cover image Restless Giant: The United States from Watergate to Bush v. Gore

Restless Giant: The United States from Watergate to Bush v. Gore

James T. Patterson, Author Oxford University Press $45 (448p) ISBN 978-0-19-512216-9

The Brown University historian seamlessly melds the complexities of politics, economics, society and culture into a vibrant and accessible account of late twentieth century America. Patterson's analyses of standard historical fare, interwoven with nuanced observations on diverse issues such as family life, the personal computer revolution, the media and gay activism give this book its singular dynamism. Picking up where his last volume, Grand Expectations: The United States, 1945-1974, left off, Patterson opens with Richard Nixon's resignation and plunges into a detailed discussion of ""the nation's number one problem,"" race. Contemporary commentators viewed racial tensions, along with relaxed sexual mores, agitation for women's rights and burgeoning consumerism as symptomatic of the country's ""moral decline,"" spurring organizations like Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority to advocate ""pro-life, pro-family pro-morality, pro-American"" views. By the late 1990s, media-exaggerated accounts of these ""culture wars,"" had abated, Patterson says. Pop culture icons from Bill Cosby to Madonna and Jerry Seinfeld also populate these pages, but, predictably, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton tower over all. Patterson credits Reagan with ""facilitating"" the end of the Cold War, but diplomatically sidesteps whether he or Mikhail Gorbachev deserve the ultimate accolades. Although international conflicts distracted Clinton from the domestic policy-making he preferred, a sexual ""tryst"" led to his impeachment, threatening the ""transcendent position in United States history"" he sought. The author also touches on terrorism, beginning with the Iranian hostage crisis and culminating in the American intelligence community's knowledge that, by late 1998, radical Muslim terrorists ""were considering... hijacking commercial airliners and crashing them into buildings."" Rich in period details from the somber to frivolous, this is an invaluable guide to the end of an era.