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Stayin' Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days…
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Stayin' Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class (edition 2010)

by Jefferson R. Cowie (Author)

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1793111,079 (4.41)2
An epic account of how working class America hit the rocks in the political and economic upheavals of the 1970s, this work is a wide ranging cultural and political history that presents the decade in a whole new light. The author's work, part political intrigue, part labor history, with large doses of American music, film, and TV lore, makes new sense of the 1970s as a crucial and poorly understood transition from the optimism of New Deal America to the widening economic inequalities and dampened expectations of the present. It takes us from the factory floors of Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Detroit to the Washington of Nixon, Ford, and Carter. The author connects politics to culture, showing how the big screen and the jukebox can help us understand how America turned away from the radicalism of the 1960s and toward the patriotic promise of Ronald Reagan. He makes unexpected connections between the secrets of the Nixon White House and the failings of the George McGovern campaign, between radicalism and the blue collar backlash, and between the earthy twang of Merle Haggard's country music and the falsetto highs of Saturday Night Fever. He also captures nothing less than the defining characteristics of a new era, and asserts that the 1970s were the last stand of the American working class, a time when the goals of the New Deal finally faded away to make room for Reaganomics and a widening of the gap between classes. This is a book that attempts to define a misunderstood decade.… (more)
Member:girlwithsixarms
Title:Stayin' Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class
Authors:Jefferson R. Cowie (Author)
Info:The New Press (2010), Edition: First printing., 488 pages
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Stayin' Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class by Jefferson R. Cowie

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This is truly an amazing and informative book, one that everybody with an interest in American history should read. ( )
  MacDad | Mar 27, 2020 |
A great history of the American working class in the 1970s. I learned a lot about McGovern, Nixon, and Carter, and I thought Cowie was at his best in these chapters on national politics. The analysis of cultural objects like film and music was also interesting, but seemed kind of rootless. Still, this is an excellent history--well written and engaging--for anyone interested in how US society transformed from the height of the labor movement in the postwar decades to labor's current impotence on the national political scene. ( )
  jalbacutler | Jan 10, 2017 |
An absolutely brilliant book. Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working class expertly describes the transition of the working class in America from it’s zenith as a powerfully cohesive labor movement after WWII, through its fragmentation as economic, social and political factors put stress on that cohesion, to what can now arguably be called a post “working class” period in our history.

Incredibly dense, but incredibly readable Jefferson Cowie expertly weaves the different strands of social, cultural, economic, and political change that eventually caused the virtual death of the labor movement and its place as the spokesman for working class, into compelling narrative. What is beautiful about this book is that it is so tightly organized that despite the enormous amount of information Cowie throws at you, you never get lost.

It is clear that Cowie feels the end of the working class as a cohesive force in society is a bad thing, but he spares no punches in placing much of the blame on the unions and workers themselves. As they moved further from the heady days after WWII, unions began to grow content and bloated, unwilling to rock the boat lest they lose what they had already won. In many cases unions grew corrupt and bureaucratic, with many of its leaders more interested in accumulating power than in revitalizing and expanding their unions.

He is also critical of workers unable to resolve issues surrounding the politics of identity. Union membership often resented the inclusion of heretofore excluded groups including blacks, Hispanics, and women. Rather than try to incorporate them into the union structure and modify it to accommodate this new reality, they withdrew into resentment and apathy, eventually forming the core of the group known as “Reagan Democrats.”

On the other hand Cowie spares no criticism for politicians more interested in preserving and expanding corporate power than looking out for the workers that allowed those corporations to thrive in the first place. Eventually workers, tired of having both the government and corporations working to defeat them, became apathetic, and rather than try to find a new paradigm under which they could organize and regain some of their lost agency, became more interested in looking out for their own interests…forming the core of what became the “me generation” of the 1980s.

I especially enjoyed Cowie’s weaving of pop culture into the narrative, looking at movies, TV and music as reflections of this change. From Archie Bunker to Merle Haggard to Bruce Springsteen to Devo to Tony Manero to Norma Rae pop culture is often very prescient in reflecting what was going on in the wider culture. Cowie brilliantly includes this in his analysis.

I am not doing the book justice here, it really is one of the most effective and brilliant works on American History that I have ever read.

Highly, highly, highly recommended! ( )
  mybucketlistofbooks | Jan 10, 2015 |
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An epic account of how working class America hit the rocks in the political and economic upheavals of the 1970s, this work is a wide ranging cultural and political history that presents the decade in a whole new light. The author's work, part political intrigue, part labor history, with large doses of American music, film, and TV lore, makes new sense of the 1970s as a crucial and poorly understood transition from the optimism of New Deal America to the widening economic inequalities and dampened expectations of the present. It takes us from the factory floors of Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Detroit to the Washington of Nixon, Ford, and Carter. The author connects politics to culture, showing how the big screen and the jukebox can help us understand how America turned away from the radicalism of the 1960s and toward the patriotic promise of Ronald Reagan. He makes unexpected connections between the secrets of the Nixon White House and the failings of the George McGovern campaign, between radicalism and the blue collar backlash, and between the earthy twang of Merle Haggard's country music and the falsetto highs of Saturday Night Fever. He also captures nothing less than the defining characteristics of a new era, and asserts that the 1970s were the last stand of the American working class, a time when the goals of the New Deal finally faded away to make room for Reaganomics and a widening of the gap between classes. This is a book that attempts to define a misunderstood decade.

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