The Playbook

James Shapiro

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Faber & Faber
6 June 2024
ISBN: 9780571372768
384 pages

From the publisher

From the ‘Winner of Winners’ of the Baillie Gifford Prize, a timely and dramatic story of a utopian American experiment, and the self-serving politicians that engineered its downfall.

1935. As part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s progressive New Deal, the Work Progress Administration is created to support unemployed workers, including writers, artists, musicians and actors. The Federal Theatre Project, a major part of that programme, begins to stage critically acclaimed, subsidised and groundbreaking productions across America, including Orson Welles’s directorial debut, a landmark modern dance programme and shows that sought to tell the truth about racism, inequality and the dangers of fascism.

1938. An opportunistic Texas congressman, Martin Dies, head of the newly formed House Un-American Activities Committee, successfully targets the Federal Theatre, exploiting rising tensions over communism and creating a new political playbook based on sensationalism, misinformation and fear – a playbook that has proved instrumental in our current culture wars.

From one of the world’s great storytellers, The Playbook is an invigorating re-enactment of a terrifyingly prescient moment in twentieth-century American cultural history.