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Reaganland: America's Right Turn 1976-1980

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From the bestselling author of Nixonland and Invisible Bridge comes a complex portrait of President Ronald Reagan that charts the rise of the modern conservative brand unlike ever before. After chronicling America’s transformation from a center-left to center-right nation for two decades, Rick Perlstein now focuses on the tumultuous life of President Ronald Reagan from 197 From the bestselling author of Nixonland and Invisible Bridge comes a complex portrait of President Ronald Reagan that charts the rise of the modern conservative brand unlike ever before. After chronicling America’s transformation from a center-left to center-right nation for two decades, Rick Perlstein now focuses on the tumultuous life of President Ronald Reagan from 1976–1980. Within the book’s four-year time frame, Perlstein touches on themes of confluence as he discusses the four stories that define American politics up to the age of Trump. There is the rise of a newly aggressive corporate America diligently organizing to turn back the liberal tide: powerful unions, environmentalism, and unprecedentedly suffusing regulation. There is the movement of political mobilized conservative Christians, organizing to reverse the cultural institutionalization of the 1960s insurgencies. Third, there is the war for the Democratic Party, transformed under Jimmy Carter as a vehicle promoting “austerity” and “sacrifice”—a turn that spurs a counter-reaction from liberal forces who go to war with Carter to return the party to its populist New Deal patrimony. And finally, there is the ascendency of Ronald Reagan, considered washed up after his 1976 defeat for the Republican nomination and too old to run for president in any event, who nonetheless dramatically emerges as the heroic embodiment of America’s longing to transcend the 1970s dark storms—from Love Canal to Jonestown, John Wayne Gacy to the hostages in Iran. Hailed as “the chronicler extraordinaire of American conservatism” (Politico), Perlstein explores the complex years of Ronald Reagan’s presidency offering new and timely insights to issues that still remain relevant today.


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From the bestselling author of Nixonland and Invisible Bridge comes a complex portrait of President Ronald Reagan that charts the rise of the modern conservative brand unlike ever before. After chronicling America’s transformation from a center-left to center-right nation for two decades, Rick Perlstein now focuses on the tumultuous life of President Ronald Reagan from 197 From the bestselling author of Nixonland and Invisible Bridge comes a complex portrait of President Ronald Reagan that charts the rise of the modern conservative brand unlike ever before. After chronicling America’s transformation from a center-left to center-right nation for two decades, Rick Perlstein now focuses on the tumultuous life of President Ronald Reagan from 1976–1980. Within the book’s four-year time frame, Perlstein touches on themes of confluence as he discusses the four stories that define American politics up to the age of Trump. There is the rise of a newly aggressive corporate America diligently organizing to turn back the liberal tide: powerful unions, environmentalism, and unprecedentedly suffusing regulation. There is the movement of political mobilized conservative Christians, organizing to reverse the cultural institutionalization of the 1960s insurgencies. Third, there is the war for the Democratic Party, transformed under Jimmy Carter as a vehicle promoting “austerity” and “sacrifice”—a turn that spurs a counter-reaction from liberal forces who go to war with Carter to return the party to its populist New Deal patrimony. And finally, there is the ascendency of Ronald Reagan, considered washed up after his 1976 defeat for the Republican nomination and too old to run for president in any event, who nonetheless dramatically emerges as the heroic embodiment of America’s longing to transcend the 1970s dark storms—from Love Canal to Jonestown, John Wayne Gacy to the hostages in Iran. Hailed as “the chronicler extraordinaire of American conservatism” (Politico), Perlstein explores the complex years of Ronald Reagan’s presidency offering new and timely insights to issues that still remain relevant today.

30 review for Reaganland: America's Right Turn 1976-1980

  1. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Saunders

    Rick Perlstein’s fourth and presumably final look at the rise of American conservatism, Reaganland is a towering monument both to conservative triumph and liberal folly. Picking up where his last volume, The Invisible Bridge, left off, Perlstein looks at the four years between Ronald Reagan’s narrow defeat at the 1976 Republican Convention by Gerald Ford and his election as president. Between that time, Perlstein writes, “enormous things were happening. They just weren’t always the sort of thing Rick Perlstein’s fourth and presumably final look at the rise of American conservatism, Reaganland is a towering monument both to conservative triumph and liberal folly. Picking up where his last volume, The Invisible Bridge, left off, Perlstein looks at the four years between Ronald Reagan’s narrow defeat at the 1976 Republican Convention by Gerald Ford and his election as president. Between that time, Perlstein writes, “enormous things were happening. They just weren’t always the sort of things that made for bold, clear headlines.” A combination of spiraling cultural grievances, powerful political movements, economic malaise and Jimmy Carter’s failed presidency conspired to make the New Right, frequently dismissed as a fringe or yesterday’s news, the dominant force in American politics. The immediate result was Reagan’s election in 1980; the long-term impact, we’re still assessing now. The balance of Perlstein’s book, despite the title, takes place in the Carter Administration. And Reaganland does little to revise the common portrait of Carter as a well-meaning failure. Carter takes office on a message of probity and cleaning up corruption in Washington, a populist with an ever-shifting package of beliefs (liberal social policies, moderate foreign policy, conservative economics). Within months, his presidency founders: Carter’s micromanaging style renders governing effectively near-impossible, as his brash staff (Hamilton Jordan, his foul-mouthed, woman-groping assistant, comes off particularly bad) alienates congressional allies and his own cabinet. Carter finds his efforts to sell America on austerity unsuccessful; Americans, battered by a decade of scandal and humiliation, aren’t receptive to his lectures on the national “crisis of confidence.” His foreign policy seems disastrous too, with his decision to return the Panama Canal kicking up a storm of domestic protest, his detente outreach to China and the USSR floundering and his greatest achievement, the Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt, hostage to the whims of Middle Eastern politics. All this before the nightmare of the Iran Hostage Crisis, which ignites furious indignation both at the dastardly Muslims terrorizing Americans (ignoring, of course, America’s long support of the Shah’s terror regime) and the President’s seeming inability to control events. Though, as Perlstein shows, Carter’s wounds weren’t entirely self-inflicted. Overconfident after Watergate and the impotent Ford Administration, liberal Democrats misread the times, prescribing New Deal era prescriptions for economic growth that the public no longer had patience for: how can in the midst of energy crises and perpetual “stagflation”? Carter’s approach, though often flawed in execution, was in many ways understandably pragmatic, yet seemed to alienate Democratic power brokers as much as his personal style (leading to Ted Kennedy’s divisive primary challenge in 1980). Perlstein also makes the case that the media, emboldened by Watergate and, paradoxically, increasingly suffused by conservative columnists (like William Safire, the Nixon speechwriter who made it his mission to vindicate his boss by demonizing Democrats), unfairly blew Carter’s every misstep into a Nixonian scandal. Perhaps there was some cause in going after Bertram Lance, Carter’s budget director discovered to have shady financial dealings, or following the misadventures of Billy Carter; but like the later attacks on Bill Clinton, it seems less a case of dogged reporting than throwing enough mud at the wall to see what sticks. Inevitably, some of it did. But the book’s core is its discussion of the New Right’s rise to power. Perlstein recounts the “culture wars” of the late ‘70s in vivid, stirring detail: the clash over the Equal Rights Amendment, early battles over gay rights and rearguard actions against school busing and racial integration. Entire chapters show how liberal organizations, from the feminist NOW to the NAACP, are constantly outmaneuvered by conservative populists who can better sell their own message while exploiting their opponents’ weaknesses - namely, smug complacency that their views are less prevailing opinions than inarguable common sense. Phyllis Schlafly’s crusade against the ERA takes on a life of its own, creating a powerful backlash against a once-uncontroversial movement. Anita Bryant spearheads a massive movement to snuff out (sometimes literally) gay and lesbian activism, just as it gains mainstream attention. Anti-abortion “pro-life” organizers, previously a fringe populated mostly by Catholics, gain extraordinary power; the National Rifle Association, formerly a moderate sportsmen’s organization, is overtaken by pro-gun militants. And the Moral Majority - media-savvy evangelists like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and Jim Bakker - transform fundamentalist Christianity, once studiously apolitical, into a massively powerful force. And conservative activists took notice. Rich corporate barons whom Perlstein dubs “Boardroom Jacobins” funnel money into conservative groups; libertarian activists find common cause with Birchers and Klansmen, mainstreaming their hatred into electoral politics; campaign geniuses like the vile Lee Atwater and direct mail guru Richard Viguerie flood mailboxes and airwaves with fear- and anger-stoking advertisements between elections. Their efforts quickly bear fruit. Liberal giants among the Democrats (Idaho’s Frank Church, last seen battling the CIA, and George McGovern, patron saint of liberal purists, among them) fall in targeted campaigns, while remaining moderate Republicans die (Nelson Rockefeller, notoriously, in flagrante delicto) or are written out of the party (John Anderson, so disgusted with the GOP’s rightward lurch that he mounted a third party bid in 1980). Meanwhile, a new generation of Republicans, among them Newt Gingrich, Orrin Hatch and Dan Quayle, came to office imbibing messages of ideological purity and politics as warfare: Democrats aren’t only wrong, they’re evil. They must not only be defeated, but destroyed. Perlstein, for his part, seems to have absorbed criticisms of his previous works, culling the hyperbole of Nixonland and the sprawling, messy structure of Invisible Bridge. His chapters provide brilliant mini-disquisitions on a variety of subjects, from America’s messy history with Iran and Israel to blow-by-blow accounts of the Camp David Accords, the National Women’s Convention in Houston and the murder trial of Harvey Milk's assassin Dan White. The cultural digressions that sometimes bog down his work (eg. Invisible Bridge’s long-winded disquisitions into Wacky Packages and the like) are mostly reduced to crisp observations about the meaning of Star Wars, Superman and other milestones. The glibness that sometimes marks Perlstein’s work is nowhere present here: what’s left is a book that, despite its broad scope and doorstop length, feels remarkably focused. Nowhere does this show more than Perlstein’s portrait of Ronald Reagan. While hardly flattering, Reaganland’s portrait of the 40th President feels more rounded than his near-caricatured depiction in Invisible Bridge. Perlstein grants him human contours (his empathy for disadvantaged individuals, even as he dismisses systematic inequality; his personal distaste for race baiting, even as it grows central to his campaign) that don’t obscure the destructiveness of his anti-government rhetoric, unfettered pro-capitalism and embrace of the Moral Majority. He baffles pundits who view him as an antiquated has-been, and outmaneuvers political opponents with a higher profile (establishment Republican George H.W. Bush, Watergate hero Howard Baker) or more solid bases (John Connally, the ex-LBJ protege who becomes the darling of CEOs until he puts his foot in his mouth once too often). Whatever else might be said of Reagan, he proved incredibly gifted at selling his message, even to Americans skeptical of conservative ideology. Thus he trounces Carter in the general election, even as doubts linger about the convenient timing of Iran’s release of hostages or the fate of Carter’s debate briefing book. Reaganland ends with Reagan ascending to the White House, having defied his opponents and vindicated all of those who clung to him, from the “respectable” movement conservatives who’d been waiting since the ‘50s for a savior to the seedier plutocrats and social reactionaries. Of course, as Perlstein shows, there’s scarcely a difference between them, except for the former granting an intellectual gloss to the inchoate anger and appetites of the latter. The unholy alliance Reagan forged remains with us, with effects painfully obvious to readers in 2020 (both of this year’s presidential candidates, appropriately, make unflattering cameos in the text). And it’s all captured in what might be Rick Perlstein’s masterpiece.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin

    Perlstein's fourth book on Movement conservatism's takeover of American politics from Goldwater to Reagan. This last chapter of the story is just recent enough for my political memory. Perlstein captures the bricolage of events that make this era. It seemed turbulent and chaotic while living through it as a pre-adolescent but one can discern if one was mature enough with hindsight the seismic shifts of American politics of the time. Everything from frivolous trends of the late seventies, to Nucl Perlstein's fourth book on Movement conservatism's takeover of American politics from Goldwater to Reagan. This last chapter of the story is just recent enough for my political memory. Perlstein captures the bricolage of events that make this era. It seemed turbulent and chaotic while living through it as a pre-adolescent but one can discern if one was mature enough with hindsight the seismic shifts of American politics of the time. Everything from frivolous trends of the late seventies, to Nuclear Accidents, Iran Hostage Crisis, Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, The Energy Crisis, the Stagflation, The Moral Majority, Harvey Milk's Assassination by Dan White, Anita Bryant, Mt. St. Helens. I like this series because Perlstein shows the Kaleidoscope of events at time the way they look to an observer at the time and pulls them together to show the success of the far-right takeover of the country upon Reagan's election. A bleak tale no less bleak for having lived through it and its aftermath. Update 9/3/2020 I listened to an audiobook version. There is a lot of detail and a lot of tangents to the story of the Carter years and Reagan's rise to the presidency. I think Perlstine covered this period down to its minutiae. Definitely gives the reader a feel for the texture of the times and how the right could make use of this milieu to take power. Good stuff. Here are some links. https://thebaffler.com/salvos/outsmar... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ggmk5... Majority Report interview with Rick Perlstine. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QH65Y...

  3. 5 out of 5

    Mehrsa

    I have read all of the Perlstein books--Goldwater, Nixon, and now Reagan. I loved Nixonland and I think about it all the time. This one was not great for me. First off, it was so so long--I think unnecessarily so. Perlstein is a fun and insightful historian to read because he brings in cultural context to explain the psyche of a moment. In Nixonland, he talks about how Jaws and the Exorcist were the thrillers of the moment due to the underground threats of domestic terrorism and the cold war. In I have read all of the Perlstein books--Goldwater, Nixon, and now Reagan. I loved Nixonland and I think about it all the time. This one was not great for me. First off, it was so so long--I think unnecessarily so. Perlstein is a fun and insightful historian to read because he brings in cultural context to explain the psyche of a moment. In Nixonland, he talks about how Jaws and the Exorcist were the thrillers of the moment due to the underground threats of domestic terrorism and the cold war. In this book, he provides both too much context and also not enough. It's still a fascinating read, but it felt like a play by play of the decade. It hardly covered Reagan and focused instead on Carter. I still learned a lot and enjoyed it, but I guess I had no lightbulb moments of understanding like I did with the other ones.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Perry

    I now feel much more informed about some of the political and social origins of the shambolic U.S. presidency of 2020. And, regarding how the hell it has come to pass that my former beloved GOP party of the first president I ever voted for (Reagan in 1984) could birth and protect such an insane clown posse to and in the White House: a narcissistic, mentally imbalanced autocrat who regularly foments rabid racism, governs the country by what he views on Fox and Friends that morning, tweets tyranny I now feel much more informed about some of the political and social origins of the shambolic U.S. presidency of 2020. And, regarding how the hell it has come to pass that my former beloved GOP party of the first president I ever voted for (Reagan in 1984) could birth and protect such an insane clown posse to and in the White House: a narcissistic, mentally imbalanced autocrat who regularly foments rabid racism, governs the country by what he views on Fox and Friends that morning, tweets tyranny and tantrums at all hours, kindles man crushes for several bad boy dictators, and is otherwise worse than I could have even imagined 4 years ago. I have been reading a lot of these books in my search for answers and to stoke the fires to end this. I refuse to go out a “good german.“

  5. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    Reaganland ends Rick Perlstein’s four volume history on the rise of modern conservatism in American politics with looking at how the former actor and governor became the embodiment of the 1980s. Beginning with how Ronald Reagan might or might not have failed to help President Gerald Ford in the 1976 then how he became the four-year front-runner to challenge President Jimmy Carter as the economic, cultural, and political landscape shifted under the feet of the Establishment without them noticing. Reaganland ends Rick Perlstein’s four volume history on the rise of modern conservatism in American politics with looking at how the former actor and governor became the embodiment of the 1980s. Beginning with how Ronald Reagan might or might not have failed to help President Gerald Ford in the 1976 then how he became the four-year front-runner to challenge President Jimmy Carter as the economic, cultural, and political landscape shifted under the feet of the Establishment without them noticing. Perlstein sticks to the trademark of this series with interconnecting cultural, entertainment, and societal issues with politics and history as nothing happens within a vacuum. The women’s rights, gay rights, and abortion rights developments of the early part of the 1970s, brought “organized discontent” from “moral” individuals who brought the “culture wars” that the country has lived with for the past 40 years into the mainstream of politics. Conservative background powerbrokers and boardroom Jacobins latched onto these “moral” crusades as well as the groundswell of taxpayer discontent and manipulated campaigns against consumerism to better their political fortunes and corporate profits. Then there was the continuing economic issues from inflation, energy, and unemployment all interrelated during the late 1970s that ultimately undermined the Carter Presidency than anything else beyond the borders of the nation. Finally, all the factors above that combined to make the 1980 Presidential campaign, not only one of a monumental shift in the political landscape but also historically misunderstood as to why Reagan won and Carter lost. Unlike previous books, Perlstein didn’t need to give biographies of the major political figures of the era as they had already been covered though he did give minibiographies of individuals of lesser stature but who’s unknown impact would last for years. As I mention in my review of the previous book, Perlstein just goes after Carter and the major figures in his Administration but Reagan and his entire campaign doesn’t escape savaging as well throughout the book especially during the Presidential campaign. Perlstein doesn’t have to manipulate the facts to make the Christian Right, aka Moral Majority, come across as unchristian and unconstitutional in their portrayal in the book as what was covered in this five year period could be copied and pasted from anytime up until 2020. The 1980s is seen as the decade of Ronald Reagan thus this book title, Reaganland: America’s Right Turn, 1976-1980, perfectly encapsulates how that came to be. Rick Perlstein’s final volume of how modern conservatism took over the Republican Party and changed the political landscape as well as the political Establishment completes a 22-year story yet also feels historically hollow, which is the book’s major drawback. Without analysis of how the trends of 1958-1980 influenced the next four decades, the volume’s end was both sudden and underwhelming for a reader that had spent their time reading it.

  6. 4 out of 5

    David Snower

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. With the switch from Carter to Reagan our country fucked up. Just to give a sense of the change—Carter was (of course) the humble peanut farmer who didn’t have enough money to stay at hotels during his presidential campaign so he slept on supporters’ couches. He had “an engineer’s mind and a preacher’s heart”. For his inauguration his clothes were a little less formal, and he stepped out of the motorcade on the way to the White House to walk down the street holding his daughter’s hand and waving With the switch from Carter to Reagan our country fucked up. Just to give a sense of the change—Carter was (of course) the humble peanut farmer who didn’t have enough money to stay at hotels during his presidential campaign so he slept on supporters’ couches. He had “an engineer’s mind and a preacher’s heart”. For his inauguration his clothes were a little less formal, and he stepped out of the motorcade on the way to the White House to walk down the street holding his daughter’s hand and waving at people, and for his early addresses to the American public he wore cardigan sweaters like Mr. Rogers and talked about how we need to be less materialistic and care about each other more. At Reagan’s inauguration there were so many private jets owned by CEO’s coming into DC that air traffic control had a freak out, he wore a black suit and white bow-tie, and held an inaugural ball where “fur coats so overloaded the coat racks that they resembled great lumbering mastodons out of the prehistoric past”. Reagan was a precursor of Trump in oh-so-many-ways, that he was an actor, had a penchant for just making things up for his speeches (this seems not to have been in that nefarious a way, but that he was just a little loose with the truth I guess), and was really into conspiracies before he became president (he once wrote that the government had a cure for cancer and was hiding it) What’s nuts is that up until the election the race between them was seen as neck-and-neck (Reagan of course then became an exceeding popular president, but before he was elected people were kind of afraid of him). Most pollsters had Carter slightly on top. Carter ended up losing in a landslide, with only 49 electoral votes. What had changed was that a very small group of people behind Reagan had completely changed the electorate by politicizing previously un-politicized aspects of Christianity. Before people didn’t really vote so much on religious issues, and the country was actually moving in a pretty socially progressive direction. With Carter’s backing, we were moving towards way more acceptance of homosexuality and empowerment for women. Like Obama though (particularly Obama’s 1st term) people were frustrated with the slow progress and seeming ineffectiveness. Again, it was a pretty small group of people—Jerry Falwell, Richard Viguerie and Orrin Hatch, (and to some extent Anita Bryant and Phillis Schafley) that got congregations and congregations of religious people across the country to vote. These movements very quickly got protections for gay people overturned in some of the most liberal cities of the country—Eugene, St. Paul, San Francisco... largely bc people on the left were turned off from voting and less engaged with politics than they were a decade earlier. Somehow Carter began to be seen as un-Christian. Carter, who taught Sunday school, and continued to do so even when in the White House. But anyways the point is that the country was going in a fundamentally different direction and then a small group known as the new-right fundamentally changed everything by bringing in a fuck-ton of people who had never voted before. Kind of similar I think to how Trump brought in a bunch of the well... lumpenproletariat. This is why I still think Trump will win. Carter was genuine, honest, and often unlucky. He also gave one of the most original and bold speeches in American history, which had the biggest popularity boost of any speech ever (like +17 points from one speech!). History has now rewritten this event (the crises of confidence speech) as a brutal failure. Maybe it’s because it clashed so heavily with the vision of the unbridled, greed-is-good America Reagan revolutionized.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Neil Griffin

    Perlstein wrote 4 enthralling books for this project that shows why our country is currently a political hellscape and we're all probably going to die soon. This last one, which shows Reagan's 1980 triumph, is a fine culmination that threads the hard-right conservative movement from Goldwater to Nixon and then to Reagan. What's left unsaid is where this tradition has led since, but the reader will have no trouble connecting the dots. Perlstein is a master synthesizer of thousands of sources and w Perlstein wrote 4 enthralling books for this project that shows why our country is currently a political hellscape and we're all probably going to die soon. This last one, which shows Reagan's 1980 triumph, is a fine culmination that threads the hard-right conservative movement from Goldwater to Nixon and then to Reagan. What's left unsaid is where this tradition has led since, but the reader will have no trouble connecting the dots. Perlstein is a master synthesizer of thousands of sources and weaves together a compelling narrative that is somehow suspenseful even if you know your history. He is better at anybody in recreating political events, like Reagan's tv speech for Goldwater in the first book, the riots at the DNC in Nixonland, Nixon's prevarications in front of the camera in the 3rd, and Jimmy Carter and Ted Kennedy's imbroglio at the 1980 convention. Just amazing, spellbinding writing. Besides these vivid setpieces, what really sticks with the reader is how the right has played by different rules than the ineffective liberals and left since 1968. Reading this concurrently with early history about Bolsheviks is almost shocking. The end goal is power and the means with which they grab it--whether it's through lying, stealing, spreading innuendo--can always be justified. And democrats never cease to amaze in how they walk right into their traps time and time again. If you haven't read this, I'd start with the beginning of the project and work your way to this finale. It'll change the way you view politics and your understanding of the contingent nature of American history.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Chip Douglass

    A old gaffe-prone celebrity with a hazy command of the facts harnesses right-wing disaffection to a plutocratic agenda and wins the presidency against a dull Democratic candidate who hardly anyone seems to like. Donald Trump? No, Ronald Reagan. More than just describing how Reagan went from punchline to president, Rick Perlstein's Reaganland is a sweeping political, social, and cultural history of late 70s America, cataloguing everything from gas shortages and the Iran hostage crisis to the cons A old gaffe-prone celebrity with a hazy command of the facts harnesses right-wing disaffection to a plutocratic agenda and wins the presidency against a dull Democratic candidate who hardly anyone seems to like. Donald Trump? No, Ronald Reagan. More than just describing how Reagan went from punchline to president, Rick Perlstein's Reaganland is a sweeping political, social, and cultural history of late 70s America, cataloguing everything from gas shortages and the Iran hostage crisis to the conservative themes of The Deer Hunter, while zeroing in on the tectonic shifts in American politics that laid the groundwork for Reagan's landslide victory in the 1980 election, and his subsequent conservative revolution. The echoes of present-day America are hard to miss, and Perlstein is keen to lean into them, with both Donald Trump and Joe Biden receiving mentions. "We organize discontent," claimed New Right mandarin Howard Phillips. And indeed, the story of the late 70s (and Reaganland's center of gravity) was the ferocious right-wing backlash against the sociopolitical revolutions of the 60s. Evangelical Christians angered by the advances of abortion rights, gay rights, and women's rights, corporate executives eager to roll back the welfare and regulatory state, and neocons disenchanted with the Democratic Party's dovish turn post-Vietnam all coalesced under the conservative banner, cheerfully led by the former California governor, Ronald Reagan. The narrative begins in 1976 with Reagan deflecting charges that his primary campaign and subsequent lethargic campaigning for Gerald Ford played a role in Ford's narrow defeat to Jimmy Carter in 1976. Dismissed as too old and too right-wing for another presidential run, Reagan confounded the critics by tapping into this groundswell of conservative angst and presenting it with a warm, optimistic, and charismatic veneer. And angst it was, as Perlstein recounts the political and cultural wars of the late 70s with literary panache: the initially noncontroversial Equal Rights Amendment was stopped cold in its tracks by social conservatives who feared it would undermine women's traditional role as homemakers; gay rights ordinances in Miami and Wichita were rolled back by a tidal wave of homophobia, fanned by hucksters like Anita Bryant and Jerry Falwell; conservatives furiously denounced the US transfer of the Panama Canal back to Panama under the jingoistic slogan of, "We bought it; we built it; it's ours." Reading the blow-by-blow accounts of these fights, it's striking how many of today's conservative grievances are actually tropes borrowed from this period. “Make the libs mad!” was quite literally in the stump speeches from Phyllis Schlafly as she campaigned against the ERA. Jimmy Carter's proposed electoral reform package in 1977 that included, among other things, universal same-day registration and abolition of the Electoral College, was defeated by a lobbying effort led by Ronald Reagan under cries that it would lead to wide-scale voter fraud. We can at least pay Paul Weyrich, another New Right influencer, the complement of honesty when he said at a 1980 evangelical conference that he didn't want everyone to vote. The more things change, the more they stay the same, indeed. One can't help thinking after putting down this book that Reagan's key political innovation was putting a smiley face on an essentially ugly movement. Yet Reaganland is about liberal capitulation as much as it is about conservative ascendency. The ill-fated man whose presidency overlaps this period, Jimmy Carter, is depicted by Perlstein as an honest technocrat who missed the forest for the trees; the man who could sit down and read the federal tax code while not realizing that the ground was shifting from beneath him. The postwar liberal consensus, undergirded as it was by economic good times, unravelled as new economic challenges arose - high inflation, sluggish growth, and energy shortages - and a business-fueled counterattack sought to hack away at the welfare state. The passage of Proposition 13 in liberal California, which limited property taxes to 1% of assessed value, seemed to augur a new era of fiscal conservatism. Instead of fighting these trends, however, Democrats surrendered to them. Carter led the way by proposing austerity budgets, deregulating large swathes of industry from banking to natural gas, and installing anti-inflation hawk Paul Volcker as Federal Reserve Chairman, whose interest rate hikes struck a hammerblow at American manufacturing. Perlstein is pretty explicit that the Democratic turn to neoliberalism began under Carter, not Clinton. In foreign policy, Carter found more success, crafting the signature achievement of his presidency: the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, the first time an Arab nation made peace with the Jewish state. Ultimately, though, Carter was undermined by the twin 1979 shocks of the Iran hostage crisis and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The entire Iran saga is deftly told by Perlstein, who makes an interesting case that the media blew the crisis out of proportion by turning the fate of the hostages into a public spectacle. Still, the traumatizing events of student radicals paralyzing a global superpower, combined with the failed rescue attempt of the hostages in April 1980 - only compounding the humiliation - was practically a walking metaphor for the Carter presidency: inaction, weakness, and failure. A perfect storm of events - economic stagnation, social discontent, and foreign policy humiliation - combined with affable patriotism were enough to sweep a man widely derided by the media as a buffoonish lightweight into the White House, setting the table for the conservative policy revolution that followed. After four years of having Jimmy Carter scold them for indulgent materialism and suffering from a "crisis of confidence", Americans decided to vote for the man who wanted them to have their cake and eat it too. Reagan famously posed the devastating question at the 1980 presidential debate with Carter, "Are you better off than you were four years ago?" If four years was enough time to pass a harsh judgement on Carter's presidency, then it's fair to suggest that forty years is enough to pass a verdict on Reagan and Reaganism: it did an enormous amount of harm to the country, and the current occupant of the White House seems a fitting capstone to the entire conservative project, which Perlstein has so masterfully and laboriously analyzed over the course of his remarkable (and now finished) series.

  9. 4 out of 5

    John Spiller

    I do not have the mental bandwith to do justice to this door stopper of a book. If you have not read Perlstein's three other books in this series, I do not recommend starting with this book. I mean, if you are going to dive into an 1100 page book, you might as well do it right. I do think that you can skip Invisible Bridge, the third book in this series and the weakest, without any lost continuity, though. If you read "Before the Storm" and like his style, then "Nixonland" and "Reaganland" will I do not have the mental bandwith to do justice to this door stopper of a book. If you have not read Perlstein's three other books in this series, I do not recommend starting with this book. I mean, if you are going to dive into an 1100 page book, you might as well do it right. I do think that you can skip Invisible Bridge, the third book in this series and the weakest, without any lost continuity, though. If you read "Before the Storm" and like his style, then "Nixonland" and "Reaganland" will be a joy.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Adam Swift

    One minor quibble. Typos. Feels like this may have been rushed out to take advantage of the election without a final proofreading run. I know this is a massive book, but have never read a book by a major author from a major publishing house with so many typos.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Sanjida

    For the last two weeks I've been transported in time 40 years to another embattled presidency, to another election countdown. I feel whiplash going from our timeline to Carter and Reagan, Ted Kennedy and Ralph Nader, GHW Bush and John Connelly and Phyllis Schlafly. There is history here about Iran and the shah, Afghanistan, Egypt and Israel, evangelical right wing Christianity, Laffer curve, the rise of the anti-gay movement and anti-tax revolt, that the media has all but forgetton. This all sta For the last two weeks I've been transported in time 40 years to another embattled presidency, to another election countdown. I feel whiplash going from our timeline to Carter and Reagan, Ted Kennedy and Ralph Nader, GHW Bush and John Connelly and Phyllis Schlafly. There is history here about Iran and the shah, Afghanistan, Egypt and Israel, evangelical right wing Christianity, Laffer curve, the rise of the anti-gay movement and anti-tax revolt, that the media has all but forgetton. This all started somewhere, and this history is critical to understanding the present. In many ways America has changed little in 40 years. Maybe one day the good guys will learn a lesson about how to break the pattern. Much respect to Reagan for pulling off a total rout only a few years after Nixon, and kudos to Perlstein for telling it like it is.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Marshall

    The title of this book might be “The Decline and Fall of the American Republic, how we moved from a nation of rational people who relied on expert advice to solve problems to a nation where at least some favored lies to gain political power, to support repression (their repression of others) and most importantly the end of the American Dream. From 1945-1973, the United States and indeed the world enjoyed unprecedented prosperity that had never really been known in human history. Nixon, while he t The title of this book might be “The Decline and Fall of the American Republic, how we moved from a nation of rational people who relied on expert advice to solve problems to a nation where at least some favored lies to gain political power, to support repression (their repression of others) and most importantly the end of the American Dream. From 1945-1973, the United States and indeed the world enjoyed unprecedented prosperity that had never really been known in human history. Nixon, while he tried to cope with Watergate allowed America to become embroiled in one of the periodic wars that plagued the Middle East since the end of the Ottoman Empire, oil was embargoed and that was the end of that! There had been signs previously of economic problems due to the ongoing Vietnam War, which Johnson and Nixon wanted to fight, but they didn’t want to pay for. However, nothing had as profound an impact on the fate of the future of the United States. People had grown used to a certain lifestyle. The first oil shock of the 1970s turned the United States from a nation where a single wage earner was sufficient to keep a family of four to the need for two adults to be employed. By 1975, as this book notes 50% of the female population was employed. During WWII, this figure was only 25%. This economic environment made people seek answers to an array of questions. And in a time honored fashion many sought and found scapegoats. African Americans were viewed as receiving too much from too many liberal Democrats. Playing these attitudes would emerge as a key strategy for electing Reagan, destroying the New Deal coalition and increasing the misery of the American electorate. Gays and newly emancipated women were other convenient targets. For decades, as faithful readers of the books that Rick Perlstein has been writing for the last 24 years, there had been groups who were struggling against the direction of the country. Ridding the country of segregation was something they tended to oppose (indeed many soldiers of the Reagan revolution were fans South Africa’s apartheid state), but the breakdown of the traditional hierarchy, because it wasn’t working, was another. A convenient fiction in which American life before 1963 mirrored the situation comedies that were popular in the 1950 was hatched. And this was as accurate as the contention that people in the 1930s cavorted like the heroines of Busby Berkeley’s Gold Diggers musicals during the depression or film noir was an accurate depiction of the 1940s and 1950s. God was back, nostalgia was back, people were looking for Bedford Falls. Into this picture stepped two people. First was the feckless Jimmy Carter who really was not only unsuited to be president of anything, but he lacked anyone around him who could provide competent advice on governing. He would be the gravedigger of the New Deal. The notions of using government to advance the interests of the nation as a whole had created a generation of college educated home owners with provisions for old age. Unions had enabled wages to go up, producing a standard of living that was the envy of the world. Carter would undermine most of these elements and become surprised that swathes of the New Deal coalition would defect to Reagan in 1980 after he had destroyed their livelihoods, imposed a regimen of “sacrifice and suffering” and underestimated his opponent. When not imposing economic hardship on working class Democrats, Carter obsessed over symbolism, trying to focus on the long run, forgetting Harry Hopkins’ dictum, “people don’t eat in the long run, they eat every day” While Carter fiddled over whether to wear a cardigan sweater on TV, the Republicans were organizing, raising money, defeating progressive legislation, demonizing welfare mothers and homosexuals and beginning the slow process of getting people to vote consistently against their economic interests for the next 40 years. Phyllis Schlafly was able to defeat the ERA by warning that lesbians were getting federally funded abortions (Republicans have loved the poorly educated since the 1970s and the poorly educated have been counted on to support their own victimization as they took stands against this nonsense). At the center of all of this was the father of lies himself, Ronald Reagan, an effective speaker, because he gave the same speech over and over, beginning in the 1950s, in touch with cultural conservatives who led housewives to insist on lower salaries and expensive daycare when they had to go to work. Religious conservatives, who after opposing integration, opposed abortion. Hawks rightfully fearful of the Soviet Union, but not really understanding their enemy. Then there were the boardroom Jacobins, the business leaders who though unable to produce products that the American public would buy, insisted that unions and government regulation were the cause of all their ills. We’ve seen how well that has worked out, haven’t we? The free market is neither kind nor caring. Supply side economics, never proven, merely asserted insured business would receive the government support that previously had gone to consumers and had prevented people from enjoying a “Grapes of Wrath lifestyle during hard times. There were plenty of hard times to go around in this book and this era. The Republican strategy that allowed Reagan to become president and to continue the decline of the middle class was to promote discontent, even if it meant demonizing the imaginary. Back in the 1970s liberal secular humanists, abortion crazed lesbians, labor unions that kept wages low, marijuana crazed hippies promoting crime. Back when this strategy of promoting hatred was rolled out random shootings were random. The last 40 years of promoting division has made the rare a common place occurrence. Yes, people may have been seeking a return to traditional values, but the destruction of a sense of community to gain political power that this strategy introduced made the realization of that goal impossible. Returning to even an approximation of the time before 1963, in which this time all people have a share in the common good is impossible as long as this strategy remains essential to political campaigns. And in 2020 we can see where the last 40 years have lead us. Rick Perlstein has done a fabulous job of chronicling this period. This marks the fourth in a series of books looking at the rise American conservative movement and in my opinion, the decline of the American Republic. This is is an incredible book. Please do not be put off by its length. Everything here is worth reading and worth knowing.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Morgan Schulman

    I received an advanced readers copy exchange for an honest review. This was very informative but way more information than I and anyone needed

  14. 4 out of 5

    Matt Smith

    It’s five weeks until what will probably be the most important election of every American’s lifetime. How are you doing? I ask because I’m doing so well I read a book about the four years of the presidency of Jimmy Carter that directly resulted in Ronald Reagan’s Presidency, and then, essentially, forty years of Conservative orthodoxy as the operating principle of America and her policies and politics. This book doesn’t directly answer *all* the issues we have with today’s society. The events of It’s five weeks until what will probably be the most important election of every American’s lifetime. How are you doing? I ask because I’m doing so well I read a book about the four years of the presidency of Jimmy Carter that directly resulted in Ronald Reagan’s Presidency, and then, essentially, forty years of Conservative orthodoxy as the operating principle of America and her policies and politics. This book doesn’t directly answer *all* the issues we have with today’s society. The events of this book pre-date the personal computer (meaning social media doesn’t take off until two and a half decades after this book) and right wing media is in its most nascent stages, and this only touches on its beginnings with The 700 Club and what have you. And yet, all the hallmarks of where we are not start here. As the “final” installment of Rick Perlstein’s series on how America swung right in the wake of the Kennedy assassination, this is the apotheosis, the final move that resulted in where we are today. Weirdly, this isn’t… Ronald Reagan’s fault, which is what I thought I’d be thinking through this book. No. Reagan was merely the vehicle by which all of America’s worst impulses are excused and permitted. Like those rare times in American history, Reagan was the perfect conduit here, completely disinterested in facts, and obsessed with painting a vision of America that would fit into the minds of all those who felt themselves oppressed by just how fast the world was changing around him. Perlstein excels at painting this picture of culture over four years, explaining all the various events that lead Reagan to that landslide over Carter. Not to say that any of this was Carter’s fault. To the contrary, Jimmy Carter is a wonderful human who was just handed an extremely bad hand and not up to the “unsavory” aspects of the job (e.g. politicking). And, let’s face it, 1979 was a really, really awful year and would have been a challenge for even the most gifted of presidents. It’s just too bad it happened to a nice guy like Carter. No. This book really goes into the perfect storm that created a transformation in American politics. How America was given permission to vote for some truly bigoted people, how the evangelical movement aligned with the right of American politics, how it finally decided that America needed tax relief but my god did businesses really need that relief like so bad. (And let’s be real, watching Supply-Side economics take hold in the GOP and with Reagan specifically is only outmatched by the absolute batshit story about how Proposition 13 passed in California.) All of this comes back to an individual I find truly onerous, one whose soft-spoken charisma allowed him to lie constantly, to fumble his way through completely inaccurate information, to present America with “alternative facts” that he liked more than the real ones. I certainlhy didn’t like Ronald Reagan through the first two books of this, and watching this noxious individual stumble his way to the presidency with all that swagger… it’s crazy how much it felt inevitable that Ronald Reagan would, in fact, be President. America wanted a guy like him, one who would play to their base selfishness, who would tell them what they wanted to hear so that they would feel better about themselves. Who would present his own vision of reality as the true reality, regardless of the reality happening in front of people’s eyes. Someone who fully embodied the walking contradition of “I want to be President” and “I think the federal government should be dismantled”. It’s no surprise that Reagan changed America and the left more or less collapsed with his election. But this is the America we’ve been living with for a long time, and this sort of appeal to the emotional rather than the rational, the toxic masculinity and anti-progressive values… All of where we are now, comes back to the way the country moved as my parents were coming of age. We’ve been here for a long time. And where we are now is the end result of forty years of rousing success after rousing success for the Right as it’s done tremendous work to bloat defense spending while giving welfare to those who need it least and dismantling services that help those who need them most. But all the fat (except defense spending) is gone. We’ve been cutting into muscle for a long time. Now we’re up to bone, and I truly believe that this election that we have coming, the one that’s in five weeks, that everyone *everyone* should vote in. This election has the ability to change the way this country works, just like Reagan changed the way America worked forty years ago. We can change this country. We can right this ship and get it back on course. We can make America not great again, but put it back on that course to try to make it that more perfect union. That's why you should vote for Joe Biden. And why you should vote for Democrats up and down the ticket. Your country needs you. Vote.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Ernest Spoon

    OK, an unusually high rating for a book I did not, could not see through. For me, who lived through the time, it was just too--real?--painful? But it conjured up memories of how a Democratically controlled Congress, especially the preening, entitled Tip O'Neill and the original Republican-in-an-elephant suit Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and the liberal media stabbed Jimmy Carter, the outsider president loved by the common citizen, in the back and helped bring down his presidency. I got as far as the OK, an unusually high rating for a book I did not, could not see through. For me, who lived through the time, it was just too--real?--painful? But it conjured up memories of how a Democratically controlled Congress, especially the preening, entitled Tip O'Neill and the original Republican-in-an-elephant suit Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and the liberal media stabbed Jimmy Carter, the outsider president loved by the common citizen, in the back and helped bring down his presidency. I got as far as the Phyllis Schlafly stuff and then stopped. Schlafly is/was the ultimate working rich political hustler. As I always say, all politics takes place within and among members of the working rich primarily for that its, and its Investor class betters, own benefit; anything the working classes get is crumbs. And the only real difference between Republicans and Democrats is, working rich Democrats have a sense of noblesse oblige, the Republicans none at all. And though Schlafly was relatively well-heeled--her old man was a wealthy St. Louis lawyer--she could not have begun her twisted anti-equal rights amendment crusade without seed money from someone, or someones, in the Investor class. And, see, that's were Perlstein, like so many writers who grew up in working rich privilege, attending all the right schools, never delve in to, the dark and seedy world of the moneymen behind conservative politics. Reactionary talking head weaved fantasties of fantastic "deep state" conspiracies to cover their own conspiracies of funding to keep the disinformation coming. If Carter's administration succeeded in any it was teaching the current Republican Party leadership to treat an "outsider" president as one of their own. Donald J. Trump, a card-carrying member of the lower levels of the Investor class, is the perfect vulgar, cartoon caricature of an outsider politician.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Csparrenberger

    Without the notes at the end of this book, it is still 920 pages long. The print is microscopic meaning that this is one long read. That said, this is one interesting book. It covers the four years before the 1980 election and how Ronald Reagan increased his power and standing in the republican party during those years. By default , this book also covers the Carter presidency in great detail and looks at the many missteps made during his administration. As you might expect, there are topics in t Without the notes at the end of this book, it is still 920 pages long. The print is microscopic meaning that this is one long read. That said, this is one interesting book. It covers the four years before the 1980 election and how Ronald Reagan increased his power and standing in the republican party during those years. By default , this book also covers the Carter presidency in great detail and looks at the many missteps made during his administration. As you might expect, there are topics in the book that are of more interest than others. At times, I thought I might stop reading this book when I ran into several topics that were not of interest to me in a row. The book is excellently researched and if you are a history buff, I am sure you will enjoy it. For someone like me, who was alive during these years, it was a great trip down memory lane.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Bob Peru

    some of the economic parts were a slog (for me at least), but a great account of how republicans took over.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Randy Wilson

    Seared in my memory is walking onto the UC Berkeley campus in November 1980 and seeing a newspaper stand where the headline screeched, 'Reagan Sweep.' I was twenty years old and my disgust at that headline has grown into despair forty years on. Today, I read that Trump wants to punish California for having its schools teach the real story about slavery in the United States. This is just good old-fashion race-baiting and Reagan was a master at this so that Trump doesn't have to be. I've read every Seared in my memory is walking onto the UC Berkeley campus in November 1980 and seeing a newspaper stand where the headline screeched, 'Reagan Sweep.' I was twenty years old and my disgust at that headline has grown into despair forty years on. Today, I read that Trump wants to punish California for having its schools teach the real story about slavery in the United States. This is just good old-fashion race-baiting and Reagan was a master at this so that Trump doesn't have to be. I've read every volume of the Pearlstein's day by day chronicle of the conservatives rise to power. When he begins with the rise of Barry Goldwater, America is in the middle of its postwar boom. There are no economic powerhouses to compete with our nation. There is only the bogeyman of the Soviet Union which couldn't compete economically and barely competed militarily but served as a rallying cry for bipartisanship. What we learn in that first volume is that conservatives decided to make a raw appeal to the core mythology of the United States which is that our nation is a white, Christian nation that reveres liberty and hates government handouts. Pluralism, the belief that America is strong because of its diversity of religions, races and cultures, it turns out only works when the society that espouses this is feeling prosperous and generous. By late sixties pluralism was under threat and soon would be ruthlessly attacked. The Civil Rights movement in the fifties and sixties threatened that myth at a core level. If America was so obsessed with liberty how come African Americans still weren't guaranteed the right to vote and weren't freed of overt segregation a century after the Civil War had ended slavery? Goldwater helped legitimize white backlash against civil rights and from there it was all about how Republicans made sure its ever devoted plutocrat class could evoke the white American mythology and win power. Notice I said win power and not votes. Reagan had to work to win votes that's why he needed to pretend to care about minorities. However, Reagan made sure to enhance and protect the Republican hold on power thereafter. That gives Trump and his cohorts plenty of power hence the use of Republican state legislatures, governors, the U.S. Senate and the judiciary including when needed the U.S. Supreme Court to now squelch the vote and let Republicans hold on to power even when they aren't popular. The most chilling part of Reaganland is watching how very clever folks like Phyllis Schafly, Jerry Falwell and Richard Viguerie tapped into the inchoate fear, rage and ignorance of a vast number of white Americans by packaging and re-packaging the core American mythology mentioned above. Reagan was a true believer, a terrific storyteller and ultimately the vehicle through which the current Republican party clings to power. The saddest part of the book, is how clueless, smug and lazy progressive have been to allow the often cynical, always ruthless and never relenting conservatives (so-called) to win on issue after issue; whether its being tough on crime (read minorities) or being deficit hawks (only when convenient and mostly when a Democrat is in the White House), or social issues like abortion or gun control (thank you Supreme Court!). The conclusion I come to both from this book and my own perspective as one of those lazy progressive I call-out above is that all Americans whatever mythology they subscribe to will stay addicted to convenience and comfort even when those are nothing more than myths as well.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Sean Kottke

    The monumental conclusion to Rick Perlstein's four-book saga of the fracturing of American consensus sticks the landing with more of everything that was stirring about each of the prior books. When I heard that this would be the last book, I wondered why Perlstein wasn't planning to take it all the way to the present. The reason, other than the amount of time he would need to do that, is clear: this series of books sets the stage for everything after 1980, which is merely an endless variation on The monumental conclusion to Rick Perlstein's four-book saga of the fracturing of American consensus sticks the landing with more of everything that was stirring about each of the prior books. When I heard that this would be the last book, I wondered why Perlstein wasn't planning to take it all the way to the present. The reason, other than the amount of time he would need to do that, is clear: this series of books sets the stage for everything after 1980, which is merely an endless variation on the themes established between 1964 and 1980. This set of books uncovers the iceberg underneath the placid surface of post-war American consensus; everything since then has been watching the tide line fall and rise to reveal and conceal the iceberg. Perlstein's books are a necessary tonic to the left's amnesia, detailed in a classic Ted Rall cartoon and satirized in a knock-out SNL cold open from 2018. Republican presidents are demonized by the left as the worst ever while in office, only to have their favorability ratings rise a couple of decades later (curiously, I don't see the phenomenon working in the other direction, with the right having rosy memories of the Democratic presidents they demonized). Perlstein reminds the reader that every era is the best of times and the worst of times, often worse than what we think we're in today, depending on the headlines and pop culture you look at. The scary thing in this book is not how much worse the Carter years appear from our own time, but how similar. When I read Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus and Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America leading up to the 2016 election, I thought, "well, at least Americans aren't shooting each other down in the streets." How naïve I was. Perlstein does not engage in the wishful thinking that Rall does, that if only there were a true left, progressive candidate, the Democratic-Republican two-party choke-hold on power would be obliterated in a landslide. Electoral evidence doesn't support that conclusion (look at the results of the 1972 and 1984 elections, for example); what Perlstein does demonstrate with compelling historical evidence is that the ruling class has been able to move the conversation rightward, while the right side continues to be able to make an effective case to enough voters that the less-right side is way too left for their self-interest, and to convince those voters that they're an embattled minority (despite being embraced as a "silent majority" or "Moral Majority"). It is maddening to observe, but not being sentimental about the past is a good disposition to take forward into the work of building a more rational, inclusive, and less polarized future.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jeff Francis

    Rick Perlstein, he of the legendary “Nixonland” and followup “The Invisible Bridge,” has returned with “Reaganland: America’s Right Turn 1976-1980,” a strikingly long (and heavy!) book that—with its nearly 100 photos, many of them color—retails for a whopping $40. Like its predecessors, “Reaganland” follows the Perlstein formula: ask a complex question—in this case: When a smitten America made Jimmy Carter president in 1976, and Ronald Reagan was considered washed-up, how did the next four years Rick Perlstein, he of the legendary “Nixonland” and followup “The Invisible Bridge,” has returned with “Reaganland: America’s Right Turn 1976-1980,” a strikingly long (and heavy!) book that—with its nearly 100 photos, many of them color—retails for a whopping $40. Like its predecessors, “Reaganland” follows the Perlstein formula: ask a complex question—in this case: When a smitten America made Jimmy Carter president in 1976, and Ronald Reagan was considered washed-up, how did the next four years invert those fortunes?—then answer said question by applying Caroesque levels of research to render a political panorama with a wink toward the era’s zeitgeist and pop culture. And so begins the saga of Jimmy Carter’s presidency, defined by gas shortages, trucker strikes, hostages in Iran, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, et al. We arrive at Carter being considered so politically vulnerable that Ted Kennedy takes a realistic shot at becoming the 1980 nominee. Meanwhile, a past-his-prime Reagan mounts a surprisingly effective run for the Republican nomination by tireless campaigning and a juuuust riiiiight proximity to his side’s intolerance. As before, although the main stage of Perlstein’s narrative belong to politicians and politicos, it’s the fringe characters that compel, this time a cast ranging from John Wayne to John Wayne Gacy. “Symbols of middle American normalcy kept rearing up and strangling America’s sense of itself as decent, prosperous, and safe. The Kool-Aid that Jim Jones used to poison his followers. The Twinkies that supposedly turned Dan White into a homicidal maniac. Family farmers invading Washington, D.C. A necrophile birthday clown. The year 1979 was when the pure products of America went crazy.” (pp. 565-566) “Reaganland” is a daunting epic and it does ask much of the reader, but Perlstein is worth it, an author who writes about lofty topics in readable prose that flows—for me, that’s enough… I mean, I just like the way Perlstein frames things, e.g., this description of the transition from the presidential primary to the main campaigns. “Building a presidential campaign is among the strangest of organizational efforts. You construct the equivalent of a major national corporation, hiring hundreds of employees and persuading thousands more to work for free, but one built to last little more than a year. Then, if you win the nomination, you effect a total reorganization, including a merger with all the other organizations that only the previous week you were fighting tooth and nail.” (p. 512)

  21. 5 out of 5

    Ed Bernard

    Whew! Made it! I’ve now read all four of Perlstein’s monumental study of the rise of modern conservatism and, while it’s a LOT of words, it’s also both profound and immensely entertaining — though, gotta say, this final (let’s hope) installment isn’t quite up to the previous volumes, for two reasons: first, there are fewer “side” stories, like Hank Aaron’s chase for baseball’s home run record from a previous volume — in this edition, even the “side” stories are political, with mere mentions of c Whew! Made it! I’ve now read all four of Perlstein’s monumental study of the rise of modern conservatism and, while it’s a LOT of words, it’s also both profound and immensely entertaining — though, gotta say, this final (let’s hope) installment isn’t quite up to the previous volumes, for two reasons: first, there are fewer “side” stories, like Hank Aaron’s chase for baseball’s home run record from a previous volume — in this edition, even the “side” stories are political, with mere mentions of cultural touchstones rather than fully explicated stories. Second, the core concepts about the years 76-80, which mostly parallel the presidency of Jimmy Carter with Reagan’s resumption of his attempt to win the GOP nomination for president (which he did not win in 1976) are a bit too detailed for a book with a broader historical scope on its mind — we get long, long sections on each year and too much detail about some of the issues. That said, it’s all still brilliant, even if the previous books in the tetraology set the bar a bit higher. Another surprise, even to me who lived through it (I was in college at the time), was how closely Reagan hews to Donald Trump, right down to the black-and-white approach to every issue and the campaign slogan “Make America Great Again.” In fairness to Reagan, while he was a staunch American exceptionalist, he was very pro-immigration. In fairness to Carter, generally recognized as a failure as president (and mostly rightly so), he spoke truth when it would’ve been better to spin, and recognized very early how our policies about energy and the environment spelled long term doom (which we are dealing with now). Reagan is known as the “great communicator” and Perlstein shows exactly why — many times, when his advisors gave him a concept to relate, Reagan took those words and made them stick with his own version that were extremely powerful. Liberals like myself excoriate Reagan and blame him for a lot of where we are today, and that’s accurate — but I also have to recognize how effective he was as a politician. Anyway, the book — it’s great, it’s brilliant, it’s nearly as good as the three previous volumes and with the four books, Perlstein has, in fact, shown us the origin story of modern conservatism, for good and bad. Grade: A

  22. 5 out of 5

    Dustybooks

    The last volume of Perlstein's four-book examination of American conservatism in the mid-twentieth century runs to 1,000 pages if you include endnotes but isn't as lyrical or gripping as its two predecessors, Nixonland and The Invisible Bridge (both masterpieces, the latter more than likely one of the greatest books I've ever read); that's largely not his fault. Originally conceived as being of a piece with Bridge but separated out due to the volume of information and history contained between N The last volume of Perlstein's four-book examination of American conservatism in the mid-twentieth century runs to 1,000 pages if you include endnotes but isn't as lyrical or gripping as its two predecessors, Nixonland and The Invisible Bridge (both masterpieces, the latter more than likely one of the greatest books I've ever read); that's largely not his fault. Originally conceived as being of a piece with Bridge but separated out due to the volume of information and history contained between Nixon's impeachment and Reagan's election, this book contains numerous astonishing morsels of history (the most egregious are usually those that involve still-active politicians) but its narrative arc is less sweeping because the problems that Jimmy Carter confronted in his presidency, while enormous in magnitude and long-term effect, make for less gripping reading than those that challenged the nation in the '60s and early '70s. There are pages upon pages of detailed explanations of budget proposals -- important stuff, but hard to be as invested in as, say, the Watts Riots or Watergate. The thesis that Reagan set us down the slippery slope we still find ourselves on, and that Carter's frequent ineffectiveness and poor decisionmaking enabled that to happen, is strongly presented with mountains of evidence. Really it's hard to think of a more consequential and contemptible figure than Reagan and this book presents plenty of further reasons to resent him. The last pages are dominated by the Iran hostage crisis and the '80 campaign and are easily the book's best sequence (the Ted Kennedy primary fight takes up less real estate than I expected). It's a terrific read but just doesn't have that certain chronically addictive nature of Perlstein's other books -- one suspects that he has had enough of this subject, which is why he won't be taking it on into the '80s. My favorite anecdote from this volume, by the way, is about Nancy Reagan, who at a rally in Illinois in 1980 enthused to her husband about all the "beautiful white people" before correcting herself with "black and white people" (there were no black people at the rally) and then later claiming she was talking about snow. Slay, kween.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Henry Jameson

    Perlstein's series of four books on the rise of the conservative right began with Before the Storm and Nixonland. These focused on the forces that propelled the rightward tilt in American politics. Both were excellent. Reaganland - not so much. Sheer length and accumulation of detail seem to have displaced analysis. It takes some effort to wade through the 914 pages of text, and one's eyes occasionally glaze over. This book is really two books in one. The first three segments cover the years 1977 Perlstein's series of four books on the rise of the conservative right began with Before the Storm and Nixonland. These focused on the forces that propelled the rightward tilt in American politics. Both were excellent. Reaganland - not so much. Sheer length and accumulation of detail seem to have displaced analysis. It takes some effort to wade through the 914 pages of text, and one's eyes occasionally glaze over. This book is really two books in one. The first three segments cover the years 1977 through 1979. They are essentially a history of the Carter presidency - not exactly a high point in our nation's history. The detail is overwhelming, as if Perlstein had scoured every newspaper and magazine article about politics from those years and felt compelled to repeat them to us. The last segment covers the year 1980 and reads like The Making of the President, 1980 edition. It is a history of the political campaigns in the primaries and general election. It is interesting, but lacks the punch of Teddy White's book on the 1960 election or Richard Ben Cramer's What It Takes about the 1988 election. Perlstein writes well. The book reads well. What seems to be missing is the focus of his first two works on the conservative movement. He paints here on a much wider canvas - essentially, all of American society during the years in question. No review of this book should conclude without noting one other important thing about it. Apparently, no one at the publisher bothered to proofread it. The errors are so numerous as to be outright distracting. Periods appear midsentence. Words are transposed or dropped. In a section on Afghanistan, one paragraph describes a cunning leader named Amin who had installed a figurehead named Taraki as President. In the very next paragraph, Amin is described as President and Taraki has become the cunning leader. The retail price of the book is $40. That seems high enough to justify a proofreader.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Stuart Rosen

    A phenomenal conclusion to a definitive four-volume work. Author Perlstein gives full context to all the threads that have run through his history of the modern conservative movement - the perceived abandonment of the working class, the inability of non-Conservatives to understand or even see the coming changes, the rise of story and image and its triumph over facts, and more than anything, the rise of the evangelicals as a political force, ably supported by a newly-awakened corporate aggressive A phenomenal conclusion to a definitive four-volume work. Author Perlstein gives full context to all the threads that have run through his history of the modern conservative movement - the perceived abandonment of the working class, the inability of non-Conservatives to understand or even see the coming changes, the rise of story and image and its triumph over facts, and more than anything, the rise of the evangelicals as a political force, ably supported by a newly-awakened corporate aggressiveness against perceived government overreach. Perlstein always plays fair - whether he agrees with the conservative positions (I suspect, pretty self-evidently, that he doesn’t), he always strives to understand how and give voice to why these changes came and, perhaps, were even inevitable. Though this is announced as the last book in this history, I do wish he’d give us one more volume taking us to the present, if only to analyze how and why a movement (whether you agree with it or not) lost its philosophical and policy bearings and has morphed into a different animal driven by different (or at least long-simmering-below-the-surface) imperatives. Start with Before The Storm and work your way through Perlstein’s work. It’s an amazing, and amazingly well-written and compelling history.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Ryan

    I have really loved this series of in depth recountings of the rise of the Conservative movement. I do wish, if this is going to be the final one, that we'd have gotten an epilogue rather than ending on the Reagan victory. I'd prefer to that, that Rick just continue but he's indicated he's not intending to do so. Regardless, this is essentially a history of foibles of the Carter Presidency, the Rise of the Religious Right and the rise of the credibility of the Far Right, which as Perlstein has alre I have really loved this series of in depth recountings of the rise of the Conservative movement. I do wish, if this is going to be the final one, that we'd have gotten an epilogue rather than ending on the Reagan victory. I'd prefer to that, that Rick just continue but he's indicated he's not intending to do so. Regardless, this is essentially a history of foibles of the Carter Presidency, the Rise of the Religious Right and the rise of the credibility of the Far Right, which as Perlstein has already shown, lost spectacularly with Barry Goldwalter a few Presidential cycles earlier. Together with 'Democracy in Chains' by Nancy McLean (which I know Rick had his disagreements with), this is a really good view of how the American right, never a force for good, got disfigured so far into a force for near evil, while the American left, often even in their most 'radical' moments, essentially anti-radical, fell and forgot even their surface level populism.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Michael Asen

    When you reflect on a book that has in excess of 900 pages of text there are many instances of you think the author should have or could have done differently. While that may be true here there are so many things that Perlstein did well and at times perfectly there is no way to have any reflection on this history lesson that doesn't recall it as close to perfect. Rick Perlstein is in many ways the chronicler of the modern republican party is the way that Robert Caro is the keeper of the Democrat When you reflect on a book that has in excess of 900 pages of text there are many instances of you think the author should have or could have done differently. While that may be true here there are so many things that Perlstein did well and at times perfectly there is no way to have any reflection on this history lesson that doesn't recall it as close to perfect. Rick Perlstein is in many ways the chronicler of the modern republican party is the way that Robert Caro is the keeper of the Democratic 60s. There is nothing better that I can say about this book than Perlstein at least in the same stratosphere as Caro and this once again proves it. It's interesting to read history that is 40 years old which is long enough in the past to forget details but close enough to remember them when they are fed to you. There are many assumptions that your memory has wrong and Perlstein hits them all. This is a gem if you are lucky enough to have a few weeks to spend on it.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Heath Gardner

    Perlstein is right up there with Caro for me at this point. This is the fourth and final book in his series about the rise of the right wing in American politics, which started as a group of isolated reactionaries mad about the New Deal and grew into the mass white male grievance movement we know it as today. This is possibly the most terrifying yet, as it begins with the neoliberal Carter presidency, where he's making photo ops out of slashing environmental regulations, and he's replaced by a mo Perlstein is right up there with Caro for me at this point. This is the fourth and final book in his series about the rise of the right wing in American politics, which started as a group of isolated reactionaries mad about the New Deal and grew into the mass white male grievance movement we know it as today. This is possibly the most terrifying yet, as it begins with the neoliberal Carter presidency, where he's making photo ops out of slashing environmental regulations, and he's replaced by a more socially conservative idiot people know from TV. No alternative was really offered. Nor has it ever been. This book is critical to help understand how we got in the crisis we're in today, and it's also just a heck of a lot of fun to read. I put him up with Caro for that reason.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Caroline Craig David

    Highly informative and such a unique glance into the late 70's. The politics resemble a lot of what we see today and reminded me a lot of the 2016 election. However, I think some of his anti-conservative bias really leaked over and I felt that some things weren't fairly portrayed. This isn't to say the book, as a whole, was very biased and one sided but there were certain situations that made me go "hmm, I think the painting of this person in a purely negative light isn't a fair assessment." I w Highly informative and such a unique glance into the late 70's. The politics resemble a lot of what we see today and reminded me a lot of the 2016 election. However, I think some of his anti-conservative bias really leaked over and I felt that some things weren't fairly portrayed. This isn't to say the book, as a whole, was very biased and one sided but there were certain situations that made me go "hmm, I think the painting of this person in a purely negative light isn't a fair assessment." I would definitely recommend for those people who are curious as to how Reagan gained notoriety and why Carter was a one-term president.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Steve Sanders

    Perlstein may or may not be the greatest living historian. I don’t know enough to say for sure. But I do know that he’s among active historians he’s the greatest writer. I genuinely thought Ted a Kennedy might wrestle the nomination from Jimmy Carter in the 1980 Democratic primary. A stunning conclusion to his four volume chronicle of America’s rightward shift. My favorite work of US history besides the Years of Lyndon Johnson.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Daniel (Attack of the Books!) Burton

    DNF. A quarter way through, I abandoned this slog. Perlstein’s history is neither interesting nor enjoyable. I can’t tell if he’s trying to do too much or too little or just can’t find his narrative...but it’s a slog. Perhaps I come back later and finish it, for I find no delight in abandoning a history. Right now, however, i find no delight or enjoyment in reading it, so I’m moving on to other things.

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