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
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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 OlsonCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved