cover image The Other Eighties: A Secret History of America in the Age of Reagan

The Other Eighties: A Secret History of America in the Age of Reagan

Bradford Martin, Hill and Wang, $26 (272p) ISBN 978-0-8090-7461-7

Martin, a history professor at Bryant University in Rhode Island, aims to get past "reaganocentric" views of the '80s by chronicling the efforts of the diminished but far from dead political left to minimize what they saw as the negative effects of President Reagan's conservative domestic and foreign policies. Martin covers much ground, exploring the left's efforts—hardly secret, either then or now—to influence the culture wars, nuclear disarmament, South African apartheid, interventionist Central American policies, abortion rights, and gay rights. Martin writes with a welcome evenhandedness and a knack for choosing small events that speak for the larger context, annotating each political battle with insights into the movement's legacy. His descriptions of the success of Act Up in bringing attention to the AIDS epidemic, college students' building of shantytowns to focus attention on South African apartheid, and the women's movement's efforts to protect abortion rights are all excellent, as is his description of the arts as a counterweight to the Reagan cultural agenda. This is a valuable picture of the complex political cross-currents that swirled in a decade too often seen simplistically as "Morning in America." (Mar.)