Restless Giant: The United States from Watergate to Bush vs. Gore (Oxford History of the United States, vol. 11)

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9780195122169: Restless Giant: The United States from Watergate to Bush vs. Gore (Oxford History of the United States, vol. 11)
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In Restless Giant, acclaimed historical author James Patterson provides a crisp, concise assessment of the twenty-seven years between the resignation of Richard Nixon and the election of George W. Bush in a sweeping narrative that seamlessly weaves together social, cultural, political, economic, and international developments. We meet the era's many memorable figures and explore the "culture wars" between liberals and conservatives that appeared to split the country in two.

Patterson describes how America began facing bewildering developments in places such as Panama, Somalia, Bosnia, and Iraq, and discovered that it was far from easy to direct the outcome of global events, and at times even harder for political parties to reach a consensus over what attempts should be made. At the same time, domestic issues such as the persistence of racial tensions, high divorce rates, alarm over crime, and urban decay led many in the media to portray the era as one of decline. Patterson offers a more positive perspective, arguing that, despite our often unmet expectations, we were in many ways better off than we thought. By 2000, most Americans lived more comfortably than they had in the 1970s, and though bigotry and discrimination were far from extinct, a powerful rights consciousness insured that these were less pervasive in American life than at any time in the past.

With insightful analyses and engaging prose, Restless Giant captures this period of American history in a way that no other book has, illuminating the road that the United States traveled from the dismal days of the mid-1970s through the hotly contested election of 2000.

The Oxford History of the United States
The Oxford History of the United States is the most respected multi-volume history of our nation. The series includes three Pulitzer Prize winners, a New York Times bestseller, and winners of the Bancroft and Parkman Prizes. The Atlantic Monthly has praised it as "the most distinguished series in American historical scholarship," a series that "synthesizes a generation's worth of historical inquiry and knowledge into one literally state-of-the-art book." Conceived under the general editorship of C. Vann Woodward and Richard Hofstadter, and now under the editorship of David M. Kennedy, this renowned series blends social, political, economic, cultural, diplomatic, and military history into coherent and vividly written narrative.

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About the Author:


James T. Patterson is Ford Foundation Professor of History Emeritus at Brown University. One of the most highly respected historians of contemporary America, he is the author of Grand Expectations: The United States, 1945-1974, which won a Bancroft Prize, and Brown v Board of Education: A Civil Rights Milestone and Its Troubled Legacy.

From The Washington Post:

This splendid and readable new book is the latest volume in that ambitious series, "The Oxford History of the United States." It thus has the daunting task of matching the quality of other titles in the series, especially Robert Middlekauff's The Glorious Cause (on the American Revolution) and James McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom (on the Civil War).

To reach those lofty standards is all the more difficult because the years covered by Restless Giant are not especially distinguished. James T. Patterson, an emeritus history professor at Brown University, had earlier written Grand Expectations: The United States, 1945-1974 (thus being the only historian to contribute two volumes to the Oxford series), so the decision was clearly made long ago to regard Richard M. Nixon's resignation in 1974 as the "break point" in the story of American politics and society since World War II. But this leaves Patterson with the rather awkward time frame of 1974 to 2000-01 for his second book, not to mention forcing him to settle for an extremely inelegant subtitle. One wonders whether the planners and editors at Oxford University Press were fully aware of this chronological awkwardness when making their early decisions (is there really a recognized period called "Nixon to Bush 43" as there is for "The Progressive Era" or "The Interwar Years"?)

That said, Patterson has risen magnificently to the task of describing and analyzing this rich and confused period. Of course, to undergraduate freshmen these years are already history (none of my students was alive, for example, when Ronald Reagan was elected president), but to other readers this narrative is all too recognizable -- almost yesterday's news, though delivered with great balance. In fact, the many themes covered here -- such as the heated debates over abortion, the role of the Supreme Court, the Watergate aftershocks, the consumer revolutions, the rise of Latino communities and the economic stagnation of black ones, the coming of the Internet, the Monica Lewinsky scandal, the Black Hawk Down disaster in Mogadishu -- will occasionally seem all too recent. This reader confesses that he sometimes felt that he was reading, say, the Economist's "Year in Review" and then realized that the events in question had taken place 12 or 15 years ago.

To say that 1974-2001 was a confused period is in no way to criticize Patterson; indeed, perhaps it simply confirms the awkwardness of the beginning and end dates. For there is no clear, defining event that gives framework and sense to these particular years. In large part, that may be why so many Americans have felt upset, bereft and adrift from their traditional political, social and religious moorings, whereas others felt liberated, super-charged and excited by their material prospects or changes in lifestyle. This has been a heady but uneasy quarter-century, a bit like the 1890s or the 1920s in some ways, and it is extraordinarily difficult for even the smartest commentator to guess which way the tides are flowing. Patterson certainly gives it a great shot.

I particularly admired two aspects to this book. First, Restless Giant is extraordinarily sharp in its repeated references to and use of American popular culture -- be it the movies of the time or the better known television series -- as key indicators of shifts in lifestyles, tastes and, ultimately, political preferences. And surely the author's policy is right; it is hard to think of a previous society in which broad-based popular culture (or, as T.S. Eliot would put it, "low culture") has been so integrated with national politics and change. The Beatles or Bruce Springsteen were not "just" rock groups, and Tom Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities and Michael Crichton's Rising Sun were not "just" novels for the beach.

Second, although Patterson does not claim this to be a chief thrust of his book, he is excellent in his coverage of the rise of the ultra-conservative right, especially the role of the Moral Majority. For all the signs of "confusion" above, therefore, one political trend emerges rather clearly from this 25-year-long tale: the increasing clout of the cultural-religious and political right. And who knows -- it may still not have reached its zenith. This thought, disturbing to many American liberals, does not seem to excite Patterson, whose approach is one of, "I neither approve nor disapprove; I tell the tale."

The chief deficiency of this work is, ironically, the consequence of its strong focus upon the domestic scene. True, Patterson ends with some rueful retrospective comments on the increasing evidence of foreign threats to U.S. security (especially al Qaeda) by the turn of the century, and he has a fine chapter on "America and the World in the 1980s." But because his heart and mind are focused upon our rich domestic scene, he gives little space to the question of how the world outside the "Restless Giant" has been quickly tilting over the past decades, and not necessarily in the Giant's favor. Such considerations need not have added much to an already ambitious book, and this reviewer, at least, would have welcomed Patterson's thoughts on whether the powerful but haphazard nation that has moved from the Age of Nixon to the Age of Bush II may or may not be enjoying a calm before some very severe storms.

For it is not just that al Qaeda and other international terrorist groups are out there, waiting to hurt America and Americans in all the frightening ways that the Bush administration stresses so much. The past 25 years have also witnessed colossal swings in the global balances of power, especially in the rise of Asia. There have been disturbing changes in our environment, to which we have given inadequate attention. There has been significant proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, which could ultimately wind up in jihadist hands. There has been a serious overstretch of the American military, especially in Asia and the Middle East, despite colossal Pentagon budgets. There have been major shifts in the place of the U.S. economy in the world, together with America's increasing financial vulnerability. And the Number One Power has become incredibly unpopular in many parts of the world, to a degree that would have amazed such internationally admired presidents as Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy.

These, too, are part of the complex story of how the world's Giant performed in the final quarter of the 20th century. Patterson's account is, for all the reasons mentioned above, a bold attempt to place some order upon the many domestic turbulences of the age. Still, one cannot help but wonder whether the scholar who covers the history of America during the years 2000 to 2025 may not have a very different story to tell, a story in which people will increasingly look back with nostalgia and some regrets to the Nixon to Bush II years -- years that were exciting, controversial and divisive, to be sure, but also years in which American politicians and voters avoided hard choices, saw the rest of the world through narrow blinders and frittered away their patrimony. Patterson is perhaps too sober and wily to engage in crystal-ball gazing; but because he speaks and writes with such authority upon the entire sweep of American history since the defeat of Germany and Japan, some final thoughts upon those terrible five decades, plus some canny reflections upon where we are now, would have been a grand way to conclude an excellent book.

Reviewed by Paul Kennedy
Copyright 2005, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved.

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Book Description Oxford University Press, United Kingdom, 2005. Hardback. Condition: New. Language: English . This book usually ship within 10-15 business days and we will endeavor to dispatch orders quicker than this where possible. Brand New Book. Restless Giant is a magisterial interpretation of American history between 1974, when the crisis of Watergate imperiled the nation, and November 2000, when the bitterly contested presidential election marked an all-time low in confidence in the electoral process. James T. Patterson, whose earlier contribution to the Oxford History of the United States, Grand Expectations (1996), won a Bancroft Prize for History, offers in this follow-up volume a vivid narrative of this quarter century which did so much to shape American life today. A host of memorable characters, notably Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, sought to transform the nation. Conservatives, including a resurgent Religious Right, battled liberals in culture wars that appeared to cut the country in two. The frightening Cold War finally ended, whereupon Americans faced bewildering new developments in international relations. Though a military colossus, the United States discovered-in Panama, Somalia, Bosnia, Iraq-that it was far from easy to direct the outcome of overseas events. Restless Giant explores a wide range of cultural, social, and economic concerns. Many of these-abiding racial tensions, rising income inequality, dismal inner-city schools, tasteless popular entertainment, an ever more exuberant materialism-drove critics to label these years as an Era of Conflict , an Age of Limits , and an Era of Decline . Patterson, highlighting the buoyancy of American culture, is not so pessimistic. The economy, having wallowed in stagflation between 1974 and 1982, later surged ahead. By 2000, most Americans lived far more comfortably than they had in the 1970s. Thanks to rising tolerance and a powerful rights consciousness, many groups-racial and ethnic minorities, Catholics and Jews, women, the handicapped, senior citizens, gay people-encountered considerably less bigotry and discrimination than they had in the past. Seller Inventory # BTE9780195122169

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