Posted by: Matt Compton | April 12, 2008

Nixonland

I loved Rick Perstein’s book about the Goldwater Revolution — Before the Storm — but merely liked his history of the Nixon presidency — Nixonland — a great deal. Ross Douthat has a great review in The Atlantic, which outlines the book’s many strengths but explains exactly why it has an underlying weakness at its heart.

Perlstein’s central thesis is that the nation’s 37th president ushered in a new phase of American life — Nixonland — in which the national consensus was shattered and domestic tranquility interrupted from then until now. Douthat writes:

This argument is one of Perlstein’s weakest—and it’s undercut, time and again, by his own skill as a historian and a writer. The chaotic tapestry he summons up—“hard hats” slugging hippies on the steps of Federal Hall on Wall Street, radical priests hatching bomb plots in the steam tunnels under Washington, D.C., riots consuming city after city, and national leaders going down under assassins’ bullets—is fascinating precisely because it feels so alien to our present political climate. Indeed, the age of Bush, supposedly unrivaled in its rancor, seems like a peaceable kingdom when contrasted with the madhouse in which Richard Nixon rose to power. We have a culture war; they had a war.

Exactly.

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Responses

  1. […] Nixonland, properly When I originally finished Nixonland back in April, my conclusion was that I liked it more than I loved […]


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