Described in a 1980 Newsweek profile as "The Great American Ear," Studs Terkel is probably this country's best-known oral historian. His search for the "truth" about his country has perhaps inadvertently earned him the role of spokesman for the Common American of all regions and religions. Terkel has used his hometown of Chicago as something of a case study for divining the state of the Union; his many years as a disc jockey and radio-show host there have imbued him with a street-smart repartee that he has smoothly translated to the written word. For Terkel, words and music have an innate and distinctly American bond, and elements of jazz, in particular, have found their way into his ongoing dialogue with America. In this comprehensive look at the Terkel omnibus of writings, James T. Baker underscores his subject's unique place among social commentators: though his books are always literate and poignant, Terkel stays a healthy arm's length away from the description "man of letters." His most recent book identifies race as the foremost American obsession, but Terkel has, according to Baker, made his way through life exploring an array of American obsessions - from religion to baseball to jazz to the Progressive and Populist party politics of earlier eras and the ailing state of the Democrats and Republicans in our own time. Baker finds that, in his oral histories (Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression , Working: People Talk about What They Do All Day and How The Feel about What They Do , "The Good War": An Oral History of World War II , and Race: How Blacks and Whites Think and Feel about the American Obsession ), Terkel elicits a candor from interviewees that ultimately questions the complacent, status quo rendering of U.S. history. This slice-of-life reportage, says Baker, springs from Terkel's early days in television, primarily with his show "Studs' Place," which made its debut on NBC television in 1950 and was described by its host as so "true to life" that "Brecht would have roared" at it. Probably Chicago's most eminent octogenarian, Terkel has led a life of interesting contradictions, Baker points out: he is somewhat of an "expert" on American ethnic minorities, many of them far removed from his own urbanity. A white Jewish man, he is often at home in a black Baptist church listening to the gospel music of Mahalia Jackson. Reared in a thoroughly capitalist home by a mother who dreamed of riches, he is a socialist. Fervently devoted to Chicago, "The City That Works," he rejects its political values and considers the agrarian Progressive Robert La Follette his hero. Baker's engaging and biographically copious appraisal of Terkel's portraiture of America and its people - from Division Street: America (1967) to American Dreams, Lost and Found (1980) to The Great Divide: Second Thoughts on the American Dream (1988) - should be of great value to anyone interested in the social and popular-culture histories not found in textbook versions of twentieth-century America.