Fighting Bob La Follette: The Righteous Reformer

By Nancy C. Unger

Paperback: $22.95

ISBN: 978-0-87020-426-5

416 pages, 37 b/w photos and illus., 6.125 x 9.25"


Orders for Trade, Library or Wholesale >>

"The story of La Follette and the progressives remains a lively and highly relevant chapter in American history. It is the antidote to resignation and complacency that emerges when problems are perceived as unprecedented in their severity, immune to remedy, and thus accepted as inevitable." -from the Preface

Now in paperback with a new preface, this comprehensive biography weaves the triumph and the tragedy of the public and private lives of the most famous of Wisconsin leaders, Robert "Fighting Bob" La Follette. In her introduction, Nancy C. Unger writes that La Follette "dedicated his life to returning power to the people." As a U.S. representative, governor of Wisconsin, and U.S. Senator, La Follette's political legacies have been long lasting; among them are the election of senators by constituents, creation of the Department of Labor and the Federal Trade Commission, women's suffrage, and workers' compensation.

Despite his successes, La Follette's personal life was marred by misfortune including the death of his father when La Follette was only eight months old and illnesses so severe that complete rest, often for months at a time, was the prescribed cure. Through the personal letters, diaries, and documents of the La Follette family, Unger uses the private life of La Follette as a means for understanding the public figure.

Thoroughly researched and documented, "Fighting Bob La Follette: The Righteous Reformer" is a testament to the progressive tradition in Wisconsin and its premier leader. The political climate, as well as some of its challenges, that Fighting Bob found himself facing at the turn of the nineteenth century will remind readers that, as cliche as it may be, history does repeat itself. And while it would be easy for Nancy C. Unger to sanctify a figure like Bob La Follette in this biography, she does not; she humanizes him.

To receive a review copy or press release, to schedule an author event, or for more information contact the WHS Press Marketing Department:

Nancy C. Unger is Associate Professor of History and Women's and Gender Studies at Santa Clara University. She has published several articles and essays on the La Follette family and the progressive era. Her op-eds applying the progressive tradition to the present are syndicated by the History News Service and have appeared in major newspapers across the country. Professor Unger has been a guest on Air America and Wisconsin Public Radio and has served as a consultant for PBS.

Author Interview
Jim Packard interviewed Nancy Unger on the Wisconsin Public Radio's "Larry Meiller Show" on Thursday, August 21, 2008 at 11:45am.

"Unger's critical biography hints that today's America desperately needs democratic, grassroots-oriented politicians of high caliber like La Follette." "Library Journal"

"In our time of mediocre and timid political leadership, it is good to have a book that reminds us of the unique political courage of Bob La Follette." Howard Zinn, historian

"This new biography ... elegantly weaves together the story of La Follette's family life with his heralded career. ... Unger's narrative is riveting. ... [A] passionate, engaging and scholarly study." "Publishers Weekly"

"[Nancy C. Unger] ... comes closer to saying `the right thing' about this charismatic and enigmatic Midwesterner that any of her predecessors, by both penetrating to the core of his identity and by assessing his proper historical identity." "The Annals of Iowa"

"With this much-needed biography of the Wisconsin firebrand, Nancy C. Unger has filled a void in the literature of Progressivism by reminding readers of La Follette's vital contribution to twentieth-century social, economic, and political reform." "Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography"

"As a study of one man's attempt to transform the system, this biography will appeal not only to history and biography buffs, but to every American who is concerned about the future of the nation." "Rocky Mount Telegram"

"Nancy C. Unger's biography gives us a survey of the public life and private struggles of this flawed giant, who, in many ways, is a case study of the strengths and weaknesses of charismatic moral leadership." "American Historical Review"

"You can't help coming away from this book convinced that all too little has changed in the 100 years or so since the La Follette era." "The Capital Times"

"The ideas of La Follette and his fellow progressives are our best hope for countering the reactionary and destructive forces that threaten to dissolve this fragile experiment in self-government which has so much to offer and has so far yet to go." Bill Moyers, PBS Host and author of "Moyers on Democracy"

"Nancy Unger has produced a fascinating, insightful, and persuasive portrait of Wisconsin's 'Little Giant.' She ... penetrates into his mind and character." John Milton Cooper Jr., Professor of History, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and author of "The Warrior and the Priest: Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt"