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Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the…

Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America (2008)

by Rick Perlstein

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The adventures of Tricky Dick, from his first congressional race to the 1972 presidential election and the emergence of Watergate. Not only that, but the historical and political events of the day that provide the contextual backdrop. This is a very long book, but is chock full of information. Reading this took me back to the political science classes of my youth. Everyone is here: JFK, Dr. King, Malcolm X, LBJ, Eugene McCarthy, HHH, Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Gerry Ford, John Kerry, Jane Fonda, George McGovern, E. Howard Hunt, Richard Daley, Abby Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, G. Gordon Liddy, Haldeman, Erlichman, Woodward & Bernstein, even Al Capp!

For all the info, this book is still just a teaser for delvers into sixties history. It's such a tumultuous and exciting period.

The book promised to connect the polarization of today's politics with Nixon. To lay it at his doorstep, if you will. But apart from a five page essay tacked at the end, Perlstein doesn't really do this. I'd have preferred that he took a little more space to make that case. ( )
  EricKibler | Apr 6, 2013 |
This book explores the turbulence in America during the 1960's and 1970's, as Richard Nixon reinvented himself politically and became president of the United States. I had difficulty getting into the book, since one is bombarded by facts and events at a furious pace from page 1. The style reminded me a bit of the old Billy Joel song 'We Didn't Start the Fire.' Once I got into the rhythm of the writing though, I couldn't put the book down.

Perlstein seems to have explored every nook and cranny of this era, and tells us everything that happens. This means that the book can only briefly mention many of the events, people, and places. However, the seminal events--the summer race riots in the cities, the Black Panthers, the 1968 Democratic convention riots, the trial of the Chicago Eight (then Seven), the Vietnam War, Spiro Agnew and the 'silent majority' rising against the 'nattering nabobs of negativism,' the 'dirty tricks' and Watergate break-in of the 1972 campaign are covered in depth.

Perlstein writes in an engaging, easy to read, conversational style. I do fear, however, that unless you have at least some familiarity with the people and events of this era (i.e. perhaps by being old enough to have been politically aware during that time), parts of the book may be difficult to follow or meaningless without further background information.

My one criticism of the book, and it is major one, is that it ended abruptly with Nixon's victory in the 1972 election. I cannot imagine why a book whose purpose is to definitively explore the Nixon era would omit the Watergate hearings and Nixon's resignation in disgrace. Maybe a sequel? ( )
  arubabookwoman | Jun 2, 2012 |
A great book especially if you appreciate the wealth of minutia that Perlstein presents. He presents a very well argues thesis that Nixon's career and presidency was based on and reinforced the polarization of the USA into a liberal elite and Nixon's "orthagonians" a class of angry middle class voters whose newly comfortable life has been threatened by such liberal legislation as the Civil rights acts of the 60s. The war in Vietnam was cynically manipulated by Nixon and his administration to appeal to the jingoism of this group.

The book has obvious applications to the Bush and Obama administrations, however I often wondered whether he was inferring much more than he should have from minor incidents. For example, when Bob Hope sees a much larger audience on his second trip to Da Nang to entertain the troops, he makes some jokes about the difficulty of the soldiers in the back even seeing the stage. Perlstein quoted this as an implied criticism of Nixon's policy of increasing American troop levels. It reads more like an innocuous quip about large crowds. Other sections read the same way. I have a hard job believing that Bonnie and Clyde was a significant influence on the politics of the day.

Still - it is a book well worth reading. ( )
  maunder | Sep 23, 2010 |
This is a story about the topsy-turvy era known as the roughly 1960-72 years. Pearlstein offers much salacious detail and spectacle in reconstructing the milieu within which a Nixon presidency was seemingly inevitable. Everything was burning: cities, campuses, weed, and, of course, ‘Nam. I certainly recommend this to those too young or forgetful to remember this stuff when spouting off about how everything’s going to Hell “these days” based on whatever imbecilica the local news affiliate televises nightly.

As an overall theme, this is a story about the battles between Nixon’s underdog Orthogonians and the elitist Franklins. If I can correctly recall many weeks/hundreds of pages back, these were two Whittier College groups or clubs – the former hosting the typical middle to lower middle classers while the latter represented the campus elite. The Franklins consisted of the rich, handsome, popular types that Nixon increasingly loathed. Later, as his problematic Vice Presidency concludes, the Franklins become the Kennedys and, as the decade unfurls, all the vociferous, rabble-rousing figures – the Rubins, the Carmichaels – capturing media attention begin to expand this category. The Orthogonians are eventually defined by the “silent majority,” a group increasingly united against all the boisterous crap that seemingly destabilizes the nation. This is the group who’s annoyed psyche Nixon cleverly taps for his improbable political reemergence.
Pearlstein then traces the first four years: the exponential increase in paranoia and resulting deceptive tactics of Nixon and Co. Despite the WTF?!? value of a term marked by such duplicitousness, I feel the author’s coverage of the decade leading up to the 1968 elections is the most important aspect of the book (and certainly the most fun to read) as it lays the groundwork for how a Nixon type – a mostly unpopular misanthrope – could negotiate a sea of malaise and discontent and rise to the highest office by fundamentally avoiding, or positing ambiguous responses to, the pointed issues of the day.
NIXONLAND: The rides suck, the cotton candy is probably laced with DDT, and you might get beaten down on Main Street. At the very least we can put today’s societal annoyances in perspective. ( )
  mjgrogan | Jun 14, 2010 |
There is a divide in America, often called "Red State/Blue State" or simply Republican/Democrat. What is it, and how did it come about? Nixonland is a detailed re-telling of the political and social history of America between 1965 and 1972, when the divide, as we currently know it today, first emerged. As someone who didn't have the pleasure of living through the sixties, but who is heir to the era and its events, this book has been an amazing revelation. The divide continues to this day and everything can be traced back to these stormy 7 years.

Perstein's narrative technique and skill is enthralling and often humorous, he can go on for pages on a particular topic that would stand alone as a classic essay on the topic under discussion. The books is full of these, too many to recount, but some of my favorites include: Watts Riots (p.3-19); The Summer of Love (p.185+); Newark Riots (p.190-194); about the film Bonnie and Clyde (p.208); protest at the Pentagon (p.214+); Columbia University and the SDS (p.263); Democrat National Convention in Chicago (p.289-327); Cornell University protests (p.374+); Berkley protests (p.382+); Nixon and Patton (p.472); Kent State (p.479-495); Nixon and Billy Graham (p.500+); George Wallace assassination (p.660-665); Jane Fonda's Vietnam visit (p.703+); Republican National Convention 1972 (p.712-719).

Perlstein's main thesis is that after WWII and the material success of the 1950's, the Liberal left believed it had won 40+ years of fighting for the rights of the downtrodden - the middle class had emerged triumphant and most people in America had substantially better standards of living. This moment of "liberal consensus" (an illusionary one Perlstein believes) saw the creation of a new divide, one characterized by, although not created by, the personality of Nixon. This new divide was about who would control the country - the "elite" cosmopolitan liberal educated professional class - or the "silent majority", suburban/rural patriotic religious middle classes. Nixon's genius was to recognize this divide at the core and continually drive a wedge through it, to be the hero of the Silent Majority while demonizing the Loud Minorities. The arguments over Nixon, pro and con, gave us the language for this war, and it has not ended yet. Welcome to Nixonland.

--Review by Stephen Balbach, via CoolReading (c) 2010 cc-by-nd ( )
1 vote Stbalbach | Jan 24, 2010 |
Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
Perlstein's Nixon is a cartoon figure, not in the mode of Herblock, whose caricatures, while vicious, were nonetheless original and uncomfortably recognizable to Nixon’s friends, but plastic, one-dimensional, and unrecognizable except to the most fervid of Nixon’s enemies. Relying largely on the psycho-babble of Fawn Brodie, the partisan fury of Leonard Lurie, and the genteel animus of Richard Reeves, Perlstein left no Nixonphobic screed untapped in the process of liming his portrait of Nixon as psychotic. And when he couldn’t find a previously published damning story to lift, he made it up, as in his phony reconstruction of Nixon’s meeting with the Southern Republican state chairmen in June of 1968.

A reader expecting to learn something new (or true) about the issues that roiled the public discourse in the 1960s is bound to be disappointed. Perlstein regurgitates the standard New Left line on the war in Vietnam . . . ; apes Todd Gitlin’s revisionist line on the history of the New Left . . . ; and concocts an elaborate Nixonian plot to thwart the integration of Southern schools as a payoff to Strom Thurmond while ignoring entirely the story (best told by Ray Price) of how those schools were, in fact, integrated without violence during Nixon’s first term. . . .

Nixonland is not history; it is polemics. Perlstein is out to poke Republicans (and conservatives) in the eye and “history” is his stick.

He shapes it to suit his purpose and wields it to achieve a political objective. No Perlstein “fact” can be relied upon as true, no event he relates can be assumed to be fairly discussed, and no grand idea advanced by him can be taken seriously.
But we could do worse than borrow Nixon's words on taking office in January 1969, when he said that his country suffered "from a fever of words; from inflated rhetoric that promises more than it can deliver; from angry rhetoric that fans discontents into hatreds; from bombastic rhetoric that postures instead of persuading."

Funnily enough, that sounds like a pretty good description of Perlstein's book.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0743243021, Hardcover)

Amazon Best of the Month, May 2008: How did we go from Lyndon Johnson's landslide Democratic victory in 1964 to Richard Nixon's equally lopsided Republican reelection only eight years later? The years in between were among the most chaotic in American history, with an endless and unpopular war, riots, assassinations, social upheaval, Southern resistance, protests both peaceful and armed, and a "Silent Majority" that twice elected the central figure of the age, a brilliant politician who relished the battles of the day but ended them in disgrace. In Nixonland Rick Perlstein tells a more familiar story than the one he unearthed in his influential previous book, Before the Storm, which argued that the stunning success of modern conservatism was founded in Goldwater's massive 1964 defeat. But he makes it fresh and relentlessly compelling, with obsessive original research and a gleefully slashing style--equal parts Walter Winchell and Hunter S. Thompson--that's true to the times. Perlstein is well known as a writer on the left, but his historian's empathies are intense and unpredictable: he convincingly channels the resentment and rage on both sides of the battle lines and lets neither Nixon's cynicism nor the naivete of liberals like New York mayor John Lindsay off the hook. And while election-year readers will be reminded of how much tamer our times are, they'll also find that the echoes of the era, and its persistent national divisions, still ring loud and clear. --Tom Nissley

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:32:47 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

An account of the thirth-seventh presidency sets Nixon's administration against a backdrop of the tumultuous civil rights movement while offering insight into how key events in the 1960s set the stage for today's political divides.

» see all 2 descriptions

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