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Reset: How This Crisis Can Restore Our Values and Renew America Hardcover


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 96 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; First Edition edition (July 28, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400068983
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400068982
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.7 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,257,994 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Kurt Andersen is author of Heyday and Turn of the Century, and frequently writes for New York and Vanity Fair. He is host and co-creator of the Peabody Award-winning public radio program Studio 360. In 2006, he founded Very Short List, an e-mail service for connoisseurs of culture who would never call themselves “connoisseurs.” He was co-founder of Spy magazine, and has been a columnist and critic for The New Yorker and Time. Andersen lives with his wife and daughters in Brooklyn.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter One


We Let the Good Times Roll


Let’s be honest: we all saw this coming for a long, long time.

 In the early 1980s, right around when Ronald Reagan became president and Wall Street’s great modern bull market began, we Americans gave ourselves over to gambling (and winning). We started thinking magically. From 1980 to 2007 the price of the average new American home quadrupled, and almost doubled even after adjusting for inflation. The Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed from 803 in the summer of 1982 to 14,165 in the fall of 2007–a 500 percent increase after inflation.

 From the beginning of the 1980s through 2007, the share of disposable income that each household spent paying off its mortgage and consumer debt increased by 35 percent. Back in 1982, the average American household saved 11 percent of its disposable income, but then the percentage steadily dropped, to less than 1 percent in 2007. 

Not coincidentally, it was during this same period that state- sanctioned and state- run gambling became ubiquitous in America. Until the late 1980s, only Nevada and New Jersey had casinos, but now twelve states do, and forty- eight of the fifty have some form of legalized betting. It’s as if we decided that Mardi Gras and Christmas are so much fun we ought to make them year- round ways of life. We started living large literally as well as figuratively. From the beginning to the end of the long boom, the size of the average new American house increased by half, even as the average family became smaller. During the two decades ending 2007, the average new American car got 29 percent heavier, 89 percent more powerful, and 2 percent less efficient. Meanwhile, the average American gained about a pound a year, so that an adult of a given age is now at least twenty pounds heavier than someone of the same age during the 1970s. Back in the late 1970s, 15 percent of Americans were obese; more than a third of us are now. 

We saw what was happening for years, for decades, but we ignored it or shrugged it off, not quite believing that push would really, finally come to shove. The U.S. automobile industry has been in deep trouble for decades. Detroit’s unprofitability this last year has been breathtaking, but as long ago as 1980 (the year the federal government first bailed out Chrysler) newspapers were regularly carrying headlines about “record losses” at the car companies. Ever since then, cheap oil and occasional upticks–minivans and pickup trucks and SUVs! Saturn! the PT Cruiser!– have prolonged the great denial, sustaining an increasingly desperate wishfulness that the good old days might somehow return. 

For a decade now, ever since the web really took off, almost every part of the old- media industry–newspapers, magazines, network TV, local TV, records–has been in trouble, with only the rate, speed, and severity of shrinkage in question. But until very recently, most of them were managed as though their businesses wouldn’t, couldn’t ever really, finally die. But newspapers’ circulations are now evaporating at a stupendously accelerating rate–by 5 and 10 and 20 percent a year–and last year Americans bought fewer than half as many CDs as they did in 2000. We watched the median household income steadily decline since the end of the twentieth century . . . but, but, but our houses and our 401(k)s were ballooning in value, right? Even (and sometimes especially) smart, proudly rational people engaged in magical thinking, acting as if the miraculous power of the Internet and its “new economy” would somehow, miraculously, make everything copacetic again. We all clapped our hands and believed in fairies. We gorged on free lunches. 

The popular culture tried to warn us. For twenty years now, we have had Homer Simpson’s spot- on caricature of the quintessential American–childish, irresponsible, willfully oblivious, fat and happy. And more recently, there was Wall- E, with all of humanity reduced to Homerized refugees from a despoiled earth. There was also a profusion of darker speculations, fictional and otherwise, concerning our decline and fall–some fact based, some entirely fictional, but all expressions of a shared and growing sense that our recklessness and complacency were sending us over the falls. There were news stories warning of a real estate bubble back in 2005, years before the bubble burst. Every season saw some new comparison of the United States to the late Roman Empire by authors of every ideological stripe. There were also the Left Behind novels, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, end- of- the- world feature films (The Day After Tomorrow, 28 Days, I Am Legend) and documentaries (An Inconvenient Truth), and a rise of hysterical chatter about the cosmic meltdown scheduled by the ancient Mayans for 2012. 

Even in opinion polls taken last year, before the crash, between 70 and 85 percent of Americans were saying they thought the country was “on the wrong track.” We knew, in our heart of hearts, that something had to give. 

Especially those of us of a certain age. Remember when each decade, not long after it finished, assumed a distinct character? We all knew and know what “the ’50s” mean, and they definitively ended with the Pill, JFK’s assassination, and the Beatles. Then “the ’60s” ended when countercultural utopians abandoned their fantasies and everyone else got tired of being perpetually alarmed and hectored. And “the ’70s” ended when stimulants overtook depressants as America’s substances of choice, and AIDS appeared. 

Yet in all salient respects, “the ’80s”–as defined by Reaganism’s reshaping of the political economy, the enthralling introduction of PCs, and the vertiginous rise in the stock market–simply never ended. 

It’s as if the Roaring Twenties, instead of crashing to a halt in 1929, had lasted all the way until 1945, uninterrupted by a depression or world war. Despite the recession of 1990 . . . and the popped bubble in technology stocks in 2000 . . . and then another recession . . . and the terrorist attacks in 2001 . . . despite all of it, the 1980s spirit endured, like an awesome winning streak in Las Vegas or a multigenerational rave that went on and on and on. The Soviet Union collapsed: yes! American- style capitalism triumphed and spread: hooray! So what if every year since the turn of the twenty- first century the U.S. economy was growing much more slowly than the global economy? The (Chinese- made) stuff we were all buying at Walmart and Costco and H&M stayed supercheap–as did money itself, which our new best friends, the Chinese, obligingly supplied to us by the low- interest- rate trillion. The fresh technological miracles and wonders just kept on coming, reinforcing our sense that progress was on the march and magic was in the air. Even 9/11 and our resulting Iraqi debacle, after a while, came to seem like mere bumps in the road. 

Deep down we had an inkling at least that the spiral of over- leverage and overspending and the prices of stocks and houses bubbling ever higher were unsustainable, just as everyone figured that the unprecedented performances of baseball players like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens couldn’t be kosher, but . . . no one wanted to be a buzz kill. From 1982 until 2008, we partied like it was 1999. 

More About the Author

KURT ANDERSEN's latest book is True Believers, a novel about youth, secrets, lies, politics, love and James Bond.

His previous novels are Heyday, winner of the Langum Prize for Historical Fiction and a New York Times bestseller, and Turn of the Century, a Times Notable Book and national bestseller. He's also the author of Reset: How This Crisis Can Restore Our Values and Renew America. In addition, he is host and co-creator of the Peabody Award-winning public radio program Studio 360.

As an editor, he co-founded Spy and Inside.com and Very Short List, and served as editorial director of Colors and editor-in-chief of New York. He has been a cultural columnist for The New Yorker and Time, as well as Time's architecture and design critic. He has also created television specials and pilots, and written screenplays and stage plays. He currently contributes regularly to Vanity Fair, Time, New York and The New York Times.

He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, the author Anne Kreamer.

Customer Reviews

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The book is a nice, easy read - big on hope and brevity.
M. Mazenko
In reading it in October, 2009, I found it to be ridiculously timely, so this book must have gone to press in very quickly.
Scott Yanoff
Periods of hard work and self-sacrifice by Americans have alternated with periods of hedonism and good times.
Robin Friedman

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Andrew Berschauer on August 27, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Kurt Andersen's essay emphasizing that we can and should turn our current political and economic lemons into lemonade is an interesting monologue. Andersen makes the argument that, historically, in times of trouble American society has re-evaluated its needs vs its wants and walked away stronger as a result.

That's all fine and dandy, but I can't help feeling a little less optimistic than the author regarding our willingness and ability to do what's right for the country vs what we think is right for ourselves. Mr Andersen acknowledges the uniqueness of today's climate vs the last major shift (led by Ronald Reagan) - today's shift (Mr Andersen suggests it's currently underway) is more abrupt than the attitude evolution of 30 years ago; in Reagan's day partisan differences were put (to a larger degree) aside to pull out of economic slump and post-Vietnam malaise; today's political crazies (my word, not his) on Fox, MSNBC, etc., etc., tend to fuel polarization.

I look at what pollutes the airwaves 24x7, and I seriously wonder if there's *anyone* left in the public eye who cares what's right for the country. I'm all for making a buck in the entertainment industry (Fox, MSNBC, etc., etc.), but I think today's discourse is truly making us all poorer, and I don't foresee Mr Andersen's musings changing the tone of "dialog" (perhaps pairings of hurled insults is a better description) one iota.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By D. Q. Steiny on August 19, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I found this book to be just what I've been looking for lately. A short treaty, written by a historian, that gives a fresh and optimistic perspective on what often feels like a dark world situation. If you find that the endless indulge of negative news (failed economy, global warming, etc.) leaves you feeling a bit blue and helpless I recommend that you read this book. The information has made me feel re-empowered and renewed my optimism for the future. A positive, well grounded perspective is something of great value right now and this book delivers.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Scott Yanoff on October 24, 2009
Format: Hardcover
If you're into studying about recent (1980s and beyond) social studies and economic effects, this is a book for you. It's a very quick read as it really is an essay in book form. I was turned onto the book when the author appeared on one of the late-night Comedy Central shows (either The Daily Show or The Colbert Report). You have to be careful with books like these as they can get you in a hopeless mood. Instead, this book does offer hope, but I found that even if it didn't, it was still a great article on how we got to where we are. In reading it in October, 2009, I found it to be ridiculously timely, so this book must have gone to press in very quickly. If you like books such as Cradle to Cradle (sooo worth reading; look for it on Amazon) or books related to peak-oil, etc., you'd want to add this book to your reading list.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By www.reasonslaststand.com on September 27, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
So why am I excited that it's our turn to run the world? And by `us' and `our' I refer to what most people refer to as Generation Y. Those of us born around or after 1980.

"The baby boomers were historically fortunate: they missed the Great Depression and World War II, and although they grew up with the hideous ambient hum of potential nuclear Armageddon, until they reached middle age, only great national trauma was the one - the 1960s and Vietnam - in which they were they were the self-regarding stars."

This makes it easy to understand their "selfish, heedless, if-it-feels-good-do-it approach." We didn't have it so easy. In the last 25 years I've watched the Oklahoma City bombing, the shuttle disasters, Columbine, September 11, Virginia Tech, multiple gulf wars... the list seems to go. The worst of it is that we've had to watch the never before seen 24/7 news coverage of it all.

But while these disasters may have made us a bit conservative and maybe a little slow to make decisions as we consider all the options, we have also been raised in a world where information is ubiquitous. I find myself annoyed when I can't find some bit of esoteric information immediately. I can decide I want to read almost any book currently in print and thanks to Amazon and my iPhone I can have it tomorrow or with my Kindle I can have it right now.

So what did I get out of RESET? That my generation is uniquely prepared to deal with our current crisis. Crises are nothing new to us and we're especially prepared to gather all the information we need and take our time to make the right decisions. Hopefully we'll make the right ones and this world we've grown up in will be a bit better for the children we'll leave behind us.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Robin Friedman HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 30, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Written during the depths of the recession in 2009 and just after the inaugaration of President Obama, Kurt Andersen's short book, "Reset-- How this Crisis Can Restore Our Values and Renew America", sounded a note of optimism. Anderson, a novelist, radio host, and former editor, tried to show the sources of the difficulty in which the United States found itself and how it could rebound from them and emerge wiser and stronger. I recently had the opportunity to hear Andersen speak and then to read his book.

In a brief 70 pages, the book covers a good deal in a sweeping way. Andersen finds that the difficulities in which the United States found itself was due to what he terms a "casino economy" in which Americans adopted a model of gambling and easy money and satisfaction in their economic and personal lives. He attributes this attitude to the Reagan years with 1986 as a pivotal point, but he also looks back to the late 1960s with their emphasis on individuality and doing one's own thing. Then, Andersen takes a historical view. He finds that much of American history can be characterized in terms of the fable of the ant and the grasshoper. Periods of hard work and self-sacrifice by Americans have alternated with periods of hedonism and good times. The Recession signals emphatically the end of a latter such period, Andersen argues, and presents an opportunity for Americans to reflect and take stock on where they have been and where they want to go. In other words, the industrious ant will again come to the fore but with differences from analogous ant-like periods in the past. We have the opportunity to learn from our experiences and mistakes.
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