Fighting Bob La Follette

The Righteous Reformer

By Nancy C. Unger

408 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 36 illus., notes, bibl., index

  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-6102-8
    Published: June 2003
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-6811-4
    Published: June 2003

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Awards & distinctions

2001 Book of Merit Award, Wisconsin Historical Society

Robert "Fighting Bob" La Follette (1855-1925) was one of the most significant leaders of American progressivism. Nancy Unger integrates previously unknown details from La Follette's personal life with important events from his storied political career, revealing a complex man who was a compelling mixture of failure and accomplishment, tragedy and triumph.

Serving as U.S. representative from 1885 to 1891, governor of Wisconsin from 1901 to 1906, and senator from Wisconsin from 1906 to his death in 1925, La Follette earned the nickname "Fighting Bob" through his uncompromising efforts to reform both politics and society, especially by championing the rights of the poor, workers, women, and minorities.

Based on La Follette family letters, diaries, and other papers, this biography covers the personal events that shaped the public man. In particular, Unger explores La Follette's relationship with his remarkable wife, feminist Belle Case La Follette, and with his sons, both of whom succeeded him in politics. The La Follette who emerges from this retelling is an imperfect yet appealing man who deserves to be remembered as one of the United States' most devoted and effective politicians.

About the Author

Nancy C. Unger is assistant professor of history at Santa Clara University.
For more information about Nancy C. Unger, visit the Author Page.


"Unger is a good storyteller, and her lively writing and strong sense of narrative move the book along at a brisk, enjoyable pace. . . . Fighting Bob La Follette effectively introduces La Follette to a new audience and reminds readers of the complexity of the man and his politics."--Wisconsin Magazine of History

"Unger's biography gives us a survey of the public life and private struggles of this flawed giant, who, in many ways, is a case study of the strengths and weaknesses of charismatic moral leadership."--American Historical Review

"An interesting and notably personal account of the life and times of Wisconsin's famed Progressive reformer."--Choice

"Unger's voice remains subdued and objective throughout the book, but La Follette manages to leap from its pages."--New York Times Book Review

"This new biography . . . elegantly weaves together the story of La Follette's family life with his heralded career. . . . Unger's narrative is riveting. . . . [A] passionate, engaging and scholarly study."--Publishers Weekly

"This is a psychologically sensitive portrait of a man whose life was a compelling mixture of failure and accomplishment, tragedy and triumph. . . . Carefully documented, sensitive, and readable biography."--Political Psychology