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Henry A. Wallace, dead for 35 years, has been resurrected in American Dreamer, a new biography by former U.S. Sen. John C. Culver and reporter John Hyde. The resurrection is appropriate in the first year of a new century, because Wallace was way ahead of his time. A modern man for all seasons, perhaps with this volume he will now receive some of the attention and respect he deserves. Goodness knows, the world needs more of what Wallace believed in. Wallace’s death in 1965 came nearly 20 years after he ran for the presidency of the United States, losing out to Missouri native son Harry Truman in 1948. At the time of his death, Wallace’s name still resonated among most people who cared about national and international politics. Today, apart from agricultural colleges and 20th-century U.S. history courses, his name is pretty much forgotten outside his native state of Iowa, where it is plastered all over. What makes Wallace’s life so relevant today? First, he was the consummate apolitical politician, the outsider who appealed to the little people while running against the Washington establishment. He was not exactly like Jimmy Carter or Ronald Reagan or John McCain or Bill Bradley, but there are similarities. Second, he was a New Ager before anybody coined the term. His unusual religious beliefs, bordering on mysticism, belied his straight-laced upbringing. Third, long before the end of the Cold War, he pushed for meaningful world peace despite the huge political risks involved. Fourth, long before the end of segregation, Wallace preached for the elimination of racism in unions, in business organizations, and in schools, hoping that he might help his own country find internal peace. Fifth, he tempered his ethereal qualities with a practical streak, much like some of the successful dot-com millionaires of today. Wallace brought improved food through his work with corn and chicken breeding, building a highly profitable business in the process. The guy was a polymath, no doubt about it. Culver and Hyde capture all the facets of Wallace’s life while somehow maintaining a compelling narrative. American Dreamer is not only a fascinating account about a mostly forgotten person, but also a sterling example of how first-time biographers can master the difficult craft. Wallace, who made his name as editor and publisher of influential national farm publications, entered politics reluctantly after Franklin Roosevelt became president in 1933. Wallace gave into pressure to serve in Roosevelt’s Cabinet as agriculture secretary. Because Roosevelt and Wallace got along so well, and because Wallace displayed a brilliant intellect, he rose to become vice president of the United States during Roosevelt’s third term, which meant running large portions of the World War II machinery. Wallace was so controversial as vice president, however, that in 1944 the Democratic Party replaced him on the national ticket with Harry Truman, who was a U.S. senator from Missouri. So when Roosevelt died shortly after re-election, Truman became president while Wallace became an increasingly disaffected outsider. In 1948, Wallace ran for the presidency as the Progressive Party candidate. Although he received plenty of attention, he finished behind not only Democrat Truman, the winner, and Republican Thomas Dewey, but also the States’ Rights Party’s Strom Thurmond. Co-author Culver, a former Democratic senator from Iowa, knew all this as a young boy in the Hawkeye State. But his family was so Republican that he could not discuss Wallace with his parents or grandparents. When Wallace died, Culver was serving in the U.S. House of Representatives. Journalists asked each member of the Iowa congressional delegation to comment on Wallace’s death. While writing his statement, Culver realized anew what an exceptional man Wallace had been. Yet little had been written about Wallace after 1948. Despite Wallace’s accomplishments, he was without honor. Culver wanted to find out why. Eventually, he decided that researching a biography would be the best way to answer that question. Thank goodness he stuck with it, and then enlisted Hyde, a fine stylist both as a daily journalist with The Des Moines Register and now as a biographer. The entire book is interesting, but the account of how Wallace spent the final 17 years of his life after dropping from public view is perhaps the authors’ greatest original contribution. Readers see Wallace on his upstate New York farm, surrounded by thousands and thousands of chickens, as he strives to breed the perfect chicken to lay the perfect egg. Never one to take halfway measures, Wallace would not stop until his chickens dominated the world market. At one point, they accounted for about 75 percent of all egg-laying poultry sold worldwide. His death, from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a neuromuscular degenerative disorder popularly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, was slow and agonizing. True to form, Wallace studied the disease without rest, then let scientists study his body in turn. Combining his idealism with his pragmatism, Wallace hoped his willingness to become a human guinea pig for ALS might help lead to a cure down the road. When this remarkable biography has ended, many readers are quite likely to feel they have lost an irascible favorite uncle. With American Dreamer, Culver and Hyde have accomplished what all biographers hope to accomplish�bringing the dead to life on the printed page. Steve Weinberg is a journalist and biographer in Columbia, Mo.

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