Holiday book recommendations: Rick Perlstein’s great political reads, 1960-1980

For the better part of the last 15 years, Rick Perlstein has written a narrative about the period from 1960 to 1980 and the effective conservative takeover of America. Perlstein’s four books provide the quite possibly the best societal and political critique of that era. This narrative is split up into four volumes.

The first work of the quartet, Before the Storm covers the growth of the conservative movement thanks to the John Birch Society and William F. Buckley’s The National Review. The book culminates with Barry Goldwater’s takeover of the GOP in 1964, a takeover that ushered in the era of conservatism and ended the New Deal era. The Eisenhower Administration had been high-point of liberal Republicanism, with the GOP effectively accepting most of the New Deal while also supporting desegregation efforts via a liberal Justice Department.

Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America by Rick Perlstein was released soon after President Obama assumed office. It walks the reader through four election cycles where the politics of Richard Nixon defined the country – this isn’t a book about Nixon as much as it is about the country and the political climate at the time. The Vietnam War, Civil Rights movement and growth of the new right all contributed to create a transitional and unique climate bordering on tumult in the country. It begins with Lyndon Johnson’s sweeping liberal legislation and ends with Nixon’s victory in 1972, what appeared to be a definite and defining win for the right. It’s an especially important read today as it weaves through an era when conservatives became more obstinate and into phony, even false narratives. A re-read of this book today reminds the elements for Fox News, Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis and today’s Republicans were present in the early 1970’s.

Perlstein’s third book in the series is The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan. The Invisible Bridge which covered the transformation of the USA and GOP between “Nixonland,” and Reaganland.” Much of the focus of this volume is on Watergate and its aftermath.

The latest addition to this series, Reaganland covers the period from 1976 to 1980 when Ronald Reagan transformed the conservative movement and the Republican Party. It focuses heavily on the development of religious conservative voters and the evolution of issues such as crime which gave Republicans huge advantages.

One comment

  1. Patrick Joseph Fowler · ·

    Kartik makes interesting choices.
    Let me add two.
    The most important least read book of this century is The Spirit Level by Wilkinson and Pickett. They are epidemiologists who show the disastrous effects of extreme economic inequality among developed nations.
    The second is American Made by Farah Stockman an experienced foreign correspondent who followed three factory workers for three years to answer her own question-why would people vote for a person for president who had no governmental experience. What she found turned into an important book for all those interested in society and politics.


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