Defining the Age: Daniel Bell, His Time and Ours

Defining the Age: Daniel Bell, His Time and Ours edited by Paul Starr and Julian E. Zelizer
Paul Starr
February, 2022
Columbia University Press

The sociologist Daniel Bell was an uncommonly acute observer of the structural forces transforming the United States and other advanced societies in the twentieth century. The titles of Bell’s major books—The End of Ideology (1960), The Coming of Post-Industrial Society (1973), and The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism (1976)—became hotly debated frameworks for understanding the era when they were published.

In Defining the Age, Paul Starr and Julian E. Zelizer bring together a group of distinguished contributors to consider how well Bell’s ideas captured their historical moment and continue to provide profound insights into today’s world. Wide-ranging essays demonstrate how Bell’s writing has informed thinking about subjects such as the history of socialism, the roots of the radical right, the emerging postindustrial society, and the role of the university. The book also examines Bell’s intellectual trajectory and distinctive political stance. Calling himself “a socialist in economics, a liberal in politics, and a conservative in culture,” he resisted being pigeon-holed, especially as a neoconservative.

Defining the Age features essays from historians Jenny Andersson, David A. Bell, Michael Kazin, and Margaret O’Mara; sociologist Steven Brint; media scholar Fred Turner; and political theorists Jan-Werner Müller and Stefan Eich. While differing in their judgments, they agree on one premise: Bell’s ideas deserve the kind of nuanced and serious attention that they finally receive in this book.

Paul Starr is professor of sociology and public affairs at Princeton University, founding coeditor of The American Prospect, and a winner of the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction and the Bancroft Prize in American history. His most recent book is Entrenchment: Wealth, Power, and the Constitution of Democratic Societies (2019).

Julian E. Zelizer is the Malcolm Stevenson Forbes Class of 1941 Professor of History and Public Affairs at Princeton University. His most recent book is Abraham Joshua Heschel: A Life of Radical Amazement (2021), and he is a political analyst for and a contributor to NPR.

Area of Interest: 
Economic History
History of Capitalism
Intellectual History
Science and Technology Studies
20th Century
United States