One of the nation's leading historians offers a groundbreaking and provocativechronicle of America's political history since the fall of Nixon.
The past thirty-five years have marked an era of conservatism. Although briefly interrupted in the late 1970s and temporarily reversed in the 1990s, a powerful surge from the right has dominated American politics and government. In The Age of Reagan, Sean Wilentz accounts for how a conservative movement once deemed marginal managed to seize power and hold it, and the momentous consequences that followed.
Ronald Reagan has been the single most important political figure of this age. Without Reagan, the conservative movement would have never been as successful as it was. In his political persona as well as his policies, Reagan embodied a new fusion of deeply right-leaning politics with some of the rhetoric and even a bit of the spirit of Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal and John F. Kennedy's New Frontier. In American political history there have been a few leading figures who, for better or worse, have placed their political stamp indelibly on their times. They include Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt—and Ronald Reagan. A conservative hero in a conservative age, Reagan has been so admired by a minority of historians and so disliked by the others that it has been difficult to evaluate his administration with detachment. Drawing on numerous primary documents that have been neglected or only recently released to the public, as well as on emerging historical work, Wilentz offers invaluable revelations about conservatism's ascendancy and the era in which Reagan was the preeminent political figure.
Vivid, authoritative, and illuminating from start to finish, The Age of Reagan raises profound questions and opens passionate debate about our nation's recent past.
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Sean Wilentz is the author of The Rise of American Democracy, which won the Bancroft Prize and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Wilentz teaches American history at Princeton University. He lives in Princeton, New Jersey.From Publishers Weekly:
Starred Review. Distinguished Princeton historian Wilentz-winner of a Bancroft Prize for The Rise of American Democracy-makes an eloquent and compelling case for America's Right as the defining factor shaping the country's political history over the past 35 years. Wilentz argues that the unproductive liberalism of the Carter years was a momentary pause in a general tidal surge toward a new politics of conservatism defined largely by the philosophy and style of Ronald Reagan. Even Bill Clinton, he shows, tacitly admitted the ascendance of many Reaganesque core values in the American mind by styling himself as a centrist "New Democrat" and moving himself and his party to the right. Wilentz postulates Reagan as the perfect man at the ideal moment, not just ruling his eight years in the White House, but also casting a long shadow on all that followed (a shadow, one might add, still being felt in the Republican presidential campaign today). While examining in detail the low points of Reagan's presidency, from Iran-Contra to his initial belligerence toward the Soviet Union, Wilentz concludes in his superb account that Reagan must be considered one of the great presidents: he reshaped the geopolitical map of the world as well as the American judiciary and bureaucracy, and uplifted an American public disheartened by Vietnam and the grim Carter years. While much has been written by Reagan admirers, Wilentz says, "his achievement looks much more substantial than anything the Reagan mythmakers have said in his honor." 16 pages of b&w photos. (May)
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