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Decade of Nightmares: The End of the Sixties and the Making of Eighties America Hardcover – March 15, 2006

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; First Edition edition (March 15, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195178661
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195178661
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 1.4 x 6.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,369,607 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In a timely account, Jenkins (Dream Catchers) argues that between 1975 and 1986, Americans reacted against '60s radicalism, setting the stage for conservatism's triumphs in the 1980s. During these years, Americans panicked: about angel dust, the Equal Rights Amendment, decaying cities, school busing, crime, and gas prices going though the roof. This panic, Jenkins argues, led to a new pessimism and a view that these problems were "a matter of evil, not dysfunction." Jenkins's most innovative discussion focuses on how children became the subject of political debates—activists on both the right and left focused on child pornography, child abuse and abduction of youth into cults, and channeled some of this concern into a large-scale war on drugs. Jenkins values pop culture as an illuminating tool; he writes not only about the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which "moved American politics substantially to the Right," but also about the 1976 blockbuster Rocky, which lionized a certain type of masculinity then under attack by feminism. Jenkins, a professor of history at Penn State, presents an able contribution to the burgeoning historical literature on the 1970s and '80s, and a nice counterpoint to books like David Frum's How We Got Here.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

The capital-S Sixties (roughly 1963-74) may seem the most recent momentous era in America's past, but Jenkins offers another candidate. The period between the fall of Saigon and Reagan's second term, he argues, foreshadowed subsequent events and attitudes far more than the Sixties did. In the mid-1970s, domestic terrorism was at an all-time high, the Soviet Union was intervening aggressively throughout the world, and prophecies of imminent ecological catastrophe abounded. Soon there would be oil shortages, major child-abuse and serial-killer scares, Islamic radicalism and the Iran hostage crisis, and the notion that the nation was suffering from a great malaise. Ronald Reagan's optimistic leadership dealt with some of these woes effectively but also morally polarized politics, massively increased federal budgets, flouted the law, and seemed to launch "wars without end." Jenkins considers political and cultural events and weighs the reactions to and opinions about them of press and public to fashion an interpretive history whose depth and cogency may steadily increase as historical perspective lengthens. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Customer Reviews

The book is a fast and easy read and refreshingly non-partisan.
Eric Vondy
To make the word "Decade" in the title work, he does not refer to the chronological decade of the 1960s, which obviously ended in 1970.
Thomas J. Farrell
My final take is that I don't recommend this book, but if he wrote an 800 page book on the same material I would buy it (and read it).

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Eric Vondy on May 16, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Decade of Nightmare chronicles the transformation on 60's liberalism to 80's conservatism. Beginning roughly with the Watergate scandal and continuing through the election of Reagan and into the 80's, Jenkins's sweeps broadly over many of the period's memorable and now forgotten events. The failure of Desert One, Soledad Brother, George Wallace, The Bourne Identity, Anita Bryant, the Wonderland Murders, Granada, Starhawk, NAMBLA, the Scottsboro Boys, and The Illuminatus Trilogy are a mere few of what is touched on. In Jenkins's view other accounts of this time period have not been broad enough focusing on either the political or social histories but not mixing the two, not showing, for example the influence of both conservative politician Daniel Patrick Moynihan and porn star Linda Lovelace had on the growth of conservatism. The public, he says, perceived sexual liberation as leading to porn and snuff films; LSD as leading to the horrors of angel dust; and spiritual experimentation leading to brain washing cults. Far from being the Smiley Face decade, portrayed in films like Dazed and Confused and TV show's like That 70's Show, Jenkins portrays the 70's as a time of stress where the Cold War resurfaced and serial killers were everywhere. This was a decade where Ronald Reagan went from being perceived as an extremist to winning the Presidency. Jenkins provides a context in which to view the major events of the era by reminding us of the forgotten events. For example, the patriotism associated with the US Hockey Team victory against Russia is shown in context with the Iranian hostage crisis, the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan, best selling apocalyptic novels, rising inflation, and the unchecked growth of leftist guerillas in Latin America.Read more ›
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Eddie Landsberg VINE VOICE on May 20, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Actually this book seems to me as more of a cultural than a political study - - (viewing politics as part of and a reaction to cultural trends) - - hence in describing the transition from the "radically liberal" sixties to the "reactionary conservative" 80's, Jenkins draws not only from the political events of the era, but also pop culture from movies to TV coverage... The overall arguement being is that the transition was sort of a national hangover. Things seemed out of control - - with the economy in the dumps, and a perception of society breaking down, a wave of domestic and international terror and America feeling isolated on the national stage and on the verge of losing the Cold War. - - The book seems to argue both ways the realities of the national crisises, and at the same time media exploitation of issue made to make people scared as well as identify with a culture of "macho" and "shoot 'em up" vs. the cheery idealistic anti-hero. From this perspective we see how Reagan in the eyes of many offering sobering and decisive hope - - whether or not you feel he was the great uniter and saviour of the country or the guy who took from the poor and gave to the rich.

All in all, the image of the 70's as being a "big hang-over from the 60's" has long been a commonly held belief to explain the transition... this is the first book to offer a detailed study of the era beyond mere "oil crisis/inflation/hostages" - - compared to most the images we have of the 70's - - either in our own memories or by watching VH1, this is the first book to really go into detail.

As for what I got out of it -- two words really - - DEJA VU...
which in some ways is reassuring (times of trouble may always feel like the end of the world) and other ways scary.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Marty G. Price on July 6, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It's a very good history, but I was still a bit disappointed -- Jenkins stayed on the surface of the grimy realities of the 70's, showing us the cultural phenomena and how that phenomena served to create public reaction, but failing to ask to what extent the political revolution of the 70's served to deliberately and callously exploit that public reaction. Any statesman (or aspiring statesman) is aware of the responsibility to educate the public and to ignore its less enlightened notions. The political hack, on the other hand, panders to the public and pretends to do its bidding (passing outrageous legislation, waving the flag, and often doing the bidding of certain moneyed interests).

Jenkins gets the facts straight -- yes, the U.S. was in a crisis (Johnson and Nixon, both approximately equal parts statesman and hack, left a very mixed legacy). Yes, Carter was idealistic and, under the circumstances, politically inept. Yes, a variety of manic causes, from imaginary rape statistics to 'the breakdown of traditional values' hit the headlines; Jenkins recounts both the real fears and the hyperbolic reactions. (Contemporary panderers in the media and political office seem to have discovered the trivial issue of obesity; it's the same kind of phenomena Jenkins recounts.) And Jenkins explains how the rhetoric of toughness seemed so desirable under the circumstances.

All excellent -- then Jenkins refuses to pass judgment. He does not suggest the possibility of alternative political reactions. The phenomena just 'is' (or was). I suppose I should not complain -- I like reading a work of history rather than a rant. However, I find myself asking if Jenkins is that much of a cultural determinist, and concluding that he may well be. It appears to me Jenkins considers Carter, Reagan, and everything the 70's served to create as inevitable.

Again, great summary of the decade, but seems a rather frozen response to what I would see as still 'live' issues.
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More About the Author

Philip Jenkins is the author of The Lost History of Christianity and has a joint appointment as the Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of the Humanities in history and religious studies at Penn State University and as Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University. He has published articles and op-ed pieces in The Wall Street Journal, The New Republic, The Atlantic Monthly, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe and has been a guest on top national radio shows across the country.