Book recommendation: a good historical overview of the US in the 1980s?
July 14, 2014 1:28 PM   Subscribe

I am seeking recommendations for (reputable/peer-reviewed) essays or books that could help me develop a nuanced but well-rounded understanding of the social, political, and economic climate in 1980s America (economic deregulation is a particular point of interest).

For context: I'm writing a dissertation on an artist whose work spans the early 1970s until the present, with an emphasis on the late 1970s and 1980s, and I've been having a hard time finding resources that strike the right balance between specificity and generality. Most academic history books tend to be quite narrow in scope, and many generalist histories wouldn't be appropriate to cite in a dissertation.

Perhaps you can recommend something? Thanks in advance!
posted by coastisclear to Education (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
There are some very good essays in the exhibition catalogue This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s.
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 1:45 PM on July 14, 2014

The Age of Reagan by Sean Wilentz?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:47 PM on July 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

You may also want to look at: Right Turn: American Life in the Reagan-Bush Era, 1980-1992
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:50 PM on July 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is by no means an academic or historic treatise and may not be remotely what you're after, but when I finally read Watchmen in the 2000s it struck me how perfectly it captured the zeitgeist of the 80s. That desperate sense that we were all about to perish in nuclear holocaust. The fiction is fictional but the feeling of it is very, very true.
posted by Andrhia at 3:42 PM on July 14, 2014

I have to recommend Metropolitain Life by Fran Liebowitz. It's by no means a historical text, but it will enlighten you about what it was like to live in the late 70's early 80's in New York. Plus, it's a great read.

And The Band Played On is a journalistic view of the AIDS Epidemic, beautifully written and mostly true.

Another interesting book is Homicide: Life on the Street.

These aren't peer reviewed per se, but BOY do they give you an insight into what regular life was like for us in that era. It was weird, our friends were dying and the cities were violent and scary places.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:01 PM on July 14, 2014

If you can wait a few weeks, Rick Perlstein has book coming out in August called the Invisible Bridge: the Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan. I have read the beginning part of his earlier book Nixonland, which focuses on US politics and society in the late 60s/early 70s, and appeared to have a good range of generalness- to-specificity. The blurb suggests the new book might. I do not know whether they are peer-reviewed.
posted by mister_kaupungister at 5:36 PM on July 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Philip Jenkins, Decade of Nightmares: The End of the Sixties and the Making of Eighties America. Jenkins covers the time period you are interested in, and he is an academic historian to boot.*

*Full disclosure: He was a member of my PhD committee.
posted by dhens at 4:32 PM on July 15, 2014

Cool, thanks everyone! This is immensely helpful. Much appreciated.
posted by coastisclear at 7:32 PM on July 15, 2014

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