Great Society: A New History

Amity Shlaes. Harper, $32.50 (528p) ISBN 978-0-06-170642-4
Former Financial Times columnist Shlaes (The Forgotten Man) contends, in this dense yet fluidly written account, that U.S. government efforts to eradicate poverty, increase worker protections, expand medical coverage, and establish environmental regulations during the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations led to “economic tragedy.” According to Shlaes, federal entitlement programs instituted or expanded during the 1960s failed to win the War on Poverty and established “a permanent sense of downtroddenness” among the poor. She credits Job Corps founder Sargent Shriver and Housing and Urban Development secretary George Romney with attempting to remedy youth unemployment and housing segregation, respectively, but claims that the private sector and local initiatives were more effective in those and other goals. Shlaes praises business executives, governors, and mayors for pushing back against “the incursions of the federal government,” and blames union bosses for winning so many employee benefits that U.S. companies could no longer compete with foreign rivals. While Shlaes mainly succeeds in keeping the narrative from bogging down in the nitty-gritty of policy making, her ideological slant leads to some questionable interpretations, as when she claims, “[Watergate] was an indictment of executive overreach generally.” The result is more of a backwards-looking polemic against democratic socialism than an essential history of the Great Society era. Agent: Sarah Chalfant, the Wylie Agency. (Nov.)
Reviewed on : 12/06/2019
Release date: 06/01/2018
Genre: Nonfiction
Downloadable Audio - 978-0-06-284813-0
Paperback - 978-0-06-284589-4
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