From the prophetic author of the now-classic What’s the Matter with Kansas? and Listen, Liberal, an eye-opening account of populism, the most important—and misunderstood—movement of our time.
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 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.
"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
"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
"Tom Frank does what few writers today are capable of doing—he criticizes his own side." —Wall Street Journal
"A terrific book . . . damning . . . eloquently-argued . . . The People, No documents the furious elite propaganda response to bottom-up political movements that has recurred in uncannily similar fashion at key moments across nearly a century and a half of American history, and is firing with particular venom today." —Matt Tiabbi
"Provocative . . . powerful . . . Frank has delivered a defiant challenge to the antipopulist liberals more infatuated with the advice of experts and their own moral virtues than mobilizing ordinary Americans on the basis of progressive values."
"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
"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 blends diligent research with well-placed snark to keep readers turning the pages. Liberals will be outraged, enlightened, and entertained." —Publishers Weekly
"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)
"A valuable history of an important political tradition, and what it means for the future." —Library Journal
"A compact, highly readable history of the American political movement known as populism and the determined efforts from both right and left to squelch it." —BookPage