‘Goliath’

 

Matt Stoller, Simon & Schuster, 588 pages, $29.99. Woodrow Wilson’s pick for the Supreme Court in 1916 was Louis Brandeis, a jurist whose name became synonymous with aggressive opposition to big business. Nostalgic for Thomas Jefferson’s vision of a nation of small proprietors, Brandeis scorned the roller-coaster speculation, ostentatious wealth and spectacular political corruption of his age. The monopolies had to be broken up. A century later, from the wreckage of the 2008 financial crisis, a new generation has emerged to denounce monopoly power and the grotesque inequalities of modern capitalism. Like their predecessors, these latter-day Brandeisians see market concentration and business size as the principal threats to economic justice. In “Goliath,” Matt Stoller offers the movement its sacred text: a sweeping history of antimonopoly politics in America. Stoller arranges this potentially dry story into a series of dramatic set pieces. From street brawls to legislative legerdemain, the book is full of virtuous populists defending the little guy against dastardly monopolists and their enablers. Readers will learn fascinating details about the inner workings of New Deal policies, banking regulation and the conglomerate movement. Full of righteous and riveting writing, “Goliath” provides an important overview of a vital history. Yet as an argument about political economy, the book relies on melodrama and caricature, leaving much asserted but little proved. The result is that “Goliath” is punditry posing as history.

WASHINGTON POST