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The Twilight of Common Dreams: Why America Is Wracked by Culture Wars Hardcover – November, 1995

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 294 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt & Co; 1st edition (November 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805040900
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805040906
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,789,159 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Although these two studies look at political correctness from opposite poles, both authors exhort us to replace polemics with rational thought. Cheney, former head of the National Endowment for the Humanities, discusses postmodern thinking in academia, the arts, the media, and our legal system. She shows how fuzzy logic has weakened the standards of objectivity, pointing out as examples English and sociology faculty members who attack the scientific method and scholarly journals filled with ideologically slanted articles. Gitlin (The Sixties, Bantam, 1987) examines the question in a broader social context, believing it has been overblown by conservatives. He also criticizes liberals for abandoning their leadership role in the fight for equal rights for all. Conservatives are now the cultural arbiters, and special-interest groups from both camps are engaging in futile power struggles while the nation limps along without a sense of mission. Dinesh D'Souza's Illiberal Education: The Politics of Race and Sex on Campus (LJ 3/15/91) and Tom Englehardt's The End of Victory Culture (LJ 1/95) complement these titles. Cheney is recommended for public and academic libraries, while Gitlin will interest academic audiences. [Cheney was previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/95.]?Gary D. Barber, SUNY at Fredonia Lib.
-?Gary D. Barber, SUNY at Fredonia Lib.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

The author, a well-known cultural critic and author of The Sixties (1987), focuses on the politics of textbook adoption in Oakland, California, in the early 1990s. He sees this process as a microcosm of the ways in which the public debate of issues generates more heat than light. The textbooks under consideration, written by a well-known multiculturalist and former leftist activist, were attacked as racist; the charges, made by people who were former activists themselves, were accompanied by a level of acrimony and rage out of all proportion to the subject at hand. Meanwhile, Gitlin notes, the larger issue, the fact that state funding of education has been repeatedly slashed, goes undebated. Widening his discussion, Gitlin goes on to talk about the decline of the Left, whose preoccupation with the needs of select "identities" and "cultures" has caused the movement to squander its energy on petty turf wars. He also argues that the Right, formerly associated with privileged interests, now claims to speak for the common good and has parlayed this image into considerable political clout. Gitlin calls for a return to consensus building in this lucid, eloquent, and persuasive book, which seeks to move us out of the current climate of bitterness and hypersensitivity and toward a more reasoned debate of our most pressing social problems. Joanne Wilkinson

More About the Author

I've published fifteen books, including, most recently, Occupy Nation: The Roots, the Spirit, and the Promise of Occupy Wall Street; The Chosen Peoples: America, Israel, and the Ordeals of Divine Election (with Liel Leibovitz); The Bulldozer and the Big Tent: Blind Republicans, Lame Democrats, and the Recovery of American Ideals; other titles include The Intellectuals and the Flag; Letters to a Young Activist; Media Unlimited: How the Torrent of Images and Sounds Overwhelms Our Lives; The Twilight of Common Dreams: Why America Is Wracked by Culture Wars; The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage; Inside Prime Time; The Whole World Is Watching; Uptown: Poor Whites in Chicago (co-author); three novels, Undying, Sacrifice and The Murder of Albert Einstein; and a book of poetry, Busy Being Born. These books have been translated into Japanese, Korean, Chinese, German, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish. I also edited Watching Television and Campfires of the Resistance.

I've contributed to many books and published widely in general periodicals (The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner, Boston Globe, Dissent, The New Republic, The Nation, Wilson Quarterly, Harper's, American Journalism Review, Columbia Journalism Review, New York Observer, The American Prospect, et al.), online magazines (,,,,, as well as scholarly journals. I'm on the editorial board of Dissent.

In 2000, Sacrifice won the Harold U. Ribalow Prize for books on Jewish themes. The Sixties and The Twilight of Common Dreams were Notable Books in the New York Times Book Review. Inside Prime Time received the nonfiction award of the Bay Area Book Reviewers Association; The Sixties was a finalist for that award and the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award.

I hold degrees from Harvard University (B. A., mathematics), the University of Michigan (M. S., political science), and the University of California, Berkeley (Ph. D., sociology). I was the third president of Students for a Democratic Society, in 1963-64, and coordinator of the SDS Peace Research and Education Project in 1964-65, during which time he helped organize the first national demonstration against the Vietnam War and the first American demonstrations against corporate aid to the apartheid regime in South Africa. During 1968-69, I was an editor and writer for the San Francisco Express Times, and through 1970 wrote widely for the underground press. In 2003-06, I was a member of the Board of Directors of Greenpeace USA.

I'm a professor of journalism and sociology and chair of the Ph. D. program in Communications at Columbia University. Earlier, I was for sixteen years a professor of sociology and director of the mass communications program at the University of California, Berkeley, and then for seven years a professor of culture, journalism and sociology at New York University. During 1994-95, I held the chair in American Civilization at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris. I've been a resident at the Bellagio Study Center in Italy and the Djerassi Foundation in Woodside, California, a Bosch Fellow at the American Academy of Berlin, a fellow at the Media Studies Center in New York, and a visiting professor at Yale University, the University of Oslo, the University of Toronto, East China Normal University in Shanghai, the Institut Supérieur des Langues de Tunis in Tunisia, and the Université de Neuchatel in Switzerland.

I lecture frequently on culture and politics in the United States and abroad (Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Germany, Denmark, Norway, Russia, Greece, Turkey, India, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Canada, Mexico, Morocco, Switzerland). I've appeared on many National Public Radio programs including Fresh Air as well as PBS, ABC, CBS and CNN. I lives in New York City with my wife, Laurel Cook.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By J. Grattan VINE VOICE on September 26, 1999
Format: Paperback
Gitlin finds that the "common dream" of what it means to be an American deteriorated with the unraveling of the New Left of the 1960s and the ascendance of identity politics. But as a founder of the SDS he makes way too much of the New Left and the impact of their breakup on common dreams.
The formative bases of America: anti-monarchial and minimalist government and rough equality among land-owning, farming citizens have not been relevant since the Civil War. The advance of industrialism and the rise of huge, powerful private concerns ripped asunder that idyllic world. The Knights of Labor, the Populists, and the Socialists tried to mount challenges to these changes and really represent the only challenges to that new order. The union drives of the 30s and 40s were interested in getting a piece of the pie, not fundamental change.
The middle class and rich kids of the 60s that led the protests against the excesses of American foreign policy in Vietnam did serve as a useful corrective to the arrogance of the United States. But in no way did the 60s protest change the common dream. As Gitlin himself points out consumerism replaced citizenship as the American dream easily by the 1920s.
Gitlin is right to say that identity politics detracts from a common purpose. But the significance of those movements pale in comparison to the dominance of the corporate order in remaking and controlling the direction of the world and national orders. There is no Left or whomever that is being drowned out or replaced by identity voices.
This reviewer found Gitlin's book difficult to understand at times. He clearly wants a commons reestablished but one is left with a rather murky view of what that is or should be and how it will happen given no Left, identity politics, and global economic forces.
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Panopticonman on February 11, 2002
Format: Paperback
Written in the mid-90s when the "culture wars" were at their height, Gitlin's history of how the wars began in the Left, how conservatives fanned the flames and in the confusion consolidated their claim on the average American, seems somehow remote now. What with all politicians now running for the center, and the latest war (on terrorism) acting as a yet another national "unifier," the flames of the culture wars appear to have been stamped out by all the rushing, marching feet. Appearances are deceiving though. It's my guess the embers are still smoldering, and that a little poking and stirring will re-ignite the blaze.
In this book, Gitlin�s strategy is to try to lower the heat of the culture wars through a "pox on both their houses" retelling of its genesis and most important battles. His attempt to shed light on the destructive effects of identity politics as practiced by the Left and distorted by the right feels forthright and balanced. There�s a good summary of the influence of various thinkers on the academic Left: Foucalt, Derrida, Horkheimer, Adorno, all of whom attacked the Enlightenment project in varying degrees, ushering in the era of "relativism." Also, he anticipates much of the ad hominen counter-Enlightenment criticism to be heaped on him by Lefty reviewers � e.g., he�s an old white male liberal academic Jewish prof out of touch with the latest radical twist on of those white male French guys, who still believes there can be a Left, and liberal and progressive causes worth fighting for. In other words, he does not agree with one of his graduate students who told him there is "no such thing as truth � there are only truth effects.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 14, 1997
Format: Hardcover
It ill-behooves an author to devote too much time to rebutting ignorant pseudo-reviews by people who show no signs of having read the books they pop off about, but in this case I cannot help but note that my book contains lengthy discussions and arguments on the subjects of American history, textbooks, demographics, and philosophy. I would hope the book would be taken seriously by fair-minded readers
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By on April 24, 1998
Format: Paperback
As someone who was born in the year 1968, I have seen the seemingly endless fall of the left and it has dishartened me deeply. The dreams of several generations now are nothing more then faded dreams. This book gives a convincing discription to the process of the left's self induced irelevancy.
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8 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on March 21, 2001
Format: Paperback
As an "activist"--whatever that means--for years, I grew increasingly disillusioned with Left Wing fantasies. For what or whom are we struggling? Do we know what "they" want, or are we passing our middle-class fantasies onto people who're busy trying to make a living and live in an imperfect world? Or making hay off of them by developing organizations and bureaucracies, while simultaneously complaining about such things as "hierarchical" and "oppressive"?
At the time, incidentally, I worked in civil rights law, in a bureaucracy the effectiveness of which was, shall I say, impeachable. Hence some of the disillusionment.
Then I read this. It seems that Californians were debating over textbooks for social studies and history. The author, and others, anticipated that the "right" would be most vocal in their comments on proposed textbooks. "Why isn't there more about St. Joe McCarthy? Why so much about those satanic hippies in the 1960s?" We've all heard the diatribes. Well, it turned out the the left was more vocal. Becoming parodies of themselves, "progressives" all over were claiming the texts didn't include enough references to black, homosexual, working class women (to partake of a comic phrase of many years ago). The concept of which I learned--and which has continually amused me since--is IDENTITY POLITICS!
Indeed, it's a symptom of what went wrong with the direction the 60s were taking us: we're all victims now. And if not, we're oppressors.
Ultimately, it's led to post-modernism, the "academic left" and other schools of contemporary comedy, and other travesties on which volumes have been written.
Do you want to understand what identity politics means? Or why the left is its own worst enemy? Read this fine volume.
And read other Gitlin too. He's grown up. That's more than I can say of some of his contemporaries of approaching 40 years ago.
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