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How We Got Here: The 70's: The Decade that Brought You Modern Life (For Better or Worse) Paperback – December 7, 2000
"Warlight" by Michael Ondaatje
A dramatic coming-of-age story set in the decade after World War II, "Warlight" is the mesmerizing new novel from the best-selling author of "The English Patient." Pre-order today
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"Americans are a people of anxious conscience, and they do not seem very pleased with themselves these days. They see corruption in office and their fellow-citizens apparently acquiescing in it; they see pervasive child-neglect, disrespect for legitimate authority, quotas in the workplace, gruesome crimes in the quietest towns, misspellings in the letters form their children's teachers, smut on the airwaves, the hardening misery of the poorest of the poor. They lack the vocabulary to express their misgivings. How can one judge if one has been taught all one's life that it is wicked to be judgmental? But rendering the misgivings inarticulate does not make them go away. So let's be articulate. It is not true that things in general were better half a century ago. Things in many respects were worse----more militaristic, less innovative, more statist, less tolerant, more unionized, less humane, more prejudiced. Nostalgia for the past would be misplaced, and even if it were not, nostalgia is the weakest and most useless of emotions, the narcotic of the defeated and the helpless. But if things in general were not better, some things in particular were. It was better when people showed more loyalty to family and country, better when they read more and talked about themselves less, better when they restrained their sexuality, better when professors and curators were unafraid to uphold high intellectual standards, better when immigrants were expected to Americanize promptly, better when not every sorrow begat a lawsuit."
Frum's effort is a wide-ranging, exceptionally well-researched volume (there are statistics to back up multitudes of the assertions made herein) that covers economic, social, cultural, military, and political life in the 1970s, a decade during which there was a great loss of faith in institutions--many of the social policies that worked well for the country earlier in the century, Frum notes, failed and had to be reworked for a new era.
This page-turner looks at seemingly all of the major topics at the center of our national conversation in the Seventies, including crime, Vietnam, Watergate, divorce, family life, religion, the sexual revolution, busing, relations between the sexes and races, inflation, the oil and gas shocks, energy, the Cold War, taxes, and government. Many of the incidents discussed have been forgotten a third of a century later, and their mention helps provide the reader a vivid portrait of what life was like then.
The author puts the 1970s into context, comparing the country prior to the Seventies to the present-day America that sees that decade as the fairly distant past. Frum notes that life is better in some ways and worse in others due to the changes that came about, but closes with optimism, reminding the reader that America has corrected mistakes in the past and that we can correct the mistakes rooted in the Seventies by making the right choices.
Fortunately, the common sense of the American people prevailed when they elected Ronald Reagan (who very nearly won the Republican nomination in 1976) in 1980. While the author does not include the Reagan ascendancy as a major theme of the book, an important subtext clearly emerges. The American people will not tolerate indefinitely the destructive policies of ivory-tower academics and pencil-necked bureaucrats when these policies pose a threat to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Having grown up in the 1970's, I did not have the responsibility of earning a living then, a task that is considerably easier these days as a result of the once-maligned Reaganomics. It is especially gratifying to see someone of my generation make a critical examination of that decade and demonstrate how --in spite of, or perhaps because of, the folly of the 1970's-- America found its way once again. Even the last 12 years of the Bush-Clinton assaults on the economy have had only a limited effect on the economic progress that began in the 1980's.