Bye Miss American Empire, by Bill Kauffman

Bye Bye Miss American Pie by Bill Kauffman

Bye Bye Miss American Pie by Bill Kauffman

This work provides a sympathetic survey of the varied movements for secession from the centralized state across the expanse of the American Empire, which in the author’s view “has run out of money, out of even the fig leaf of moral justification, out of any international sanction beyond the specious pule of the coerced and the fraudulent.” Clearly viewing the development of secessionist sentiment and activism as a welcome development heralding a more local politics opposed to “the octopus in the District of Columbia,” he describes the historical roots and current politics of secessionist demands in Hawaii, Alaska, New York, California, Puerto Rico, the American South, and Vermont.

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Forgotten Founder, Drunken Prophet, by Bill Kauffman

Forgotten Founder, Drunken Prophet, by Bill Kauffman

Forgotten Founder, Drunken Prophet, by Bill Kauffman

The Anti-Federalist Luther Martin of Maryland is known to us—if he is known at all—as the wild man of the Constitutional Convention: a verbose, frequently drunken radical who annoyed the hell out of James Madison, George Washington, Gouverneur Morris, and the other giants responsible for the creation of the Constitution in Philadelphia that summer of 1787. In Bill Kauffman’s rollicking account of his turbulent life and times, Martin is still something of a fitfully charming reprobate, but he is also a prophetic voice, warning his heedless contemporaries and his amnesiac posterity that the Constitution, whatever its devisers’ intentions, would come to be used as a blueprint for centralized government and a militaristic foreign policy.

In Martin’s view, the Constitution was the tool of a counterrevolution aimed at reducing the states to ciphers and at fortifying a national government whose powers to tax and coerce would be frightening. Martin delivered the most forceful and sustained attack on the Constitution ever levied—a critique that modern readers might find jarringly relevant. And Martin’s post-convention career, though clouded by drink and scandal, found him as defense counsel in two of the great trials of the age: the Senate trial of the impeached Supreme Court justice Samuel Chase and the treason trial of his friend Aaron Burr.

Kauffman’s Luther Martin is a brilliant and passionate polemicist, a stubborn and admirable defender of a decentralized republic who fights for the principles of 1776 all the way to the last ditch and last drop. In remembering this forgotten founder, we remember also the principles that once animated many of the earliest—and many later—American patriots.

Purchase from Present Tense Books.

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Ain’t My America: The Long, Noble History of Antiwar Conservatism and Middle-American Anti-Imperialism, By Bill Kauffman

Ain't My America: The Long, Noble History of Antiwar Conservatism and Middle-American Anti-Imperialism, By Bill Kauffman

Ain't My America: The Long, Noble History of Antiwar Conservatism and Middle-American Anti-Imperialism, By Bill Kauffman

Conservatives love war, empire, and the military-industrial complex. They abhor peace, the sole and rightful property of liberals. Right? Wrong.

As Bill Kauffman makes clear, true conservatives have always resisted the imperial and military impulse: it drains the treasury, curtails domestic liberties, breaks down families, and vulgarizes culture. From the Federalists who opposed the War of 1812, to the striving of Robert Taft (known as “Mr. Republican”) to keep the United States out of Korea, to the latter-day libertarian critics of the Iraq war, there has historically been nothing freakish, cowardly, or even unusual about antiwar activists on the political right. And while these critics of U.S. military crusades have been vilified by the party of George W. Bush, their conservative vision of a peaceful, decentralized, and noninterventionist America gives us a glimpse of the country we could have had — and might yet attain.

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Look Homeward America: In Search of Reactionary Radicals, by Bill Kauffman

Look Homeward America: In Search of Reactionary Radicals, by Bill Kauffman

Look Homeward America: In Search of Reactionary Radicals, by Bill Kauffman

In Look Homeward, America, Bill Kauffman introduces us to the reactionary radicals, front-porch anarchists, and traditionalist rebels who give American culture and politics its pith, vim, and life. Blending history, memoir, digressive literariness, and polemic, Kauffman provides fresh portaiture of such American originals as Catholic Worker founder Dorothy Day, regionalist painter Grant Wood, farmer-writer Wendell Berry, publisher Henry Regnery, maverick U.S. senators Eugene McCarthy and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and other Americans who can’t—or shouldn’t—be filed away in the usual boxes labeled “liberal” and “conservative.” Ranging from Millard Fillmore to Easy Rider,from Robert Frost to Mother Jones, Kauffman limns an alternative America that draws its breath from local cultures, traditional liberties, small-scale institutions, and neighborliness. There is an America left that is worth saving: these are its paragons, its poets, its pantheon.

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Dispatches from the Muckdog Gazette: A Mostly Affectionate Account of a Small Town’s Fight to Survive, by Bill Kauffman

Dispatches from the Muckdog Gazette: A Mostly Affectionate Account of a Small Town's Fight to Survive

Dispatches from the Muckdog Gazette: A Mostly Affectionate Account of a Small Town's Fight to Survive

Bill Kauffman, a self-proclaimed “placeist” who believes that things urban are homogenizing our national scene, returned to his roots after a bumpy ride on the D.C. fast track. Rarely has he ventured forth since. Here he illuminates the place he loves, traveling from Batavia’s scenic vistas to the very seams of its grimy semi-industrial pockets, from its architecturally insignificant new mall to the pastoral grounds of its internationally known School for the Blind. Not one to shy from controversy, Kauffman also investigates his town’s efforts to devastate its landmarks through urban renewal, the passions simmering inside its clogged political machinery, and the sagging fortunes of its baseball heroes, the legendary Muckdogs.

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With Good Intentions?: Reflections on the Myth of Progress in America, by Bill Kauffman

With Good Intentions, by Bill Kauffman

With Good Intentions, by Bill Kauffman

Kauffman’s perspective on progress in America “from the point of view of those who lost” revives forgotten figures and reinvigorates dormant causes as he examines the characters and arguments from six critical battles that forever altered the American landscape: the debates over child labor, school consolidation, women’s suffrage, the back-to-the-land movement, good roads and the Interstate Highway System, and a standing army. The integration of these subjects and the presentation of the anti-Progress case as a coherent political tendency encompassing several issues and many years is unprecedented. With wit, passion, and an arsenal of long-neglected sources, Kauffman measures the cost of progress in 20th-Century America and exposes the elaborate plans behind seemingly inevitable reforms.

Kauffman brings to life such people and places as Ida Tarbell, the muckraker who thought that suffrage would ruin women; Onward, Indiana, the town that took up arms to defend its high school from death by consolidation; and the motley band of agrarian poets and ghetto dwellers who tried to stop the bulldozers that paved over America. He maintains that these forlorn causes—usually regarded as quaint, archaic, and hopeless—rested, in large part, upon quintessential American ideals: limited government, human-scale community, and family autonomy. The victory of progress has uprooted our citizens, swollen the central state at the expense of liberty, and sucked much of the life from what was once a nation of small communities.

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America First, By Bill Kauffman

America First, by Bill Kauffman

America First, by Bill Kauffman

Bill Kauffman, described by the Washington Post as having the “pleasantly wicked touch of H. L. Mencken”, examines the cultural factors and political schisms of 20th-century American nationalism. He weaves a fascinating tale that links Sinclair Lewis to NAFTA, ‘The Best Years of Our Lives’ to Ross Perot, and the Old Right to the New Left. He discusses the Perot phenomenon, the presidential campaign and the influence of Pat Buchanan, the impact of free trade agreements, the film industry of the 1930s, and a fascinating cast of characters and causes in what is sure to be controversial reading. As Gore Vidal notes in his foreword, “By studying our history [Kauffman] has latched on to some interesting facts (as opposed to opinions) that completely turn inside out the tedious liberal versus conservative debate, or grunting contest.”

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Country Towns of Western New York, By Bill Kauffman