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Mad as Hell: The Crisis of the 1970s and the Rise of the Populist Right Hardcover – Deckle Edge, February 15, 2011

4.7 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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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From Booklist

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

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1St Edition edition (February 15, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400042623
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400042623
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.7 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #892,811 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By R. C Sheehy on April 27, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I will give Dominic Sandbrook his due, he built a very interested story angle over well trod ground and tells a story that is one part political history and one part social history. The book does not cover the entire decade. It really begins with Watergate but that is fine because Watergate was really the first event which was not a hold over from the 1960's. The well told stories of Nixon,Carter and Reagan are told very well. Sandbrook does a great job of reminding us of some of the now lesser known people from the decade and how the grass roots movement may have reached its zenith during this period.

What I also liked about this book is that it keeps it's focus on the 1970's and how the events were important then without a great deal of foreshadowing. We see an allusion to Newt Gingrich and some other allusions to later events but these are not central roles so we don't see anything about the founding of Microsoft or anything that happened in the 70's but mattered later on. No this is almost exclusively focused on what happened in the 1970's.

If you are a social and political history junkie, this is the book for you! I recommend it highly!
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Format: Hardcover
It's hard to believe that Dominic Sandbrook is a British historian when you read this book; images of the 1970s come back with such fidelity it's like a time machine. If you grew up in the 1970s, the memories come alive one after another: the South Boston busing protests, Charlie's Angels, Archie Bunker, candidate Jimmy Carter from Plains, Anita Bryant, etc. Exceptionally well-written page-turner, it's hard to put down.
The theme of the populist right really takes a backseat, however. This is more of a documentary of 1970s culture and the uneasy road from 60s rebellion to the Reagan revolution. The author describes more than explains, and you get the feeling he revists the strange events of the 70s more because he's facsinated with them than to explain his central argument. In any case, it's far more interesting this way.
He offers some great insights that make sense of a lot of things. Did air conditioning really bring about the greatest shift in American demographics? He makes a good argument. The biggest shadow in the book is Inflation--essentially everything else seems to have been caused by it. At times, it seems like too simple of an explanation, but I would need to know a lot more about the 70s to judge if he's correct.
The book could have benefitted from a conclusion to wrap it all up. We're left with the fact of the Reagan election but not as much analysis of the key question of the 1970s -- how did liberal Carter populism give way to conservative Reagan populism.
Nonetheless, a fascinating and well-written book. Definitely worth the read. Unlike the 1970s, it is over too soon.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Religious controversies; concerns about energy supplies; concerns about government spending; defeat in foreign wars; KKK invectives against "socialist n***ers". Sounds like today, more or less: except this was the post-Nixon period of the 1970s.

This book interweaves the different movements of the day (anti-textbook riots; busing riots; anti-ERA campaigns); with assorted pop-culture references ("Network"; "Charlie's Angels"; Bruce Springsteen). It points out the role of people still involved in today's politics: Cheney and Rumsfeld, as aides for President Ford; George Will's political punditry; Ted Koppel's reporting from Iran. It suggests the antitax sentiment of today, dates to a 1978 Republican-Populist uprising. It documents how people regarded Ford and Carter as clumsy; and the rise of the Reagan movement, and the introduction of "voodoo economics".

This review can't do the book justice in the breath of what it tries to cover from the period.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Dominic Sandbrook's incredibly insightful re-telling of the 1970s in American life is crucial to understand the current political, social, cultural situation in the United States. Sandbrook takes his readers through an entertaining romp through America's battles of the 1970s from Nixon against the Communists down to Anita Bryant attacks on gay Americans and everything else in between. In it, you will find the kernels of the current tea-party wing of the GOP and the merciless attacks withered against President Obama. All the GOP needs now is a hostage crisis in the Islamic World to attack Obama with, just like Jimmy Carter, a true outlier president, faced in 79. Uh oh, I kid you not, today, as I write this review, an American Ambassador was killed in Libya while anti-Americanism rages throughout both Libya and Egypt. Do not hesitate to pick up a copy of this intellectual tour de force.
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Format: Paperback
This book is about the period from 1974 to 1981 in US history. One might think that such a narrow focus would make a book only relevant for experts. That would be a mistake. The book is about the social/cultural history as well as political history, but it is written for the general audience interested in history. The perspective is always the details and behind the scenes kind of material. So the author would for instance focus on what went on behind the scenes in Carter's administration before a big televised speech. This makes it possible for the author to show the different viewpoints represented in the administration. The book also has many references and anecdotes from popular culture. However, fortunately, the book is not really about endless details. Instead all the details build up to a Zeitgeist picture of this era in US history. Only a skilled writer would be able to accomplish this book.

A few additional disjointed thoughts that go through my head reading the book:
- The era described in the book was an era of pessimism and low economic growth. I really don't know if there are any deeper parallels with the current climate, but it certainly is worth thinking about (at least superficial) parallels.
- Reading this book also makes it very clear that there are so many perspectives in history once you move away from the broad brush big picture kind of history.
- One book cannot cover everything. This book is very weak on political/foreign affairs history and economic history. Not really a critique but something potential buyers should be aware of.
- The book has a remarkably objective feel to it; maybe because it is written by a Brit (=outsider) who was only a small kid during the 1970s. (=no first hand experience).
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