Echoes of the past
November 3, 2012 7:24 PM   Subscribe

BookFilter: Can you recommend books that connect what happened in the 60's to the current American political culture?

I'm fascinated by history and politics, and my sense is that the cleavages in American society and politics right now can be traced to the events of the 1960s. I read a lot of current events, and have read a few books/biographies of people in the sixites (particularly LBJ).

But I'd like to find a book that traces a line from LBJ, the Civil Rights movement, Vietnam, MLK and Bobby Kennedy, etc. to today's culture wars and the fragmentation of US politics. I've looked at past AskMe's and seen a couple of recommendations, particularly books focused on 1968, like Murlasky's "1968: The Year That Rocked The World.

Does such a book exist? Recommendations appreciated.
posted by dry white toast to Society & Culture (6 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Rick Perlstein's brilliant Nixonland traces the origin of the modern political landscape and the notion of a divided America to Nixon's '68 campaign. It's a great, and informative, read.
posted by Bromius at 8:00 PM on November 3, 2012 [6 favorites]

My husband could well have posted this very question. In addition to Nixonland, he recommends the following:

The Last Campaign (Clarke; RFK's '68 campaign)
Kennedy and Nixon (Matthews)
Robbert Kennedy and His Times (Schlesinger)
A Thousand Days (Schlesinger; JFK in the Whitehouse)
Lyndon B. Johnson: Portrait of a President (Dallek)
Then Everything Changed (Greenfield; historical fiction)
posted by divisjm at 8:13 PM on November 3, 2012

Best answer: I'd definitely recommend looking at the 1970s in addition to (or even instead of) the 1960s: while obviously the 1960s are relevant, arguably many of the religio-political cleavages that we see today date back to the 1970s in particular. I certainly would (well, am) arguing that it wasn't until the mid- to late-1970s that you start seeing the full force of political and religious fragmentation and realignments that we would recognize today, and that culture wars issues (especially the "family values" ones that predominate) come out mainly in the late 1970s, which is far later than one might have thought, looking back. Because the 1960s is the sexy decade, it has been drastically overexposed in the popular imagination and in the scholarship , and it's only recently that the 1970s has begun to be recognized for the instrumental decade that it was in making American conservative. Current scholarship on this issue is largely a rehabilitation of the 1970s.

Rightward Bound: Making America Conservative in the 1970s is a really interesting jog through various issues that were involved (although as an anthology of essays rather than one person's book, it has a decentralized feel to it, as they always do). Dan Williams' God's Own Party is a good exploration of what motivated the rise of the Religious Right. David Swartz's new Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism is an interesting bridge between Leftist concerns of the 1960s (racism, poverty, Vietnam, pacifism), and how these were carried on in recognizable form by some Christians well into the 1970s (and even in some cases into the 1980s), until the Left fragmented and evangelicalism mobilized for the Right, and Left evangelicals were basically shut out on both sides. There were some fascinating things going on with the Southern Baptists, too - they came out basically cautiously in favor of Roe by 1973, and their tune had changed by the end of the decade, because of an internal conservative coup within their denomination, and the consequent downplaying of traditional church-state separation for a more strongly prescriptive stance on morality in the public sphere. I can recommend some books on how this happened if you're interested, although perhaps that's too niche. Schulman's The Seventies: The Great Shift in American Culture, Society, and Politics is a helpful primer on the 1970s, and explores the realignments that were happening (although the book is stronger on cultural and political history, and weaker on religious history). Lisa McGirr's Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right, while a case study focused only on Southern California (Orange County), is a really interesting look at the rise of the Right. You can also read my book when it's done. :-)

If you're interested in more recommendations, or more elaboration on any of this, feel free to MeMail me: I'm doing my PhD on a topic in this broad field, so I can recommend hundreds of books, depending on what you're interested in in particular. I can also name some books that you should absolutely avoid on this topic, if that would be helpful. I've read/reviewed a few that really won't help your understanding, and that most scholars in this field would roll their eyes at.
posted by UniversityNomad at 8:48 PM on November 3, 2012 [7 favorites]

Rebel Sell
posted by sebastienbailard at 8:50 PM on November 3, 2012

I'd also recommend Robert Self's All in the Family: The Realignment of American Democracy Since the 1960s (which just came out!). Like UniversityNomad above, I would recommend you not overlook the 1970s -- the 1960s gets all the attention, but the 1970s were when the changes of the 1960s really started to sink in and divide Americans even further.
posted by heurtebise at 4:20 PM on November 4, 2012

Saw this older post when I was looking for some books myself. Let me suggest also The Nightingale's Song by Robert Timberg. Timberg follows five men into a military academy, and through their Vietnam-era experiences. Three of them become embroiled in the Iran-Contra affair and pivotal to the Reagan period. The remaining two are still household names: John McCain, and former Senator Jim Webb of Virginia. All of them were changed by Vietnam, and then shaped our policies and lives today. Great book in a lot of ways. I suggest it to people to understand our military better, as well as the impact of those years on today.
posted by mitschlag at 8:46 AM on March 8, 2013

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