Nixonland : the rise of a president and the fracturing of America

by Rick Perlstein

Hardcover, 2008




New York : Scribner, 2008.


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.

Media reviews

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
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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.
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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
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postures instead of persuading." Funnily enough, that sounds like a pretty good description of Perlstein's book.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member Stbalbach
There is a divide in America, often called "Red State/Blue State" or simply Republican/Democrat. 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
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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.

Many of the stories I have head or before but did not understand their historical context or importance. 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. 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).

The common thread throughout is the cultural and political divide in America. In the last 3 pages of this wordy and information dense history, Perstein gives his personal opinion of why the divide exists: it is a difference in world views, both uniquely American, but both deadly serious about eliminating the other to ensure their own survival. The violence of the 60s has tamed somewhat but the war continues.
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LibraryThing member nog
This is about how Richard Nixon formulated the narrative that the Republican Party still uses today, that of innuendo, outright lies, and the cognitive dissonance of saying one thing today and the opposite tomorrow, depending on what is expedient for purely political purposes; we still live in
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Nixonland. Lest you think I am some huge fan of the Democratic Party, I would like to make it clear that I subscribe to Gore Vidal's analysis that there is really only one party in America now: the Property Party that protects us with a National Security State.

But back to the book. It's truly shocking to read of how much public fear was generated on a nearly daily basis in the summer of 1966, and how it was put to use in bringing down LBJ. There were riots in a number of cities, and the account of the Newark police shooting African-Americans just standing on their front porch or just on the street doing nothing is heartbreaking. No police or Guardsmen were ever indicted. As I write this, a grand jury recently refused to indict the policeman who murdered Eric Garner with a chokehold on a New York street. And this is nearly 50 years after that long, hot summer of 1966.

Then there's Vietnam. Nixon would alternate between criticizing LBJ for escalation or if he stopped the bombing. You see, it wasn't about ending the war; it was about Nixon positioning himself for the 1968 presidential election. If this sort of thing sounds familiar, well, I guess that's the point that Perlstein is trying to get across.
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LibraryThing member bruchu
The Decade of Disillusionment

I wasn't quite sure what to expect from "Nixonland", I did not read Perlstein's highly acclaimed book on Goldwater but I certainly had high expectations going in and certainly was not disappointed. "Nixonland" is much more than a biography, it is a complete social and
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cultural history of one of the defining decades in American and indeed world history.

On "Tricky Dicky" Nixon himself, Perlstein keeps his interpretations pretty close to the standard biographical history. In fact, most of his research comes from standard secondary sources and newspapers. What we read of Nixon is a man or anger, resentment, and constant paranoia of the inevitable. All stuff that has pretty much been validated before.

Perlstein is rather light on many of Nixon's major political achievements such as the Shanghai Communique and of course Watergate, but that much is intentional, as plenty of other books have covered those subjects. Instead, where Perlstein focuses on and really excels at is in his treatment of the social and cultural undercurrents of the 50s, 60s, and early 70s. The liberal consensus, the New Left, the silent majority, the civil rights movement, the vietnam war, student movement, the violence of 1968, counter-culture, credibility gap. Perlstein pieces all these seemingly contradictory themes together through intricate portraits of the people that shaped them and attempts to make sense out of the madness of what has been referred to as America's "second civil war".

Fundamentally, the term "Nixonland" is one that Perlstein uses to describe "what happens when these two groups try to occupy a country together. By the end of the 1960s, Nixonland came to encompass the entire political culture of the United States. It would define it, in fact, for the next fifty years" (p.47).

At a mammoth 750 pages, "Nixonland" is a tough slough. I do believe it is a rather casual read as Perlstein avoids big words and chooses to write in a readable colloquial style. If you enjoy reading about 1960s culture and politics, you'll thoroughly enjoy Perlstein's latest book.
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LibraryThing member Narboink
This is a long, meandering, but ultimately gratifying exegesis of a major paradigm shift in the American political landscape. It hop-scotches its way through the 1960s (mainly) to reveal how Richard Nixon and others lassoed pockets of aggrieved conservatives into a durable political coalition. It
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is both biased and honest: an emerging hallmark of the latest style of journalistic political writing. It's also written with complex and confusing quirks of syntax that, while creative, tend to slow the pace of the narrative.

Fundamentally, its an old story told in a fresh way. As someone who was born during the Nixon administration, I've always found the justifications for why people voted for Nixon (or even Reagan) to be wanting. I understood conservatism, but I was still deeply naïve about the trends in American culture that metastasized into such overwhelming support for Nixon in 1972. Nixonland certainly helped disabuse me of some of that naïveté.

Nixonland feels modern and relevant today largely because it positions the broader American body politic as its true protagonist. Over the last few decades I've been utterly perplexed by the willingness of conservatives and liberals alike to use the ideological political battles of the 60s (and early 90s) as synecdoches for seemingly unrelated events (i.e., Iraq as Vietnam, Bush as Nixon, Progressives as Hippies, etc.). Rick Perlstein has written a noble and enlightening explanation for this unhappy phenomenon.
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LibraryThing member mensheviklibrarian
Breathless, entertaining history of the United States at the breaking point. According to Perlstein, the United States was in a state of civil war and Richard Nixon was leading the counter-revolution. Reads like a novel and Perlstein uses his secondary sources masterfully. I can't wait for the
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sequel, which will cover the years 1974-1980.
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LibraryThing member carmelitasita29
Whew, what a tome! Nixonland is a factual, insightful book about the turbulent 1960's and the divisiveness that arose in the politics in the United States. I was fascinated by Nixon's political career, the way he was able to set an "us against them" tone to his rhetoric, how his lust for power led
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to the inevitable and infamous Watergate, and how he felt victimized throughout his presidency. A great read.
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LibraryThing member Ann_Louise
I'd always thought of Nixon as a cartoon villain, a real-life Mr. Burns of the political world. While Nixonland did not make me a Nixon fan, it did make him a real person - complex and even tragic. Mr. Perstein seems to feel the same way towards his subject - not liking or admiring him, but getting
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into Nixon's psyche and making him understandable. A long read, but very worthwile.
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LibraryThing member arubabookwoman
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
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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?
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LibraryThing member rsp1910
Excellent account of how Nixon and the right wing exploited white fear and resentment in the 1960s in response to 30 years of New Deal/Great Society policies. Also gives great insight to Nixon's insecurites and paranoia. Shows how tactics and strategies first honed by Nixon have contributed
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mightily to the polarization we have in today's political climate.
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LibraryThing member mjgrogan
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member karav
Love this book.
LibraryThing member megansbooklist
This was a great book, but it took me for-eva to read. I think I'm getting stupid. I used to be able to read non-fiction books much more quickly.
LibraryThing member EricKibler
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.
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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.
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LibraryThing member dmcolon
One of the central ideas of Rick Perlstein's "Nixonland" is that the Nixon era spawned much of the political discourse of subsequent U.S. history. Having finished the book, I have to admit that Perlstein is pretty accurate in his assessment. The book is a depressing chronicle of left and right wing
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excesses and ideological pigheadedness. Nixon himself comes across as a pathetic and self-loathing villain, but Perlstein also paints a rather unflattering series of portraits of Tricky Dick's opponents on the left. Bobby Kennedy comes off as a self-serving and cynical pol; George McGovern seems both naive and manipulative at once.

Perlstein's narrative does an excellent job of capturing the raw emotions of the age. Ranging from Johnson's crushing of Goldwater in 1964 to the Watts riots to Woodstock to the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, the Zeitgeist is portrayed vividly. As someone born in 1968, most of this history is practically contemporary, but also rather remote. Perlstein makes this come to life and my family's stories of the age are much more vivid and much less mythical to me.

The story is largely a narrative of Nixon's rise to power and the beginnings of his downfall. Perlstein's depiction of Nixon is particularly bleak and "Tricky Dick" does not come across as especially sympathetic. From the start, he is portrayed as a miserable soul. His Red Baiting in the late 40s and 50s is odious and really pathetic. By the time the book gets around to Watergate, nothing Nixon does seems improbably.

The left isn't portrayed much better. As I said above, Bobby Kennedy is unpleasant, and McGovern seems like a hypocritical prig. An extended passage on Chappaquiddic casts Ted Kennedy in an unappealing light. The hippies come across as a crass, nasty, and rather self-serving bunch.

As a contemporary reader, however, I think Perlstein's text is especially relevant to our current political situation. As I read the book, I could not help drawing parallels to the current spate of presidential politics. McCain isn't quite Nixonian in scope, but I saw some parallels. His ability to play a bit fast-and-lose with his ideology in order to appeal to the center right felt familiar. But Hillary Clinton's politics in the primaries really did seem the most Nixonian of all the candidates. Her appeal to ethnic tensions among blue-collar democrats and her sense that she alone had the political skills and "experience" to successfully handle the war stunned me. Her learned cynicism and bitterness during her husband's years as president reminded me of Nixon's time as VP under Eisenhower. Both Clinton and McCain seem stuck in the 1960s.

Obama really does strike me as someone who has moved out of this paradigm. Admittedly, I'm an Obama supporter, but I'm not trying to cast him as a saintly figure counterpoised against corrupt baby boomers. More than anything, I think his very comportment leaves the politics of the 1960s behind. Yes, he's liberal and yes, he's a politician but he thinks differently. When I watch his opponents trying to define him as a sixties radical, it's just not a match. Trying to link him to radical preachers and 60s radicals like Ed Ayers; the claims of elitism; the talk of his communist sympathies; it all seems so stale and beside the point. People like Clinton, McCain, Limbaugh, and others, are playing out of a different playbook. None of this is to say that Obama is destined to win the election -- the 1960s style of politics is still very powerful. My only point is that he is not part of that mentality.

Perlstein's book is long -- over 700 pages -- and it starts to get a bit long in the tooth in the middle. But by the end, the narrative picks up with gripping accounts of the 1972 election and the start of Watergate. Perlstein clearly sits on the left of the political spectrum, but he does a good job showing the complexity of each side. I sometimes read books looking for sympathetic characters, but I really didn't find any here. I finished Nixonland pretty confused about the era. Given what I know about the 1960s and early 70s, I can't think of higher praise for this book.
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LibraryThing member JBD1
More catnip for political junkies from Rick Perlstein; this volume picks up where Before the Storm left off, covering the period from the 1965 Watts riots to the 1972 general election. As with the previous volume, I loved how Perlstein juxtaposes political and cultural history: the narrative is
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greatly enhanced by the way he enables the reader to get a sense of what songs were popular, which movies were out, what the newspaper ads said at the same moment that a particular piece of political news was breaking.

At nearly 750 pages of text, this book is a bit of a commitment, but it's worth every page, I thought. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member maunder
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member NY-Independent76
Insightful analysis of the origins of the culture wars, but a bit redundant. The author does a masterful job explaining Nixon's ability to capitalize on the divisions in American society to rise to power.
LibraryThing member annbury
Great read, especially the sections on the out of control police forces of the
50s and 60s, Nixon's incredible intelligence, and his twisted take on everything around him, which led him to destroy himself.
LibraryThing member dickmanikowski
Highly detailed and thoroughly documented retelling of the history of the turbulent 1960's in the United States and the political trajectory of Richard M. Nixon. This history leaves off with Nixon's re-election in 1968. Perlstein subsequently continued the history with THE INVISIBLE BRIDGE (which I
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had previously read).
Even though I lived through this period and have subsequently read other histories of this period, facts were revealed in NIXONLAND that managed to shock me.
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LibraryThing member gregorybrown
Rick Perlstein is an amazing historian—capable of both marshaling a wealth of documentary evidence and arranging it into a coherent and gripping narrative. He's ostensibly telling a political narrative, but shines in being one of the few non-fiction writers I've ever read who really capture that
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ethereal feeling of cultural momentum (usually called the "zeitgeist"). His earlier book, Before the Storm, chronicled the rise of Goldwater before the 1964 election. It followed the activists determined to see him get the nomination, and led the reader through what was happening in the wider sphere of American culture (and why that made Goldwater seem angelic to some and deranged to others). While some were capable of shaping events—Clif White and LBJ among them—most others seemed carried along by them.

Nixonland, on the other hand, revolves around the psyche of its title character. Nixon, paranoid to the bone, was constantly striving for more power and haunted by the impression that others were plotting against him. As everyone knows, this eventually led to his undoing: commanding increasingly bold and decreasingly lawful activities that eventually came to a head in Watergate. But what people seem to have mostly forgotten is how Nixon got to be so powerful in the first place. It wasn't all by theft, but instead by rhetorically playing upon the internal divisions within America, amped up by the rise of civil rights movements and economic anxiety.

I'm not going to lie to you; this book is LONG, 750 pages before endnotes and a SOLID 750 pages at that. But it's such an excellent book, one that finally knits together all the subjects that have been covered piecemeal in books before or thoroughly defanged by sweeping & inoffensive pop-histories. This could easily become the definitive era's textbook, and the only thing standing in its way are the teeth.
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LibraryThing member mattries37315
Is Nixonland a time or a place? Back in 2008, Rick Perlstein stated that between 1965 and 1972 when Richard Nixon rose to not only the Presidency but achieving the third-largest percentage in election history that Nixonland was brought forth and has been our country ever since. Over the past 8
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year, Perlstein has been proven correct.

After the catastrophic defeat of Barry Goldwater in 1964, many assumed that the conservative wing of the Republican Party had been thoroughly reputed and would recede to the background of American political life. Then Watts occurred days after the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and liberalism started unravelling both domestically and in Vietnam. Watching these events was a man thought a political afterthought, Richard Nixon.

Through four elections cycles over seven years, Nixon used the remnants of the conservative insurgence still controlling the state party conventions and his own narrative message to achieve not only a political comeback but a historical reelection victory. But what ultimately helped Nixon the most was the division of nation in two between a progressive driven liberal “popular” culture and those reacting about how fast and how far those progressive steps had gone. It was this latter group that Nixon convinced to join him while the Democratic Party descended into chaos on the national level not once but twice over the course of two Presidential elections.

Over the course of 748 pages of text that covered mostly 7 years, showed how the political atmosphere of the time but of our time was born. The political rhetoric of 2008, 2012, and even 2016 is wholly seen in 1966, 1968, 1970, and 1972 born by the campaigns and speeches by one Richard Nixon and numerous Democrats. In fact the foolish of Democrats in response to this rhetoric that can sometimes still be seen today in 2016 is described in full detail within Perlstein's text. Of the remaining 131 pages, it is stock full of notes and citations of a well-researched book about the birth of modern American political culture.

For those living the United States, we’re still in Nixonland and if you want to know how American politics entered this 24/7 heated political atmosphere then I recommend that you read this book.
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LibraryThing member English99
I haven't read this one yet but it is on my list. Progressive Rick Perlstein specializes in writing about conservatives and the conservative movement.
LibraryThing member Opinionated
Perlstein wrote this in 2008 but its instructive to read it in 2018 as a reminder that Donald Trump is not a one off, black swan, but in many ways the logical conclusion, or at least the love child of the culture wars that Nixon may not have started, but magnified from their Goldwater roots. Its
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Nixon after all who coined the phrase the "Silent Majority", Nixon who understood that the majority of the population craved for a quiet status quo without being challenged by the loud minority, Nixon (or at least Spiro Agnew) who started to tear at the neutrality of the press, who started to create and disseminate fake news, overall Nixon who tore down the post war consensus by appealing to the lowest common dominator and invoking the fear of aliens and fear of change.

"Nixonland is still with us" warns Perlstein, in the hazy glow of the election of Obama. "Does anyone doubt that half the population, given the slightest provocation, wouldn't willingly pick up a gun and shoot the other half". Well, not anymore we don't. At this distance, he looks remarkably prescient.

As for the history itself, Perlstein's account is lively, invigorating, intense (it took me 3 months to read) and not uncommonly, inaccurate - at least in the details. But not in the overall tone. The story of how Nixon, beautifully described as a "serial collector of grudges" went from unfashionable rural California to the White House, through a combination of a knack for political insight and a mastery of the black arts rose to be the most powerful person in the world is remarkable. Even now, the whole thing seems somewhat unlikely. Thankfully the story ends at his election for a second term, and before the humiliations of Watergate (such a small thing in his general program of "ratfucking" the opposition) and his alcoholic decline took the world nearer to nuclear war than at any time since the Cuban Missile Program till, well, now (I write this as US and Russia sabre rattle over Syria).

If there is a fault here, its that Perlstein doesn't give enough credit to Nixon's achievement, engagement with China in particular, but also the beginnings of detente with Russia. And compared to the Republican party of today, he comes across as socially centrist. He gives plenty of time - and rightly so - to Nixon's many failings and especially to the criminal policy of sabotaging the peace talks in Paris in 1968 and keeping the war going through the elections of 1972. Its not so much the blood on the hands of Nixon and Kissinger - extensive though that is - but the sheer cynicism. You can't expect Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian lives to mean much to them - but clearly, those of their own citizens didn't much either.

If there are two main themes of the book its Vietnam and Nixonian dirty tricks. But for me there's a third; the accurate portrayal of the 1960s. It wasn't a time of free love and flowers in the hair; it was a time of social change that many in society opposed passively or actively. For every civil rights activist, there are 2 people who would have African Americans know their place. For every hippie, there are 3 hard working joes. The image of hard hats and stockbrokers joining forces to beat up hippies in Manhattan is one of Perlstein's strongest. The 60s weren't about counter culture - its just that many of the counter culture were smart enough to later get jobs in media.

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LibraryThing member Steve_Walker
Given the present day situation in the US, many are starting to look back, with some fondness, to the 60's. One hears of critics speaking of the 1960's as one of the golden ages of film, music, etc. However, this is not true in the daily civic life. Rick Perlstein has managed to capture some of the
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rage and anger of the period. This is the age of the civil rights movement, the start of the feminist movement and the student protest over the war in Vietnam. Into this maelstrom comes Richard Nixon. Nixon is not only a problem, we also see the rise of young staffers and individuals who, for better or worse, effect the course of American History in the early 21st century. This is a well written book that gives understanding to what happened and how those events are still with us today.
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LibraryThing member john.cooper
If you've read my review of Perlstein's first book, Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus, you know what a huge fan I am and how eagerly I was looking forward to this one. So my disappointment was all the greater when I quickly realized that the sense of
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detachment coupled with imaginative empathy, so essential to a history, is missing here. This is a book poisoned by snark. When Nixon does something bad, Perlstein makes a point of explaining how this is emblematic of Nixon's character. When Nixon does something good, Perlstein quickly argues that he does it solely for personal or political advantage. When Nixon does something morally neutral, such as submitting suggestions for an update to the White House bathroom, Perlstein mocks him for it. By page 400 of this long book, I was firmly in Nixon's corner—and very annoyed with Perlstein.

Of course Nixon was a bad guy. His willingness to screw the Constitution (as he might put it) and the people in pursuit of his own ends is acknowledged by everybody regardless of politics. It's also now known that Nixon, as a presidential candidate, deliberately sabotaged the Vietnam peace talks of 1968, deliberately prolonging the war in a successful plan to assure his own election. (Perlstein states this as an established fact, although the "smoking gun" proving this particular brand of treason wasn't uncovered until several years after the book's publication.) So what does Nixon deserve credit for? Well, depending on one's own political positions, one might approve of his creation of the Environmental Protection Agency; his work toward the completion of the ABM and SALT antinuclear treaties; his signing of Title IX; or his ending of the military draft. All of these accomplishments are dismissed by Perlstein as mere jockeying for personal power or electoral popularity.

This bald-faced bias made this book a difficult read. What kept me going was Perlstein's great strength as a historian—his assembly of thousands of facts large and small into a coherent, engaging narrative and a graspable timeline. Nevertheless, I can't recommend this book to those who prefer not to have their preconceptions reinforced (for who doesn't see Nixon as somewhat of a cartoon villain?). History should challenge as well as engage. And for all its mastery of detail, the only thing this book challenged was my patience.
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