Books: The Uses of Yesterday

THE PROGRESSIVE HISTORIANS by Richard Hofstadter. 498 pages. Alfred Knopf. $8.95.

No nation ever began with a richer inheritance or more radiant prospects than the United States of America. But living up to the promise of a perfect childhood can be a terrible strain. Everything achieved afterward tends to appear as anticlimax: the course of adult life seems to run depressingly downhill.

So it has often been with America. As the pioneer vanguard of the young Republic swept westward, Americans were gradually confronted by an embarrassing discrepancy between political dreams and everyday realities....

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