Writer/professor Peter Dreier’s new book is called The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century, a nervy title that dares readers to take a poke at the author’s chin. A corrective to Greatest Generation blather, Dreier’s 100 profiles refract a century of progressive movements through the lives of leaders whose native radicalism helped push America toward a more humane vision of society.
Dreier’s inclusions and omissions will thrill some and bewilder others: Roger Baldwin’s here but not James Baldwin; there’s Mother Jones but no LeRoi Jones. Playwright Tony Kushner ends the list on an intellectual note, yet there’s no mention of a Philip Rahv or any Partisan Reviewers, Algonquin Tablemates, Beats or Bohemians.
Of course, provoking debate about who should be included in a “Social Justice Hall of Fame” (the book’s subtitle) is a clever way to stir discussion about history and activism.