Daniel T. Rodgers, Henry Charles Lea Professor of History at Princeton University, has been named a winner of the 2012 Bancroft Prize for Age of Fracture, his exposition of the late-20th century dissolution of the ideas that had previously served to shape Americans’ understanding of the world. The Bancroft is one of the most distinguished academic awards in the field of history, and, says the book’s editor, Joyce Seltzer, for Rodgers it was well-deserved:
The very first time I read Dan’s manuscript, I knew it was very special. He managed to brilliantly characterize the last three decades of intellectual discourse in the U.S. so as to enable me to see it in a new and revealing light. By mapping out major ideas about the market, race, gender, political obligations, and social welfare, and demonstrating the shift from collective to fragmented perspectives and outlooks, Dan makes the radical changes taking place in our way of thinking provocatively clear. I began to see the transformation he explored everywhere—in the arts, sciences, and in our social and political relations and expectations. Age of Fracture is a wake-up call to all of us that we must pull together again for the greater welfare and future of our community and nation.
Accurately and coherently characterizing an era is a challenging endeavor, especially when one’s period of inquiry is so recent. In his Prologue, Rodgers quotes Stuart Hall on the naming of ages: “What is important are the significant breaks—where old lines of thought are disrupted, older constellations displaced, and elements, old and new, are regrouped around a different set of premises and themes.” Though the task is to focus on major ideological threads, rather than to catalogue an age’s every idea, one of the striking things about Age of Fracture is just how much ground Rodgers is able to cover in a book that comes in well under 400 pages.
Age of Fracture is certainly no pastiche, though, and it’s also not the sort of free associative cultural criticism that we’d associate with, say, Greil Marcus. Nevertheless, Rodgers makes his way from Jimmy Carter to Judith Butler, the Civil War to the Culture Wars, Game Theory to the Gay Rights Movement, Nietzsche to Noonan, Earl Warren to Alice Walker, Harriet Beecher Stowe to Howard Stern. He covers so much ground, in fact, that we thought we’d just be blunt about it and offer up the Index. Give it a skim or a scour below.