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Age of Fracture Hardcover – January 31, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


Age of Fracture is an extraordinary book -- an engrossing story of the new age of markets, a new kind of history of ideas, traversing the frontiers between intellectual, political and public words, and a brilliant explanation of contemporary public life. (Emma Rothschild, author of Economic Sentiments: Adam Smith, Condorcet, and the Enlightenment)

With verve and fierce intelligence, Age of Fracture captures jagged truths about fluid thought, temporal upsets, and confrontations with fear. I could not put it down. (Ira Katznelson, author of When Affirmative Action Was White)

Rodgers ranges deftly and expertly from Judith Butler to Jerry Falwell, exploring the fragmentation of American social thought in every conceivable arena. Age of Fracture is an indispensable guide to where we have been, and where-- if anywhere-- we might be going. (Jackson Lears, Editor, Raritan)

The most wide-ranging and ambitious interpretation of late-twentieth century American intellectual history available. (James Kloppenberg, author of Reading Obama)

Rodgers offers a series of penetrating soundings into the social thought of the end of the twentieth century. He considers the recasting of terms in economic theory, the reconceptualizations of power in social theory, the attacks on "essentialism" in race and gender theory, and the diminished notions of obligation in political theory. Finally, he stresses our own curious encounters with the disaggregated past, via glib interpretations that impart an "increasingly malleable, flexible, and porous" quality to history...Again and again in the dominant modes of thought in these years, Rodgers finds institutions, identities, social bonds, and even history itself thinning out and coming apart. (Robert Westbrook Bookforum 2010-12-01)

While Rodgers' narrative about the right is fascinating, none of it is terribly surprising: Defending the prerogatives of corporations and the wealthy, in new and novel ways, is what conservatives do. Age of Fracture provokes by showing that just as conservatives were marshaling their intellectual and philanthropic forces for what New Right gladiator Paul Weyrich called "a war of ideology...a war of ideas, it's a war about our way of life," liberals and progressives themselves "fractured" instead...Rodgers acknowledges both the long, shameful history of oppression as well as the thrilling cultural and political ferment that fractured the left into separate, sometimes warring mini-caucuses. But the book makes it clear that those fissures left liberalism without the ideology or rhetoric to combat the language of choice, markets and freedom that replaced social responsibility in the Reagan years. (Joan Walsh Salon 2011-01-04)

Rodgers offers a challenging interdisciplinary overview of the last quarter of the 20th century...The great value of this book is that the major contentious issues of our time are discussed within a historic and intellectual framework...Rodgers's work may not enter the vernacular like David Riesman's The Lonely Crowd, but it's a similarly seminal look at the way we live (and govern) now. (Thomas A. Karel Library Journal 2011-01-01)

Rodgers has a knack for characterizing and assessing ideas without reducing them to their strictly polemical dimensions. But he also conveys the urgency and consequence of intellectual debate: the sense that it has stakes...Age of Fracture provides a frequently insightful narrative of recent public intellectual life in this country--and also some understanding of its precarious situation now. (Scott McLemee The National 2011-02-18)

A blend of commentary and contextualization, admirably judicious. Rodgers is an excellent anatomist. His forte is clarity. Once in a while, he delivers himself of an opinion that seems positively clairvoyant. (Alex Danchev Times Higher Education 2011-03-10)

I live in a different country than the one into which I was born in 1942. I have never been quite able to pinpoint exactly what makes it so different. More than any other book I've read in recent years, Age of Fracture, by the Princeton historian Daniel T. Rodgers, has helped me to discover and to understand that difference...His ability to explain complex ideas--the Coase theorem comes to mind--is exemplary. He is unapologetic about treating intellectuals, and even academics, as producers of ideas worth taking seriously. He has the ability, unusual for historians of our day, to engage directly in current debates and to write with the clarity of a future observer of these same events. Intellectual history is never that easy to do. An intellectual history of our own time is even harder to pull off. Rodgers has done it and done it well. Perhaps, then, this book will have the happy effect of bringing to an end the trends it brings to light. Rodgers writes about our descent into thinking small because he wants us to once again think big--or so I read between his lines. If more thinkers wrote books like this, the country in which I live may once again resemble the one in which I was born. How sweet that would be. (Alan Wolfe New Republic online 2011-03-10)

[An] important and well-written book...Age of Fracture helps us understand how the recent past set the terms for our current attempts to see society whole and conceive of an agenda for its future...[Rodgers] is a master of his craft; and this book, in which he takes history into the near present, shows what this mastery looks like in practice...Rodgers's diagnostic survey of the most local and recent turn in the modern cycle of integration and disaggregation is essential reading for thinking about what is to come. (Samuel Moyn Dissent 2011-04-01)

In The Age of Fracture, Daniel Rodgers offers an elegant, often eloquent, history of intellectual life in the last quarter of the twentieth century. (Lisa Szefel History News Network 2011-02-24)

Age of Fracture dazzles as it moves from cultural history to political philosophy, Michel Foucault to John Rawls. (John T. McGreevy Commonweal 2011-05-06)

It is hard to think of a work of American intellectual history, written in the last quarter of a century, that is more accomplished or more likely to remain permanently influential. (Michael O'Brien Times Literary Supplement 2011-07-29)

Rodgers is onto something, and many of his observations are startling. (Corey Robin London Review of Books 2012-10-19)

About the Author

Daniel T. Rodgers is Henry Charles Lea Professor of History at Princeton University.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 360 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press (January 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674057449
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674057449
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.8 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #517,132 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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39 of 41 people found the following review helpful By George Cotkin on December 9, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is a bravura work of intellectual history that will be of great interest to specialists in the field but also accessible to general readers. It covers the period from the 1970s to the end of the twentieth century (with an epilogue dealing with post 9/11 America). Rodgers sees this time frame as marking a significant break with the past; the period became defined by fracture - old presumptions, modes of identity and consensus fell quickly. In their stead were vociferous debates about many issues - race, economic theory, power, and more that had, only recently been settled, at least in the minds of many intellectuals. The economic crisis of the 1950s in large part set the stage for reconsiderations of the familiar, and the rise of the Reagan revolution brought fractures into full view. With consensus a myth (although still a powerful one at least in aspects of Reagan's oratory), the era's thought and politics exploded with new views. Rather than quiet debate, the clamor fed into a hardening of the arteries of discourse which helped birth the present era of punditry and partisanship.
The fracturing of American thought and culture, as presented by Rodgers, energized in many ways the conversation of intellectuals. Some concepts quickly led to dead ends, others blossomed into new ways of thinking about markets or identity or gender. Rodgers is quite interesting, for instance, when he ties the cultural wars to gender concerns. And he is quite strong, too, on economic theory, which he manages to present with both depth and accessibility. And the sweep of his knowledge and eye for the telling quote is impressive.
Rodgers has, perhaps paradoxically, managed to produce a synthesis for an age of fracture.
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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful By L. Drutman on April 8, 2011
Format: Hardcover
The Princeton Historian Daniel T. Rodgers has written a fascinating new book about how the U.S. has gone from being one big beacon of light to a thousand little points. The title gives it away. We are in an Age of Fracture. We've gone from shared sacrifice and shared identities to individual expression and diffuse identities. We've gone from limits to dreams; we've shed the confines of the past for the endless possibilities of future reinvention. The only problem is, it's starting to look like we might now want the past back after all, and limits are starting to look more prudent.

The story begins in the Cold War, an era of asking what you could do for your country. History and tradition weighed heavily; big institutions dominated. "Dedication, courage, responsibility, self-scrutiny and sacrifice," writes Rodgers, "these were the nouns that bore the burden of the Cold War presidential rhetoric."

But by the time sunny Ronald Reagan was in the White House, the confining rhetoric of the Cold War was gone and "terms like `crisis,' `peril' and sacrifice slipped one by one out of Reagan's major speeches like dried winter leaves." (What can he say? The man likes his collections of representative words.) In Reagan's speeches, the historian detects the new optimism of self-actualizing philosophy, and the (re?)-birth of an American faith that from three simple words - "We, The People" - anything was possible.

But Reagan may just be the transition's most visible mouthpiece. The shift away from institutions to individuals was just as much the rage among intellectuals. First, most visibly, in economics: In the 1960s, Keynesian economics was the consensus view, with its focus on institutions and macro-level supply and demand.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By andre4000 on January 16, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I really enjoyed this book, though it is a serious study by a university professor, not one of popular history or political commentary. The author demonstrates how the period of the "long 1980s" - lasting roughly from the mid-late 1970s through the beginning of the Clinton administration - saw a 'fracturing' of the American discussions and conversations about issues like race, gender, class, and economics into more fluid politics. He ends up showing how it came to be possible for the people heralded today as major thinkers, such as Thomas Friedman, to have such a powerful impact on the public: these sorts of thinkers end up using a set of languages and terms that (as Prof. Rodgers shows) only very recently came into public discourse and yet very quickly "ingrained [themselves] in the very logic of things," to quote from the book. I think this is not a political book. But indirectly, I think it explains why Obama has had such a difficult time producing the kind of transformative "change" that he wanted to: basically, he ends up having to work within an America that is - perhaps irreparably - divided for the complex reasons Rodgers lays out. In conclusion, I think this book has a lot to tell us about the character of American public life today.

It's also very clearly written, easy to read, and very objective about a subject - the Reagan period - that might seem divisive to some.
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20 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Steven A. Peterson TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 16, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book deals with an important issue: the decline of a sense of community in the United States. The dust jacket says: ". . .Daniel Rodgers shows how the collective purposes and meanings that had framed social debate became unhinged and uncertain." To explain the title of the book, Rodgers notes that (Page 3): ". . .the last quarter of the century was an era of disaggregation, a great age of fracture."

Some of the aspects of this fracture that are addressed: the change from a managed economy to a revival of market ideology and, more important, and a withdrawal by government from shaping the economy; the decline of a sense of national identity to more fractured views of identity (including the so-called "culture wars"); the nature of society.

The first full chapter sets the stage, with the title "Losing the Words of the Cold War." Here, the language of the time changes as the Cold War phases out. A key vehicle for exploring this is an examination of presidential oratory, replete with examples from Johnson, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, to George W. Bush.

The last chapter seems oddly anticlimactic, referring to the Post 9/11 world. The volume closes with Rodgers noting that (Page 271) "The age of fracture has permanently altered the play of argument and ideas. The pieces would have to be reassembled on different frames, the tensions between self and society resolved anew."

The book is provocative and attempts to reflect upon the differences so much in play in today's United States of America. We do see fracture around us, by ethnicity, by religion, by ideology, by gender, and so on, across a variety of categories. However, I am not sure that Rodgers ultimately pulls things together to explain "fracture." There is sometimes abstractness to the discussion (despite all the concrete examples) that leaves matters unclear. Still, worth a read on an important subject.
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