The Age of Charisma

Leaders, Followers, and Emotions in American Society, 1870-1940

An innovative examination of American society, culture, and politics, The Age of Charisma argues that the modern relationship between American leaders and followers grew out of a unique group of charismatic social movements prominent in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Drawing on hundreds of letters and testimonials, Jeremy C. Young illustrates how “personal magnetism” in public speaking shaped society by enabling a shift from emotionally-inaccessible leadership to emotionally-available leadership. This charismatic speaking style caused a rapid transformation in the leader-follower relationship, creating an emotional link between speakers and listeners, and the effects of this social transformation remain with us today. Young argues that ultimately, charismatic movements enhanced American democracy by encouraging the personalization of leadership – creating a culture in which today’s leaders appeal directly to Americans through mass media.

Click here to read Jeremy’s Washington Post op-ed on The Age of Charisma.

Praise for The Age of Charisma

“A masterful history of charismatic movements over these six decades of American history. … This is an outstanding book. It should become required reading for all students of American political and social movements. It is also a joy to read. Its pages are filled with memorable characters who soar to fame on the white-hot emotions of mass publics and then fall back to earth when these publics abandon them. Interwoven with these gripping narratives are insightful critiques of a wide range of social theories on the emotional dynamics of mass society.”
Michael P. Young, American Historical Review

“With The Age of Charisma, Jeremy Young offers a richly suggestive, original, often brilliant and compelling history of how charisma stood at the center of American political culture from the 1880s to 1940. Fluidly written and wonderfully researched, it makes a significant contribution to our understanding of America’s past. The scholarship is immensely sound, and I know of no book that comes close to contributing what Young does.”
— Daniel Horowitz, author of On the Cusp: Yale College Class of 1960 and a World on the Verge of Change

“This important book offers an innovative analysis and interpretation of many of the main intellectual, social, political, and religious currents of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. By providing such a clear, persuasive, and direct analytical framework, Young contributes new insights to what we know of the era, identifies some of the key agents of progressive change, and offers a clear and persuasive argument. The research behind this book is excellent and Young’s writing is clear and succinct. In sum, this is an excellent book.”
— Matthew Avery Sutton, author of American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism


Journal of American History (John F. Reynolds)
Journal of Social History
(Daniel Wickberg)
American Historical Review (Michael P. Young)
American Nineteenth Century History (Daniel Joslyn)