Restless giant : the United States from Watergate to Bush v. Gore

by James T. Patterson

Hardcover, 2005




New York ; Oxford : Oxford University Press, c2005


In Restless Giant, acclaimed historical author James Patterson provides a crisp, concise assessment of the twenty-seven years between the resignation of Richard Nixon and the election of George W. Bush in a sweeping narrative that seamlessly weaves together social, cultural, political, economic, and international developments. We meet the era's many memorable figures and explore the "culture wars" between liberals and conservatives that appeared to split the country in two. Patterson describes how America began facing bewildering developments in places such as Panama, Somalia, Bosnia, and Iraq, and discovered that it was far from easy to direct the outcome of global events, and at times even harder for political parties to reach a consensus over what attempts should be made. At the same time, domestic issues such as the persistence of racial tensions, high divorce rates, alarm over crime, and urban decay led many in the media to portray the era as one of decline. Patterson offers a more positive perspective, arguing that, despite our often unmet expectations, we were in many ways better off than we thought. By 2000, most Americans lived more comfortably than they had in the 1970s, and though bigotry and discrimination were far from extinct, a powerful rights consciousness insured that these were less pervasive in American life than at any time in the past. With insightful analyses and engaging prose, Restless Giant captures this period of American history in a way that no other book has, illuminating the road that the United States traveled from the dismal days of the mid-1970s through the hotly contested election of 2000. The Oxford History of the United States The Oxford History of the United States is the most respected multi-volume history of our nation. The series includes three Pulitzer Prize winners, a New York Times bestseller, and winners of the Bancroft and Parkman Prizes. The Atlantic Monthly has praised it as "the most distinguished series in American historical scholarship," a series that "synthesizes a generation's worth of historical inquiry and knowledge into one literally state-of-the-art book." Conceived under the general editorship of C. Vann Woodward and Richard Hofstadter, and now under the editorship of David M. Kennedy, this renowned series blends social, political, economic, cultural, diplomatic, and military history into coherent and vividly written narrative.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member annbury
This is the last of the Oxford history of the U.S. --- chronologically, though not in order of publication -- and provides a helpful overview of the period from 1975 to 2000. It does not, however, provide the sweep or narrative strength of some of the other volumes in the series. In large part, that may the inevitable result of attempting an historical approach so recent a period. With so many of the key issues of the period still very much unresolved, and so many of its effects still unfolding, it may not be possible to form a compellingly coherent view of what was "really" going on.

But this is still a very valuable book. It traces events on a presidency-by-presidency basis, while sticking with several underlying themes -- cultural confrontation at home, the collapse of communism abroad, and increasing political rancor across the board. It treats the very different presidencies of Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton in an impressively even handed manner, exploring the strengths and failures of each man without evident bias. And it clarifies what too often seems the jumble of recent events. For example, the foreign policy effects of Vietnam are made clear (no troops at risk), as is the gradual move back to military activism. I think that it is too soon for a definitive history of this period to be written. In the meantime, "Restless Giant" serves very well.
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LibraryThing member stillatim
A perfectly readable summary of political and cultural happenings between, as the subtitle puts it, the end of Nixon to the start of Bush II. Readable, but deeply unsatisfying, since Patterson is unwilling to actually exercise any judgement--this is a chronicle, not history. There's no causation here and no suggestion that people may have done good or bad things, just events and more events. The general tenor is "So and so said that this happened. But thus and thus said that that happened. Moving right along..." So you never know what Patterson actually thinks happened, or why you should care, or, indeed, if even he cares. This is all the more offensive when you think about what was about to happen to the U.S.: 9/11 had just passed, and he opted not to write about it at all. I imagine he'd make the same decision about the great financial crash. So, particularly in the last few chapters, this becomes an extremely odd read: you know that all the 'steady financial growth' is based on garbage, and that it's all about to fall down, but Patterson doesn't give you any reason to believe that he thought anything other than what the most fatuous optimists of the time thought. America was strong, and would remain strong and so on and so on. There's no hint that he's unhappy with the electoral process that gave us Bush v Gore. No hint that he was disturbed by Reagan's lunacy or Clinton's cynicism.

I skype-reading-grouped this with an historian friend, who summed it up very well. The first wave of books about historical events will be violently partisan. The second wave will revise the partisan arguments. The third will be post-revisionist and almost entirely neutral in tone. Patterson's tried to skip a couple of steps, but because there's no obvious idiotic background against which he can appear reasonable, he himself just looks morally bankrupt. Too bad, because the man can write, and you'll certainly learn a lot from his book. I can easily imagine recommending it as a first stop, but certainly not a state-of-the-art work on the time period.
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LibraryThing member Schmerguls
5519. Restless Giant The United States from Watergate to Bush v. Gore, by James T. Patterson (read 15 Dec 2017) This is the 11th volume of The Oxford History of the United States, and I have read nine of the 11 and no doubt will seek to read the ones I have not read. This volume deals with a period I lived through and had strong opinions concerning all that went on. I found I did not enjoy reading about things that went wrong during .during the years from 1974 to 2005. The author spends a lot of time on social trends and tends to accentuate the bad. whereas I, having lived through them and not in an area exemplifying the bad, did not view them as dolorously as the author paints them. His coverage of the political events of those years is super-interesting even though one does squim over some of what is related, especially Bill Clinton's personal life which was no doubt is what inflicted on us George W. Bush and his disastrous presidency. And since the book was written in 2005 we do not have the pleasure of reading about Obama's election in 2008 and his so satisfying re-election in 2012. But the book is well worth reading and does relate some good things..… (more)
LibraryThing member MacDad
James Patterson's second contribution to the Oxford History of the United States (after his Bancroft Award-winning Grand Expectations: The United States, 1945-1974) is by far the weakest volume of the series. Part of it is the result of the problem posed by contemporary history, which lacks the perspective provided by distance from events and an ability to render an assessment based on knowing what were the long term consequences. Patterson recognizes this difficulty, yet his response exacerbates the problem by refusing to render pretty much any judgments. Instead he provides a bland summary of events, heavily supplemented by statistics, with none of the valuable analysis that characterizes the other volumes of the series. This limits the book's utility and ensures that the volume about the most recent events is sure to be the first to outlive its usefulness.… (more)


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