Hi! My name is James Chappel, and I’m an associate professor of History at Duke University. I recently completed a book about the history of old age, which is called Golden Years and which is available here. It’s a book about the experience and ideals of old age in these United States from 1920 to the present, dealing with themes of gender, race, and disability. In addition to my work on 20th century European religion, on which more below, I have published on modern ideals of old age in popular venues, like The Washington Post and The New York Times, as well as academic ones, like The Journal of Modern History.

My first book, Catholic Modern (Harvard, 2018), asked about the transformation of the Catholic Church in 20th century Europe. How did Catholics, long affiliated with monarchism and anti-Semitism, come to accept liberal democracy and capitalism? How, in a word, did Europe’s Catholics become modern? The book argues that the major transformation took place in the 1930s and 40s. In those crucial years of violence and war, Catholics decided to stop trying to conquer society as a whole, and start trying to salvage “the family” as the source of moral authority and political order. The book thus explains how and why Catholics became buttresses of the postwar democratic order, and also explains the new centrality of gender and family ethics to Catholic life, thought, and policymaking.

My second book, Golden Years (Basic, 2024), is a history of old age in America from, roughly speaking, the passage of Social Security to the present. Pre-order now!