Stayin' Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class

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An epic account of how middle-class America hit the rocks in the political and economic upheavals of the 1970s, this wide-ranging cultural and political history rewrites the 1970s as the crucial, pivotal era of our time. Jefferson Cowie’s edgy and incisive book—part political intrigue, part labor history, with large doses of American musical, film, and TV lore—makes new sense of the 1970s as a crucial and poorly understood transition from New Deal America (with its large, optimistic middle class) to the widening economic inequalities, poverty, and dampened expectations of the 1980s and into the present.

Stayin’ Alive takes us from the factory floors of Ohio, Pittsburgh, and Detroit, to the Washington of Nixon, Ford, and Carter. Cowie also connects politics to culture, showing how the big screen and the jukebox can help us understand how America turned away from the radicalism of the 1960s and toward the patriotic promise of Ronald Reagan. Cowie makes unexpected connections between the secrets of the Nixon White House and the failings of George McGovern campaign; radicalism and the blue-collar backlash; the earthy twang of Merle Haggard’s country music and the falsetto highs of Saturday Night Fever. Like Jeff Perlstein’s acclaimed Nixonland, Stayin’ Alive moves beyond conventional understandings of the period and brilliantly plumbs it for insights into our current way of life.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“…so fresh, fertile and real that the only thing it resembles is itself…You just have to read it. It establishes its author as one our most commanding interpreters of recent American experience. It corrals all the generational energies coursing through the centrifuge of post–baby boomer ‘70s scholarship and churns them into the first compelling, coherent statement I’ve read of what happened in the '70s…Cowie's accomplishment is to convey what this epic cheat felt like from the inside.”—Rick Perlstein, The Nation

“If you want to understand how we got here—how the Democrats’ New Deal coalition shattered in the 1970s, and why progressives are still picking the shrapnel out of their political hides—you must read Stayin' Alive. A fun read with cultural insight…Cowie is impossibly fair.”—Joan Walsh,

Library Journal
The New Deal liberalism that led to prosperity for American workers crashed in the 1970s, certainly one of the bleakest decades for blue-collar workers. So claims Cowie (history, Cornell Univ.; Capital Moves: RCA's Seventy-One Year Quest for Cheap Labor) in this edifying survey of the politics, labor movements, and cultural landscape of the times. By mid-decade, the recession of 1974 unleashed stagflation (a failing economy combined with inflation), which many economists and politicians blamed on higher union salaries. At the end of the decade, union membership declined sharply and gains made by minorities and women were largely moot owing to job losses from foreign competition. Cowie includes excellent investigations of how motion pictures, television, and popular movies portrayed the decline of the working class. Such real and fictional working-class heroes as Bruce Springsteen, The Band, Archie Bunker, and John Travolta as Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever defined the Seventies' most tragic legacy: the time when the "republic of anxiety overtook a republic of security." VERDICT Along with Francis Wheen's irreverent Strange Days Indeed: The 1970s: The Golden Days of Paranoia, this book will be sure to engross modern American historians and readers who enjoy serious contemporary history.—Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781565848757
  • Publisher: New Press, The
  • Publication date: 9/7/2010
  • Pages: 464
  • Sales rank: 979,390
  • Product dimensions: 6.86 (w) x 11.28 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Jefferson Cowie is an associate professor of history at Cornell University. He is the author of Capital Moves: RCA’s Seventy-Year Quest for Cheap Labor (The New Press), which received the Philip Taft Prize for the Best Book in Labor History for 2000, and a co-editor of Beyond the Ruins: The Meanings of Deindustrialization. He lives in Ithaca, New York.
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Table of Contents

Introduction: Something's Happening to People Like Me 1

Book One: Hope in the Confusion, 1968-1974 21

1 Old Fashioned Heroes of the New Working Class 23

2 What Kind of Delegation Is This? 75

3 Nixon's Class Struggle 125

4 I'm Dying Here 167

Book Two: Despair in the Order, 1974-1982 211

5 A Collective Sadness 213

6 The New Deal that Never Happened 261

7 The Important Sound of Things Falling Apart 313

8 Dead Man's Town 357

Acknowledgments 371

Notes 375

Index 447

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 12, 2013

    Go to ....

    They are coming

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    Posted January 18, 2012

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