What It Took to Win: A History of the Democratic Party

Michael Kazin

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2022

Agent: Sandra Dijkstra

The Democratic Party is the world’s oldest mass political organization. Since its inception in the early nineteenth century, it has played a central role in defining American society, whether it was exercising power or contesting it. But what has the party stood for through the centuries, and how has it managed to succeed in elections and govern?

In What It Took to Win, the eminent historian Michael Kazin identifies and assesses the party’s long-running commitment to creating “moral capitalism”?a system that mixed entrepreneurial freedom with the welfare of workers and consumers. And yet the same party that championed the rights of the white working man also vigorously protected or advanced the causes of slavery, segregation, and Indian removal. As the party evolved towards a more inclusive egalitarian vision, it won durable victories for Americans of all backgrounds. But it also struggled to hold together a majority coalition and advance a persuasive agenda for the use of government.

Kazin traces the party’s fortunes through vivid character sketches of its key thinkers and doers, from Martin Van Buren and William Jennings Bryan to the financier August Belmont and reformers such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Sidney Hillman, and Jesse Jackson. He also explores the records of presidents from Andrew Jackson and Woodrow Wilson to Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Throughout, Kazin reveals the rich interplay of personality, belief, strategy, and policy that define the life of the party?and outlines the core components of a political endeavor that may allow President Biden and his co-partisans to renew the American experiment.


A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice.

One of Kirkus Reviews' 40 most anticipated books of 2022.

One of Vulture's "49 books we can't wait to read in 2022".


"Important . . . [A] shrewd and very absorbing history."
—Timothy Noah, The New York Times Book Review (Editors' Choice)

"Sweeping . . . Illuminating . . . Kazin provides rich historical context for a longstanding debate about Democratic priorities . . . [He] brings the care of a scholar to a big subject, but he also has a storyteller’s gift for making it accessible." —Janet Hook, Los Angeles Times

"[Kazin] does not merely aim to offer context . . . His book exhorts Democrats to reacquaint themselves with their past battles against entrenched wealth and on behalf of ordinary people."  —John Dickerson, The Atlantic

"In his fine new book, Michael Kazin . . . makes an ambitious attempt to hone a unified theory of the Democratic Party’s 194-year record . . . [What It Took to Win] holds lessons for politics today . . . Well researched [and] accessible.—The Economist

"[A] very fine new history of the Democrats . . . Nuanced . . . What It Took to Win is a rich but accessible book."  —Sam Rosenfeld, The New Republic

"A lively, timely survey . . . [Kazin's] chapter on New York politics and Tammany Hall is brilliant . . . This should be today’s go-to book on its subject." —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Kazin delivers a wonderfully detailed record of the Democratic Party, from its beginnings to the present . . . Kazin’s account is an unvarnished and illuminating look at the past and potential future of a political party that endures.”  —George Kendall, Booklist (starred review)

"[A] stylistically exemplary review of . . . the world’s oldest continuing mass political party . . . This book will please Kazin’s enthusiasts and win favor among new readers."  —Library Journal