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Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class Paperback – January 3, 2012

4.5 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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There is no question that recent decades have been tough times for the so-called working class. The decline in power and influence of organized labor, foreign competition in industries like automotive and steel, and the shift to a service-oriented economy have eroded the chances for many workers to maintain the benefits of a middle-class lifestyle. Cowie charts this decline in a wide-ranging survey that moves from factory floors to union halls to the upper levels of corporate, union, and government bureaucracies. To his credit, Cowie doesn’t allow broad themes to obscure the price paid by individual workers, and the testimonies of those who saw their economic position being squeezed is both disturbing and moving. Cowie’s sympathies are obvious, and this is far from a balanced account. From the auto plants to mines to farm fields, he shows workers victimized by corporate greed and distant union and government officials. Still, as a portrayal of a decade that saw a great shift in the status of millions of people, this work is a valuable piece of social history. --Jay Freeman --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


“Will long stand as the finest and most sophisticated portrait of politics and culture in the American 1970s.”
—E.J. Dionne

“Gives the best sense of the way that it felt to live through the decade … Cowie’s book captures the contradictory nature of the 1970s politics better than almost any other ever written about the period.”
—Kim Phillips-Fein, Dissent

“One of the best books of 2010.”
—Joan Walsh, Salon

“Might be the most groundbreaking and original national history of a working class since E.P. Thompson’s Making of the English Working Class.”
—Steven Colatrella, New Politics

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 488 pages
  • Publisher: The New Press (January 3, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1595587071
  • ISBN-13: 978-1595587077
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #30,967 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jefferson Cowie holds James G. Stahlman Chair in American history at Vanderbilt University. His most recent book is The Great Exception: The New Deal and the Limits of American Politics (Princeton, 2016). He is also the author of Stayin' Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class (The New Press, 2010), which received the Francis Parkman Prize, the Merle Curti Award, and was a finalist for the Anthony Lukas Award for nonfiction, in addition to winning several other national prizes. He is also the author of Capital Moves: RCA's Seventy-Year Quest for Cheap Labor (The New Press, 2001), which received the Philip Taft Prize for the Best Book in Labor History for 2000. He is also the co-editor of Beyond the Ruins: The Meanings of Deindustrialization (Cornell University Press). He lives with his family in Ithaca, New York.

More at: www.jeffersoncowie.info

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is an exhilarating combination of political, economic, and cultural history written as if somebody besides a history professor might be interested. I turned 27 in 1970, and though only semi-conscious of all the things that were going on as covered in Stayin' Alive, I lived the decade and experienced what Jefferson Cowie calls "the last days of the working class" almost exactly as he portrays it. There is still an American working class, and by any sensible social science definition, it is still a substantial majority of all the people who work for a living. What was lost in Cowie's "last days" was the possibility of a "vibrant, multi-cultural, and gender conscious" reorganization of a working class capable of effective collective action as a class. Cowie sometimes argues, sometimes merely "suggests," and sometimes simply assumes that a "New Popular Front" of working-class unity was possible in the early years of what finally got tagged as the Me Decade. How this possibility was lost through a complex causal web involving the rise of the New Right, the limits of the New Deal, stagflation, Viet Nam, as well as white guys behaving badly in the face of racial and gender cultural revolutions is what Stayin' Alive both documents and mourns. The book is sometimes a downer because it is a story of worthy hopes dashed, but in telling that story it renews the possibility, or at least the idea of it, and that should help a new generation recover it as it steps into history downstream from the "sound of things falling apart" in the `70s.

Jack Metzgar
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
... when and how things got so crazy for American working people, Jefferson Cowie's STAYIN' ALIVE: THE 1970S AND THE LAST DAYS OF THE WORKING CLASS provides the most comprehensive set of answers since Thomas Frank's WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH KANSAS? HOW CONSERVATIVES WON THE HEART OF AMERICA. STAYIN' ALIVE... is really two books in one. BOOK ONE: HOPE IN THE CONFUSION, 1968-1974 discusses Nixon's "Southern Strategy" for separating white, Wallace-leaning, working-class voters from their traditional political refuge in the Democratic party. BOOK TWO: DESPAIR IN THE ORDER, 1974-1982 includes some fascinating commentary on film and popular culture during the period, as well as a discussion of the economic unraveling that resulted from the Arab oil embargo, double-digit inflation, and other factors following the resignations of Spiro Agnew and Richard Nixon, moving through the election and ultimate frustration of Jimmy Carter (never, considering his background, destined to be remembered as "a friend of labor" in any event), and culminating with the defeat of Carter by Ronald Reagan, thanks in part to endorsements from the Teamsters and the Professional Air Traffic Controllers' Organization (PATCO), whose every member Reagan would summarily fire not long after taking office.

Cowie's is one of the most articulate and insightful examinations [I've seen] of how Nixon and other Republicans have used cultural and social wedge issues to manipulate workers into voting against their own best economic and legislative interests. In BOOK TWO..., Cowie provides some further insights into the mythology and psychology of individualism and their reinforcement via cinema, popular music, and other entertainment media during the period.
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Format: Hardcover
Stayin' Alive attempts to analyze the story of the 70's. It does so by swinging back and forth between politics, economics and the popular culture; sometimes in an extremely dry and dreary fashion and in others presenting a clear picture of what and why events happened the way they did. Dewey Burton is used throughout the book as the typical blue collar disgruntled worker, as he was also used by the `New York Times'.
There are 15 pages devoted to Bobby Kennedy, going back to the 60's, but there is a lack of real connect to the 70's . In fact most of the book is very pessimistic, full of despair and the American way falling apart.
Where the writing shines is in the description of how the culture, music, TV, (i.e. All in the Family) and movies, (Easy Rider - "A man went looking for America and couldn't find it anywhere.") reflected the pessimism and disconnect between the classes during the decade. For example Merle Haggard's comment after playing at the Nixon White House, "I didn't expect the crowd to be as receptive as a Texas honky-tonk's, but I didn't expect them to be embalmed either."

The ideas of Milton Friedman and the abandoning of Keynesian economics and the conservative movement of the working class right are well explained , as is President Carter's idea that something was very wrong with the American psyche and what and how he attempted to cure it. The current events of the decade are also well integrated.

Much of the book jumps back and forth between what and how the 70's was the decade where everything, even Elvis fell apart. It would interest those who want to learn more of this decade, American history, economics, the culture and the political changes that led to the era of Reagan politics.
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