From Publishers Weekly
Inspired by the famous scene in Network in which TV watchers howl their inchoate rage, historian Sandbrook (Eugene McCarthy) offers a shrewd, sparkling politico-cultural history of post-Watergate America. Sandbrook locates the decade's heart in the popular distrust and subsequent resentment of all institutions--governments, corporations, and unions. The individualism that results, Sandbrook argues, resonates with the roots of evangelicalism and develops into the beginnings of right-wing Christian populism. This fertile if not entirely original take on the era offers insightful interpretations of 1970s watersheds, from Jimmy Carter's canny "outsider" presidential campaign to property-tax revolts and battles over school busing and the ERA. Sandbrook sets his chronicle against a panorama of gasoline lines, stagflation, and epochal changes in race relations, women's roles, and sexual mores, woven together with cultural touchstones from Bruce Springsteen to Charlie's Angels. Sandbrook's account of right-wing populism as a mass phenomenon, fed by real grievances over social and economic turmoil and a pervasive sense of decline, largely misses the role of business interests; still, his subtle, well-written narrative of wrathful little guys confronting a faltering establishment illuminates a crucial aspect of a time much like our own. Photos. (Feb.)
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British commentator Sandbrook comes to much the same conclusion about 1970s America that countryman Francis Wheen reached in Strange Days Indeed (2010); namely, that a spirit of discontent, even paranoia, pervaded the U.S. throughout the decade. Starting with Richard Nixon’s resignation in 1974, all the touchstones of the period are detailed: America’s humiliating defeat in Vietnam, an uptick in serious crime, economic malaise, rising fuel costs, environmental degradation, the Iranian hostage crisis, and an overall breakdown in respect for institutions, among others. But unlike Wheen, who’s content enough to state his case, Sandbrook lays out just how this discontent found its expression in the emergence of Ronald Reagan and the Republican Right by decade’s end. Not an easy book to work through, but readers will be rewarded for their effort. --Alan Moores