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How We Got Here: The 70s The Decade That Brought You Modern Life -- For Better Or Worse Paperback – December 7, 2000

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How We Got Here: The 70s The Decade That Brought You Modern Life -- For Better Or Worse + America in the Seventies (Culture America) + The Seventies: The Great Shift In American Culture, Society, And Politics
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (December 7, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465041965
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465041961
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.1 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #799,272 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

In a relentlessly smart book full of colorful anecdotes and deft pop-culture references, author David Frum describes the social convulsions of the 1970s: "We live in a world made new, and made new not by new machines, but by new feelings, new thoughts, new manners, new ways." The 1960s have a reputation as America's turning-point decade, but Frum convincingly argues that the 10 years following mattered more. The 1970s, he writes, "left behind a country that was more dynamic, more competitive, more tolerant; less deferential, less self-confident, less united; more socially equal, less economically equal; more expressive, more risk-averse, more sexual; less literate, less polite, less reticent."

The precise dates of this transformation are not as important as the reasons behind it, however, and the explanation in How We Got Here for what happened is both original and compelling. He says America's midcentury confidence was an anomaly. At some point, "the rebellion of an unmilitary people against institutions and laws formed by a century of war and the preparation for war" was inevitable. Rather than pondering why Americans trust their public institutions today less than they did during the Watergate revelations, for instance, Frum turns the question on its head: Why was the trust so high previous to that experience? His narrative describing the dizzy whirl of progress is absorbing, and his warning against both the nostalgic myths of the past and the uncritical acceptance of recent change is wise. How We Got Here also has a perfect title: there may not be a better book available on the broad currents of American social life in the second half of the 20th century. --John J. Miller --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

In a new twist on the belief of many conservatives that the 1960s was the beginning of the end of a righteous and moral America, Frum, a contributing editor at the Weekly Standard, aims "to describe--and to judge" the transformation of American values during the '70s. Surveying politics, legal cases and opinion polls as well as popular culture, he links what he sees as America's loss of faith in government, the rise of "sourness and cynicism" and the culture of licentiousness and divorce, among other social changes, to events in that decade. Frum can be perceptive, as when he notes that Betty Ford's confession of her drug dependencies represented a major breakthrough in the discussion of private problems by public figures or when he considers how the "language of marriage" changed as "husbands and wives" gave way to "spouses" and then "partners." Yet his insights are often undercut by scornful assertions: e.g., that Ford "may have believed she was rendering a public service," but she opened the door to a "let's talk about me!" culture; or that linguistic changes eroded the family. Until his final chapter of overt political analysis--in which he asserts that "it was better when more people showed more loyalty to family and country... talked about themselves less, [and] restrained their sexuality"--Frum writes a popular history, although his disdain for those he does not agree with constantly shows through (e.g., he belittles Jane Fonda and Meryl Steep for daring to call themselves "artists" and suggests that Steve Martin is not funny). Filled with shaky, often unfootnoted facts and a palpable dislike for social change, this attempt at evenhanded social science devolves into a polemic that is likely to infuriate all but the most conservative readers. (Feb.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

David Frum is a contributing editor at Newsweek/Daily Beast and a CNN contributor. He is the author of eight books, including most recently the e-book WHY ROMNEY LOST and his first novel, PATRIOTS. In 2001-2002, he served as speechwriter and special assistant to President George W. Bush; in 2007-2008, as senior adviser to the Rudy Giuliani presidential campaign. You can read him at and on Twitter @davidfrum

Customer Reviews

Great book and lots of fun to read.
D. Lo-Ro
There are better books; there are worse books; any book is better than sitting in front of the television.
Mr. Frum has written about the 1970s in a style that should be the model for all future historians.
Todd Winer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

63 of 65 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 22, 2000
Format: Hardcover
David Frum's new book is a masterpiece of historical, social, and economic analysis. Frum persuasively makes the case that the 1970s were far more influential than the 1960s in terms of impact upon the future of America. Frum obviously evaluates the 1970s from a very conservative point of view, but he is a not a new-jerk conservative who automatically condemns everything about the 1970s and nostagically longs for the 1950s. Frum contends that the social conventions and mindsets which prevailed between 1920 and 1970 constituted a unique period in American history, existing due to the demands of the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War. Therefore, change was inevitable. Nevertheless, much of the change that occurred in the 1970s was undesirable because of its devestating impact on our culture. Frum accentuates the negative changes, but towards the end of the book he discusses the rays of hope that emerged at the end of a dark decade - deregulation, tax revolt, etc. Frum ranges across a remarkably diverse group of subjects from fashion to environmentalism to inflation in concise, definitive essays. Frum so frequently overwhelms the reader with his mastery of detail and narrative that editorial elaboration is not even necessary; he has already made his case. His prose sparkles and dazzles with the best style of any contemporary political writer. The book was a real page-turner; I could not put it down. I stayed up to 1 A.M. three nights in a row to finish it.
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39 of 41 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 26, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This is the book for anyone who's ever asked, sardonically or not, "How could the nation ever elect Ronald Reagan president?"
Today, many people, young and old, talk about the Reagan years like they some sort of political anomaly. David Frum's excellent deconstruction of the 1970s displaces that notion.
But it's not just about how the depressing 1970s gave way to the go-go 1980s. Frum draws a clear line from the intellectual seeds that were sown in the 1950s and 60s, seeds that didn't bear fruit until the 70s, to the issues that influence public discourse and behavior today.
The crux of Frum's analysis is that the seventies were a decade where America lost its faith in the concept of the "beneficent organization." This disillusionment crossed the political and social spectrum. The values of organizational hierarchy, centralized planning, self-sacrifice for a common goal, social conformity for the sake of community strength-values that sustained the nation through the Depression, World War II and the explosive American economic growth of the 1950s, ceased to have meaning amid the failures of Vietnam, the scandals of Watergate, decline of U.S. industry and the alarming simultaneous growth in inflation and unemployment.
The 1970s particularly marked the limits of the "New Deal" tradition of economic planning that by then was gospel for both Republicans and Democrats. The energy crisis laid bare the ineffectiveness, if not destructiveness, of Nixon's wage-price controls and by extension any other attempt for government to manage markets. Ongoing union corruption, plus the decline of heavy industry and the rise of service-oriented business, marginalized organized labor.
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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 21, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This refreshing new book is less a history of the 1970's than an exploration of some of the forces in American society that came to a head in that "slum of a decade," such as the widespread loss of respect for government, runaway inflation, the abandonment of the South Vietnamese, the cult of the self and the corresponding decline of family and community, and race- and gender-based politics. I think it would have been better to leave "the 70's" out of the book's title, but I recognize that almost any book that purports to be about the 1970's will catch the attention of those of us who came of age in that weird and wonderful era.
Frum is an excellent writer, and he provides clear and concise overviews of subjects as complex as the Bretton Woods monetary system, national mental-health policy, the economics of oil and the development of busing as a remedy for school segregation. He pays relatively little attention to popular culture, which is probably a good thing, because most of it was awful. For a fun, intelligent look at the popular culture of the decade, check out Edelstein and McDonugh's lavishly illustrated "The Seventies: From Hot Pants to Hot Tubs," which unfortunately is now hard to find.
A central question of "How We Got Here" is whether America's confidence in the 1950's, which completely fell apart in the 1970's, was an anomaly rather than the norm. A related question is whether the events of the 1970's represent America's return to its "normal" state -- contentious, disparate and often violent -- or the beginning of a steady national decline from which we will never fully recover.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Mark Hasty on February 3, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Frum's book presents a compelling argument for his thesis that much of the societal change for which we assign credit/blame to the 60s actually occured in the 70s, and was a product of that decade's culture. He presents a complete--though by no means exhaustive--portrait of America's psyche during the 'Me' decade.
Frum writes in a very accessible, easygoing style, but his exploration of the 70s lacks any sense of nostalgia. (For instance, you'll read little of leisure suits, disco music, or Pet Rocks.) Rather, he presents a careful (but not really unbiased) analysis of how social institutions changed during the decade. He points out that much of our present distrust of government does not stem directly from Vietnam and Watergate (as it is usually assumed) but developed gradually throughout the years preceding them. He accurately diagnoses the causes and effects of the decline of "mainline" Protestantism in the 70s. Frum also points out how the sexual revolution happened not during the so-called "Summer of Love" but developed in the early 70s.
(I would *love* to see Frum take on the 80s, another greatly misunderstood decade.)
All in all, this book is fascinating and highly quotable. I'd recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about this strange and powerful period in American history--or anybody who's just looking for a good read.
But I've got one quibble, and it's a big one: the proofreading in this book is *atrocious*. I've never seen a book reach the market with more spelling and grammatical errors. Unfortunately, there are factual errors as well: Frum states that , during the winter of 1977-78, "[t]emperatures plunged to minus 100 in Minnesota.
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