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Publisher's Summary

A New York Times notable book of 2020

From the best-selling author of Nixonland and The Invisible Bridge comes the dramatic conclusion of how conservatism took control of American political power.

Over two decades, Rick Perlstein has published three definitive works about the emerging dominance of conservatism in modern American politics. With the saga's final installment, he has delivered yet another stunning literary and historical achievement. 

In late 1976, Ronald Reagan was dismissed as a man without a political future: defeated in his nomination bid against a sitting president of his own party, blamed for President Gerald Ford's defeat, too old to make another run. His comeback was fueled by an extraordinary confluence: fundamentalist preachers and former segregationists reinventing themselves as militant crusaders against gay rights and feminism; business executives uniting against regulation in an era of economic decline; a cadre of secretive "New Right" organizers deploying state-of-the-art technology, bending political norms to the breaking point - and Reagan's own unbending optimism, his ability to convey unshakable confidence in America as the world's "shining city on a hill". Meanwhile, a civil war broke out in the Democratic party. When President Jimmy Carter called Americans to a new ethic of austerity, Senator Ted Kennedy reacted with horror, challenging him for reelection. Carter's Oval Office tenure was further imperiled by the Iranian hostage crisis, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, near-catastrophe at a Pennsylvania nuclear plant, aviation accidents, serial killers on the loose, and endless gas lines.  

Backed by a reenergized conservative Republican base, Reagan ran on the campaign slogan "Make America Great Again" - and prevailed. Reaganland is the story of how that happened, tracing conservatives' cutthroat strategies to gain power and explaining why they endure four decades later.

©2020 Eric S. Perlstein. All rights reserved. (P)2020 Simon & Schuster, Inc. All rights reserved.

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This Book is Censored by Audible

Several times in the book the “n word” appears in quoted remarks. Audible seems to think think the listeners are too sensitive to hear this word, even in context. Instead they replace the word with a short tone. It’s a disservice to the listener and a disservice to history. If you’re that sensitive don’t read history. There’s a lot of ugliness in human history. It’s not going to be changed by a narrator not saying the bad word.

58 people found this helpful

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Should have been great

Perlstein does great work — his Nixonland was a landmark, tremendous and valuable irrespective of your politics. This book, though titled "Reaganland," is about almost everything but until you get near the end, where it gets unfathomably sketchy on RR, and meanwhile the "everything" that fills the rest is an overbalanced very left view of the world and the country. The research here is formidable, of course, which is what we expect from this author. But — to slightly modify Philip Roth's wonderful quote — "He knows everything. It's too bad he doesn't know anything else."

14 people found this helpful

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Outstanding Poli-History of the Mid-Late Seventies

This is a very detailed political history of the mid-late seventies, culminating in the election of Reagan. It bogs down a few times (e.g. at various conventions/rallies) in the type of minutia that would put even the most hardcore of political history fans to sleep. I couldn't bring myself to deduct a star for this, simply because the amount of research that must've been involved to include such minutia is something to be applauded. Just be assured, you are going to get less of a fast-moving story, and more of a glacial data dump.

Some people enjoy that, I guess.

For some reason, a particular word is beeped out, even though it's used in perfectly clear and historically-relevant context each time. No one should accept this. It's childish and nanny-state and highly insulting to the listener. The word was spoken back in the 70's (in this context) by certain quoted individuals, but for some reason, my delicate ears can't be subjected to hearing this word, so I have to hear a harsh, loud, annoying BEEP instead.

That's just silly.

10 people found this helpful

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Brilliant

Ronald Reagan doesn’t come off well in this book, to put it mildly. It’s hard to take him seriously as a hero, politician, or President after reading it. His intellectual grasp of issues was limited, and his view of the world was simplistic and schematic. Yes, he was a great storyteller, but as it turns out many of the stories he told, even about himself, were badly remembered or simply made up.

He’s not the only one who comes off badly. I’ve been a big fan of Jimmy Carter all my life, but Perlstein’s account of his Presidency has forced me to rethink much of that. One of his most frequent blunders, according to Perlstein, was going public with a policy without consulting any of the Democrats in Congress first — finding out only after the fact that most of them were opposed. Or, flipping the coin, suddenly abandoning a policy after finally getting Congressional leaders to get behind it — and letting them find out about his change of mind from the news media. Carter’s administration did not play well with others.

It was a turning point in American politics, a period when opposing sides on various issues — from taxes to gay rights — hardened into moral crusades. Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Phyllis Schlafly, and the NRA all date their growing national influence to this period. Perlstein’s brilliance as a reporter is to go deeply into well-researched and meticulously documented detail and yet still maintain the momentum of the overall narrative. I’ve read the other three books in this series, and now I want to read them all again.

There are four narrators, one for each year — 1977-1980 — each year being a separate section in the book. All are good, and the variety helped, given the length and the detail of the narrative.

As someone who lived and voted his way through this period, I can say with conviction: if you want to know what it was like — or you want to be reminded what it was like — read this book. Better still, read all four books in the series: you will come away with a better understanding of American conservatism and the people who have made it such a dominant force in our national life in the 21st century.

8 people found this helpful

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Great but held back by the actual history

Another great entry but not quite as good as the previous entries of Nixonland and The Invisible Bridge, largely because the scope of the story focuses so much on the cultural war issues of busing, LBGTQ rights, and abortion.

This is no fault of the author as it is simply reporting on the decisive issues of the day, but such issues are (and remain) much more morally draining to listen to than the other issues outlined in previous books (Vietnam vets infighting, the gold standard, price controls, the Moonies, labor unions, Watergate Babies, the ERA, the and more).

Best highlights: The rise and fall of the consumer protection movement, the consistent misfunctionings of the "Georgia Mafia" under Carter and their conflicts with fellow Democratic compatriots, and the in-depth look at Jimmy Carter's soul-searching and media disappearance that pre-empted the infamous "Crisis of Confidence" speech.

Least great highlights: Ronald Regan himself is actually quite boring. He appears to be a fairly vapid individual blessed with charisma and divine mission to be the vector of the conservative right. In practice, he ended up riding the tide more than causing the tide it appears.

Overall, this was good, but I reckon Nixonland and The Invisible Bridge were both better, with The Invisible Bridge being my favorite in the series that started with Before the Storm (which I have not read). Your mileage may vary.

3 people found this helpful

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Can’t decide

I’m not sure what to say about this book. There are lots of important specific details but also a great deal of lopsided opinions. I did not like that the audio switches narrators. I can appreciate that the audio version censored the n-word but why not other profanity that is offensive, such as J.C. or g—-mn?

2 people found this helpful

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Brilliant

paints a vivid structure to a turbulent decade. how the right was born. instead of a series of independent events a coherent picture of the cauldron in which the evil forces of modern conservatism and neo liberal capitalism were formed . an indictment of Carter.

1 person found this helpful

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Perlstein's Epic Conclusion

Perlstein's fourth insightful book detailing the decline of Democratic Liberalism and the rise of Conservative Republicanism delivers the same experience as its predecessors. He presents here the era of the Carter presidency and Reagan's triumph of 1980 in a way that makes much greater sense of the well-known broad conclusions of the period and still keeps you on the edge of your seat. Nothing seems pre-determined or set in stone, with history here being the result of human agency, accident, events, and contingency. Students of recent political history can't help but notice similar patterns in recent elections, from Reaganite election slogans, later reused ("Make America Great Again") to a recurring cast of characters, from the Bush family, young Donald Trump (who briefly appears), to Roger Stone. Throughout, the author manages to remain both open and critical to all sides, sympathetic when called for, but never pedantic or overly judgmental. The research is dense and masterful, and will bring the figures and movements (ERA, pro-life and pro-choice, Christian right, gay rights) to life, whether or not a person lived through this period). The only minor mark against the reading was that is was done by several people, all good, which required a little time to get used to for each. As with all of Perlstein's books in the series, this is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

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Reagan was not inevitable

A stunning retrospective on how a demagogue and his cronies were able to unwind the social, cultural, and political order wrought by the Greatest Generation after WW II. The author shows how Carter and his aids’ arrogance and fecklessness almost single handedly handed the presidency to an incompetent liar with exquisite theatrical skills, thus launching the modern American Taliban movement and American decline.

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It’s really about the 70:

I really enjoyed this book. But the title is somewhat misleading. It’s about Reagan consolidating his power during the 70s and it’s about the Carter administration.
Most of the narration is good, but the female voices are better and more expressive than the male.