Nicholas Lemann is a Professor at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and a staff writer at The New Yorker. His books include The Big Test: The Secret History of the American ­Meritocracy and The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How It Changed America. (November 2016)


On the Election—III

Donald Trump at the first presidential debate, Hofstra University, Hempstead, New York, September 26, 2016
This year’s election is not about economics. The paramount question is whether a person exhibiting no qualification for the office—neither experience, nor preparation, nor personal character—is nonetheless to become president. Yet economics is at the heart of the matter.

Can We Have a ‘Party of the People’?

Thomas Frank

Exit Right: The People Who Left the Left and Reshaped the American Century

by Daniel Oppenheimer

The Limousine Liberal: How an Incendiary Image United the Right and Fractured America

by Steve Fraser
As a reviewer of political books, I get a lot of them unbidden in the mail. I remember vividly, one day in 2003, opening a package from a publisher, finding Arianna Huffington’s anticorporate screed Pigs at the Trough, and thinking: finally, after all these years, somebody has moved from right …

Reagan: The Triumph of Tone

Ronald Reagan being welcomed by Puerto Ricans and Cubans in Tampa, Florida, during his 1980 presidential campaign

Killing Reagan: The Violent Assault That Changed a Presidency

by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard

Ronald Reagan

by Jacob Weisberg
The Republican presidential candidate debates, which have shown non-Republicans just how factionalized the party is and how many possible meanings of the term “conservative” there are, have produced one point of general agreement among the many contenders: Ronald Reagan was a great president. For a committed Republican audience, Reagan stands …

Unhappy Days for America

‘Baby Toss,’ 2009; photograph by Julie Blackmon from her book Homegrown. It includes an introduction by Billy Collins and an interview with Reese Witherspoon, and is published by Radius Books.

Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis

by Robert D. Putnam
Robert Putnam is convinced that today relative mobility, as well as absolute mobility, is declining alarmingly—that most Americans are more firmly destined to remain where they started out than they were when he was young. His passion about the need to change this situation overwhelms his social scientist’s epistemological caution.

Who Was W.E.B. Du Bois?

Lines of Descent: W.E.B. Du Bois and the Emergence of Identity

by Kwame Anthony Appiah
W.E.B. Du Bois’s very long life coincided almost exactly with the period in African-American history between slavery and citizenship. Du Bois was born, in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, five years after the Emancipation Proclamation, and, as he liked to point out, almost exactly coincident with the impeachment of Andrew Johnson, which …

The New Deal We Didn’t Know

An African-American entering a movie theater through the segregated back entrance, Mississippi, October 1939; photograph by Marion Post Wolcott for the Farm Security Administration

Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time

by Ira Katznelson
The New Deal, the apogee of liberal political power in American history and a story with a relatively happy ending—the Great Depression vanquished, World War II won—has usually had its history presented, except by conservatives who disapprove of the expansion of central government and taxation in the 1930s and 1940s, as an uplifting, inspiring one. That is not how Ira Katznelson presents it.