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The Rise of a Prairie Statesman:
The Life and Times of George McGovern
Thomas J. Knock

Winner of the 2017 PROSE Award in Biography & Autobiography, Association of American Publishers

Hardcover | 2016 | $35.00 | £27.95 | ISBN: 9780691142999
544 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 32 halftones.
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The Rise of a Prairie Statesman is the first volume of a major biography of the 1972 Democratic presidential candidate who became America's most eloquent and prescient critic of the Vietnam War. In this masterful book, Thomas Knock traces George McGovern's life from his rustic boyhood in a South Dakota prairie town during the Depression to his rise to the pinnacle of politics at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago where police and antiwar demonstrators clashed in the city's streets.

Drawing extensively on McGovern's private papers and scores of in-depth interviews, Knock shows how McGovern's importance to the Democratic Party and American liberalism extended far beyond his 1972 presidential campaign, and how the story of postwar American politics is about more than just the rise of the New Right. He vividly describes McGovern's harrowing missions over Nazi Germany as a B-24 bomber pilot, and reveals how McGovern's combat experiences motivated him to earn a PhD in history and stoked his ambition to run for Congress. When President Kennedy appointed him director of Food for Peace in 1961, McGovern engineered a vast expansion of the program's school lunch initiative that soon was feeding tens of millions of hungry children around the world. As a senator, he delivered his courageous and unrelenting critique of Lyndon Johnson's escalation in Vietnam—a conflict that brought their party to disaster and caused a new generation of Democrats to turn to McGovern for leadership.

A stunning achievement, The Rise of a Prairie Statesman ends in 1968, in the wake of the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, when the "Draft McGovern" movement thrust him into the national spotlight and the contest for the presidential nomination, culminating in his triumphal reelection to the Senate and his emergence as one of the most likely prospects for the Democratic nomination in 1972..

Thomas J. Knock is Altshuler Distinguished Teaching Professor at Southern Methodist University. He is the author of the prize-winning To End All Wars: Woodrow Wilson and the Quest for a New World Order and the coauthor of The Crisis of American Foreign Policy: Wilsonianism in the Twenty-first Century (both Princeton). He lives in Dallas, Texas.


"The Rise of a Prairie Statesman is the remarkable story of the making of one of the lions of liberalism, yet a man who also won the Distinguished Flying Cross. This brilliantly told saga of how a soft-spoken man of the Midwest shook up the established political order and emerged as one of the most eloquent and thoughtful leaders of the twentieth century is a must-read for anyone interested in American politics in the postwar era."--Robert P. Watson, Journal of American History

"An important reconsideration of a significant 20th-century politician."--Kirkus

"[I]n every way, the book succeeds. This is political writing--and life-writing--of the first order."--Open Letters Monthly

"This biography will stand as the standard bearer for all future biographies. It is detailed enough to get to know the person in-depth, and it is well written; unlike some biographies, this one flows smoothly, but keeps it academic for fellow researchers and students."--San Francisco Book Review

"First rate. . . . The book is worth owning."--Bob Mercer, Rapid City Journal

"Ably and engagingly written, copiously documented."--Choice

"Knock's highly informed, comprehensive, and sympathetic portrait of George McGovern up through his 1968 reelection to the Senate suggests that the second volume will amply prove his credentials as a statesman, explain his greatness, and make it apparent why he merits a two-volume biography."--Bartholomew Sparrow, Perspectives on Politics

"I started [the book] believing George McGovern to be the greatest presidential nominee of my lifetime and I finished it considering him to be one of the most qualified people ever to seek the presidency. As much of an admirer as I was, previously I had not fully appreciated the greatness of the man. I eagerly await book two."--Tom Gallagher, Los Angeles Review of Books

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