Suzanne Mettler, the John L. Senior Professor of American Institutions in the Government department at Cornell University, and Robert C. Lieberman, the Krieger-Eisenhower Professor of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University, with great skill and heft provide a much-needed history lesson to the American public, many of whom seem to think that political upheaval and lack of substantive leadership are only things of the present. They write:

"American democracy has always been a work in progress, and it has always been vulnerable to deterioration. Today, we live in a time of intense stress on democracy. Yet the United States is not doomed to proceed toward authoritarianism. We can strengthen American democracy by learning from times of crises in the past. Our historical inquiry has conveyed much about what threatens democracy, but it also tells us what kind of society is more conducive to a healthy and robust democracy."

Mettler and Lieberman present a poignant and harrowing review of damage to the American democratic experiment through:

  • political polarization
  • racism and nativism
  • economic inequality
  • excessive executive power

These "disruptions" have energized the siege of the 1790s, the Civil War, the Gilded Age, the Depression, and Watergate. The authors make a good case for learning from the past in order to renew our commitments to democracy.