cover image Reaganland: America’s Right Turn, 1976–1980

Reaganland: America’s Right Turn, 1976–1980

Rick Perlstein. Simon & Schuster, $37.50 (1,040p) ISBN 978-1-4767-9305-4

Resurgent conservatism defeats enervated liberalism in this sweeping study of the Carter administration and the rise of Ronald Reagan. Political historian Perlstein (The Invisible Bridge) concludes the saga of right-wing insurgency he started in Before the Storm, his magisterial account of the 1964 Goldwater presidential campaign, with this chronicle of intensifying 1970s political clashes. It’s partly the story of a grassroots uprising of conservative Christians, free-market fundamentalists, and anti-communist zealots who fought the liberal establishment on taxes, gay rights, abortion, and the Equal Rights Amendment, and found a champion in Ronald Reagan. It’s also about liberalism’s crisis under Jimmy Carter, a populist-turned-bloodless technocrat—Perlstein dubs him the “Engineer in Chief”—who addressed inflation and energy shortages with policies of economic austerity, budget cuts, and deregulation that hurt working-class Democrats, many of whom were then drawn to Reagan’s social conservatism. Perlstein masterfully connects deep currents of social change and ideology to prosaic politics, which he conveys in elegant prose studded with vivid character sketches and colorful electoral set-pieces. (“The camera cut to Reagan, who was rocking back and forth in his place, beaming like a boxer whose opponent had just lowered his gloves,” he writes of Reagan’s celebrated “There you go again!” quip during the 1980 presidential debate.) The result is an insightful and entertaining analysis of a watershed era in American politics. Agent: Tina Bennett. (Aug.)