“Perlstein...aims here at nothing less than weaving a tapestry of social upheaval. His success is dazzling.” —Los Angeles Times
“Both brilliant and fun, a consuming journey back into the making of modern politics.” —Jon Meacham
“Nixonland is a grand historical epic. Rick Perlstein has turned a story we think we know—American politics between the opposing presidential landslides of 1964 and 1972—into an often-surprising and always-fascinating new narrative.” —Jeffrey Toobin
Rick Perlstein’s bestselling account of how the Nixon era laid the groundwork for the political divide that marks our country today.
Told with vivid urgency and sharp political insight, Nixonland recaptures America’s turbulent 1960s and early 1970s and reveals how Richard Nixon rose from the political grave to seize and hold the presidency of the United States. Perlstein’s epic account begins in the blood and fire of the 1965 Watts riots, nine months after Lyndon Johnson’s historic landslide victory over Barry Goldwater appeared to herald a permanent liberal consensus in the United States. Yet the next year, scores of liberals were tossed out of Congress, America was more divided than ever, and a disgraced politician was on his way to a shocking comeback: Richard Nixon. Between 1965 and 1972 America experienced no less than a second civil war. Out of its ashes, the political world we know now was born. Filled with prodigious research and driven by a powerful narrative, Rick Perlstein’s magisterial account of how it all happened confirms his place as one of our country’s most celebrated historians.
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About the Author
Rick Perlstein is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan; Nixonland:The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America, a New York Times bestseller picked as one of the best nonfiction books of 2007 by over a dozen publications; and Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus, which won the 2001 Los Angeles Times Book Award for history and appeared on the best books of the year lists of The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Chicago Tribune. His essays and book reviews have been published in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Nation, The Village Voice, and Slate, among others. He has received a National Endowment for the Humanities grant for independent scholars. He lives in Chicago.
Read an Excerpt
In 1964, the Democratic presidential candidate Lyndon B. Johnson won practically the biggest landslide in American history, with 61.05 percent of the popular vote and 486 of 538 electoral college votes. In 1972, the Republican presidential candidate Richard M. Nixon won a strikingly similar landslide 60.67 percent and 520 electoral college votes. In the eight years in between, the battle lines that define our culture and politics were forged in blood and fire. This is a book about how that happened, and why.
At the start of 1965, when those eight years began, blood and fire weren't supposed to be a part of American culture and politics. According to the pundits, America was more united and at peace with itself than ever. Five years later, a pretty young Quaker girl from Philadelphia, a winner of a Decency Award from the Kiwanis Club, was cross-examined in the trial of seven Americans charged with conspiring to start a riot at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
"You practice shooting an M1 yourself, don't you?" the prosecutor asked her.
"Yes, I do," she responded.
"You also practice karate, don't you?"
"Yes, I do."
"That is for the revolution, isn't it?"
"After Chicago I changed from being a pacifist to the realization that we had to defend ourselves. A nonviolent revolution was impossible. I desperately wish it was possible."
And, several months after that, an ordinary Chicago ad salesman would be telling Time magazine, "I'm getting to feel like I'd actually enjoy going out and shooting some of these people. I'm just so goddamned mad. They're trying to destroy everything I've worked for for myself, my wife, and my children."
This American story is told in four sections, corresponding to four elections: in 1966, 1968, 1970, and 1972. Politicians, always reading the cultural winds, make their life's work convincing 50 percent plus one of their constituency that they understand their fears and hopes, can honor and redeem them, can make them safe and lead them toward their dreams. Studying the process by which a notably successful politician achieves that task, again and again, across changing cultural conditions, is a deep way into an understanding of those fears and dreams and especially, how those fears and dreams change.
The crucial figure in common to all these elections was Richard Nixon the brilliant and tormented man struggling to forge a public language that promised mastery of the strange new angers, anxieties, and resentments wracking the nation in the 1960s. His story is the engine of this narrative. Nixon's character his own overwhelming angers, anxieties, and resentments in the face of the 1960s chaos sparks the combustion. But there was nothing natural or inevitable about how he did it nothing inevitable in the idea that a president could come to power by using the angers, anxieties, and resentments produced by the cultural chaos of the 1960s. Indeed, he was slow to the realization. He reached it, through the 1966 election, studying others: notably, Ronald Reagan, who won the governorship of California by providing a political outlet for the outrages that, until he came along to articulate them, hadn't seemed like voting issues at all. If it hadn't been for the shocking defeats of a passel of LBJ liberals blindsided in 1966 by a conservative politics of "law and order," things might have turned out differently: Nixon might have run on a platform not too different from that of the LBJ liberals instead of one that cast them as American villains.
Nixon's win in 1968 was agonizingly close: he began his first term as a minority president. But the way he achieved that narrow victory seemed to point the way toward an entire new political alignment from the one that had been stable since FDR and the Depression. Next, Nixon bet his presidency, in the 1970 congressional elections, on the idea that an "emerging Republican majority" rooted in the conservative South and Southwest, seething with rage over the destabilizing movements challenging the Vietnam War, white political power, and virtually every traditional cultural norm could give him a governing majority in Congress. But when Republican candidates suffered humiliating defeats in 1970, Nixon blamed the chicanery of his enemies: America's enemies, he had learned to think of them. He grew yet more determined to destroy them, because of what he was convinced was their determination to destroy him.
Millions of Americans recognized the balance of forces in the exact same way that America was engulfed in a pitched battle between the forces of darkness and the forces of light. The only thing was: Americans disagreed radically over which side was which. By 1972, defining that order of battle as one between "people who identified with what Richard Nixon stood for" and "people who despised what Richard Nixon stood for" was as good a description as any other.
Richard Nixon, now, is long dead. But these sides have hardly changed. We now call them "red" or "blue" America, and whether one or the other wins the temporary allegiances of 50 percent plus one of the electorate or 40 percent of the electorate, or 60 percent of the electorate has been the narrative of every election since. It promises to be thus for another generation. But the size of the constituencies that sort into one or the other of the coalitions will always be temporary.
The main character in Nixonland is not Richard Nixon. Its protagonist, in fact, has no name but lives on every page. It is the voter who, in 1964, pulled the lever for the Democrat for president because to do anything else, at least that particular Tuesday in November, seemed to court civilizational chaos, and who, eight years later, pulled the lever for the Republican for exactly the same reason.
Copyright © 2008 by Rick Perlstein
Table of Contents
1 Hell in the City of Angels
2 The Orthogonian
3 The Stench
4 Ronald Reagan
5 Long, Hot Summer
6 School Was in Session...
7 Batting Average
8 The Bombing
9 Summer of Love
10 In Which a Cruise Ship Full of Governors Inspires Considerations on the Nature of Old and New Politics
12 The Sky's the Limit
14 From Miami to the Siege of Chicago
15 Wednesday, August 28, 1968
17 The First One Hundred Days
19 If Gold Rust
20 The Presidential Offensive
21 The Polarization
25 Agnew's Election
26 How to Survive the Debacle
27 Cruelest Month
29 The Coven
30 The Party of Jefferson, Jackson, and George Wallace
31 The Spring Offensive
33 In Which Playboy Bunnies, and Barbarella, and Tanya, Inspire Theoretical Considerations upon the Nature of Democracy
34 Not Half Enough
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
One of the best Nixon books I have ever read.
Richard Nixon rocks. He has great stradegies to to help him get elected and to help end the Vietnam War. Nixon may not be popular as a president but he did sign a lot of liberal legislation such as Rehab Act of 1973, Environmental Laws, and Affirmative Action. Nixon brought us level with China and the World Trade Center was built. Nixon could have been great as Eisenhower, FDR, Truman, Kennedy, or Lincoln. Honestly he wasn't. He made mistakes that costed him his job, his family, and his country. Honestly, If I gave Nixon a rating 1 to 10 he would get a 5.5. Nixon still rocks because he never gives up.