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The Age of Reagan: A History, 1974-2008 Audio CD – Audiobook, CD, Unabridged

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Product details

  • Audio CD
  • Publisher: Tantor Media, Inc; Library ed edition (16 Jun 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400137586
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400137589
  • Product Dimensions: 1.8 x 1.8 x 0.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Fabián on 15 Sep 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Great copy, much better than expected and arrived right on time. I've purchased several books with this seller and it gives no problems whatsoever. Congrats.
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Amazon.com: 58 reviews
74 of 88 people found the following review helpful
Deeply flawed but certainly well-written history 21 Jun 2008
By Constant Reader - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
The extreme division among the reviewers of this book reflects a challenge Wilentz notes early on in The Age of Reagan: that it's very hard to write a recent history that anyone will consider objective in any way. His response has been to produce a book that, I think, will manage to disappoint readers on both sides of the political spectrum. Unlike most of the writing on the Reagan era so far-- which has been frankly hagiographic-- Wilentz pays attention to the scandals and missteps of the administration, including a lively portrayal of Iran-contra and a walkthrough of the S&L scandal. He mixes praise and critique in his portrayal of Reagan; later presidents, including the Bushes, do not fare as well. The reviews here make it clear how unwilling conservative readers are to revisit the S&L scandal years, or to confront the fate of Reaganomics... and yet liberal readers are unlikely to be completely comfortable with Wilentz's persistent focus on presidential politics and foreign policy as *the* defining elements of the age of Reagan. The fate of the poor, of women's programs, and of education under Reagan are not mentioned; some may join me in gaping at his description of the first Bush as an environmentalist who quickly stepped up after the Exxon Valdez incident (with the spill "cleaned up by mid-September"-- actually, Sean, the clean-up is still going on). Clinton's shenanigans with Monica rate dozens of pages; Anita Hill gets a paragraph. In other words, conservatives are unlikely to like everything this book includes, while liberals will probably be ruffled by what this book leaves out.

Beyond that, there are a couple of wider issues, centering around Wilentz's yen for sweeping statements. Certainly the statement that Reagan, "like many children of alcoholics, could not distinguish fact from fiction" made me yearn for a footnote... More importantly, instead of framing his argument as an examination of Reagan and his influence, he insists from the first sentence that the period from 1932 to 1970 was one of liberal reform (Joe McCarthy and Eisenhower would probably not agree) while 1974-present is one of conservative ascendency (despite the Clinton years, Bush's scrape-by win in 2000, etc.) Despite the liveliness of the writing, such sweeping statements really undermine this book, and raise questions about its suitability for, for example, a history classroom.

All that said, this book is well-written, and a quick read. If you have any opinion at all on the last four decades you'll probably find something in here to annoy you, but despite that I did enjoy revisiting the period with this author. Wilentz does help create a big picture of the era, and disagreeing with various of its elements, and arguing with his conclusions out loud as you read it, can be seen as entertaining or frustrating, depending on how seriously you want to take it.
34 of 40 people found the following review helpful
The Thirty Years War(p) 29 May 2009
By Giordano Bruno - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Nothing in Sean Wilentz's history of American politics from 1974 to 2008 took me by surprise, except perhaps the author's willingness to give Ronald Reagan the recognition due for his political savvy and charisma. Most Reagan denigrators -- and I admit that I have been one -- have regarded him as a hyped-up Howdy Doody, a useful front for 'conservative' kingmakers. Wilentz actually credits Reagan with being his own man, the master of his own White House, and furthermore with being more flexible and open to pragmatic compromise than either his coterie of advisors or his latter-day disciples. Withholding judgment of his 'ends', Wilentz portrays Reagan as indeed the dominant figure of his Age, far more a man of 'means' than the three presidents who preceded him or the three who followed. Discussing the diplomacy that led to the INF treaty in 1987 as well as other steps toward nuclear disarmament, Wilentz writes:

"To complete that triumph of diplomacy and goodwill, Reagan had to withstand the criticism of many who had informed and reinforced his views of the Soviets for decades but who lacked his own understanding with Gorbachev and other reformers now in control of the Kremlin, a great change was at hand. Call it a triumph of character or idealism or perceptiveness or "wishful thinking" (in George Will's term), or some combination of these. But Reagan's ability to dispense with dogma (including his own) and negotiate with Gorbachev helped bring an end to a nuclear arms race that had terrified the world for forty years. ... Reagan deserves posterity's honor for not adhering stubbornly to the ideas and strategies of cold war conservatism and neoconservatism... His success in helping finally to end the cold war is one of the greatest achievements by any president of the United States -- and arguably the greatest single presidential accomplishment since 1945." (p 281)

Wilentz goes to town, as it were, in distinguishing between the solid core of ideas and ideals to which Reagan adhered, and the sundry rigid ideologies proclaimed in his name by his fragmented political heirs -- neoconservatives, fundamentalist reactionaries, states' rights bigots, free-market dogmatists, anarcho-capitalists, and fanatical libertarians, all of whom paid obeisance to a different idol. All except the evangelicals could be lumped as neoliberals in economic doctrine, but their unreconcilable ideologies and their willingness to 'fight dirty' to impose their ideas on teverybody fused together in the presidency of George W Bush, whom Wilentz perceives as the eventual hypertrophy (the grotesque and unfunctional exaggeration) of "Reaganism," which led to the debacles both foreign and domestic, and the collapse of the conservative paradigm.

The chapters treating Ronald Reagan himself are by far the most interesting of the book. Wilentz has scant praise for any of the other six presidents of the Age, and certainly no bias in favor of either Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton. Nixon, Ford, Carter, Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II all represented 'failed' presidencies on either economic or diplomatic fronts, or both. In fact, the failures of the Carter administration opened the path for the ascendancy of anti-New Deal crusaders, and the embarrassments of the Clinton administrations, even despite economic recovery, facilitated the disaster of Bush II, with its manifold violations of the Constitution and the Rule of Law.

The Age of Reagan is not a radical revision of anything. It's not based on secret knowledge, long-hidden files, or meticulous academic documentation. It was all in the newspapers, all public info. Anyone whose middle years, like mine, were lived out in the decades from Nixon to GWB, who followed events and who has a decent memory, could honestly have compiled the same text (given the literary skills and editorial discipline). Wilentz tells it just as I remember it! Later historians will dissect, differ over details, and document endlessly, but Wilentz has written the first basic "fair and balanced" history of the rise and fall of the peculiar ideology of American conservatism.
90 of 112 people found the following review helpful
Definitely worth reading 26 May 2008
By James Wu - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
First off, and for the record: no, I did not vote for Al Gore in the 2000 election. Now, having said that: I thought this was a well-written and thought-provoking book by a preeminent historian, and a great example of 'partisan' history (although I think it's also fair to say that Wilentz does make an honest effort at balanced analysis, and of course his forthright thesis is right there in the title: Reagan, for good or ill, defined his--and our--American era). This book is also far better than the Reagan hagiographies cluttering most bookstores (which I couldn't even be bothered to read, and it would seem that way to even the casual browser, as they're mostly picture books anyway). But Wilentz is also balanced, and even, dare I say, nuanced in his approach to both the man and his time.

You may agree with some of the author's points, and disagree with others, but I assure you, the book itself is very well written, and certainly worth your time and energy to invest in. I bought my copy in a bookstore (remember bookstores?) on an impulse, and I was not disappointed--actually, I finished it in a matter of days. Normally, that would be that, but when I looked at this page on Amazon and saw only one one-star review, I decided to step in. This book is NOT as lopsided or unfair as that reviewer would have you believe, and what's more, the reviewer confessed to not finishing the book. I don't know how to do that, myself, even with books I loathe. But I certainly wouldn't have the audacity to publish a review of a book I didn't finish: not only is that unfair to the author, but it speaks of a mindset that does not allow for the hearing of both sides of an issue. 'Partisan,' anyone?

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm about to start Nixonland, by Rick Perlstein. And if someone had told me that I would be reading two serious history books featuring Reagan and Nixon in their titles two or three weeks ago, I would have raised an eyebrow. And yet, here I go.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Promising premise, but fails to deliver. 6 Sep 2009
By Aaron - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I was pretty excited about this book, having recently become interested in Reagan. This book starts out great and promises to make some insightful conclusions, but ultimately fails to deliver. It's too bad, since Sean Wilentz is an excellent author and historian. Although, I'll admit to being a bit surprised that Wilentz wrote a book on Reagan, since I'm more familiar with him as a historian of the early 19th century and Jacksonian era.

The book is not exactly about Reagan, it's the "age" of Reagan - meaning the era of conservatism that he has come to symbolize. I believe Wilentz hit the nail on the head for putting the starting point of the age at 1974. He argues that the Watergate scandals gave democrats a lot of misplaced confidence; the country was moving away from liberalism, but they were so sure republicans had discredited themselves they failed to see it. The political demise of Nixon hastened the demise of moderate republicanism and set up the conditions for Reagan to rise.

The chapters on Carter are also pretty effective. Wilentz makes a strong case for Carter's misreading of political dynamics and resultant poor responses to the crises of the late 1970's, contributing to the democrats' disarray of the period. He also sees Carter as a faux liberal and doesn't place much stock in his style of anti-politics.

I felt Wilentz's treatment of Reagan is mostly fair, albeit from a clearly liberal perspective. He gives Reagan credit where credit is due, particularly in his diplomatic relations with Mikhail Gorbachev. He also gives a lot of credit for his success in judicial appointments and changing American political dynamics - essentially moving the center to the right. Just listen to the republicans today, with "government can't do anything right," etc... It's straight from Reagan. Nixonian and Ford-style republicans are basically gone. Wilentz makes a strong argument that Reagan dealt those types of politicians a death blow.

Now for the bad stuff, of which there's plenty. Part of the problem with a historian like Wilentz writing this kind of thing is that he's too familiar with it. You can clearly see his personal views come through in the chapters about George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and the election of 2000 and George W. Bush. The sources for the epilogue on G.W. Bush are books that were written by, well, political hacks like John Podheretz and disgruntled members of the administration like Paul O'Neill. Wilentz should not even give credence to such sources, much less use them for argumentation.

I could hardly find a negative comment about Bill Clinton. Wilentz pushes the narrative that the scandals surrounding him were largely due to obsessive prosecutors and relentless political opponents. He was rightly critical of Reagan's role in Iran-contra; I think he should have looked a little harder into Clinton's role in his scandals (whitewater, etc...). The sex scandals speak for themselves. There is basically nothing positive whatsoever about Newt Gingrich and his republicans that won in 1994. There is clear contempt for these people.

There was also clear contempt for George H.W. Bush, who was seriously underrated and underexamined in this book. Ford gets sympathetic coverage.

What makes all of this bad is that he totally forgets his argument once the section on Reagan is done. I had a hard time seeing how the "age of Reagan" influenced the Bush I, Bill Clinton, or Bush II eras. If anything, Wilentz undercuts his argument with his positive treatment of Clinton, who he portrays as subverting Reaganism. The conclusion is also extremely weak, when it could have made good points about the republicans' cuurent ideological constructs that stem from Reagan.

There's not much original research; this is mainly a synthesis of existing literature, just with Wilentz's perspective and writing skill brought to bear. I can't help but feel Wilentz is out of his element here, being more expert on the 19th century.

If you get this book, keep in mind the author's perspective. Generally, he somewhat liked Reagan personally, but didn't like what Reagan's politics led to. I give it 3 stars based on a solid 1st half, but very disappointing 2nd half.
16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
A Legitimate History, whether you like it or not. 22 Nov 2009
By B. Browne - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I had not intended to read this book, but after noting the disproportionate number of negative reviews, I was compelled to take a look at it. As a history professor with a PhD in US history and thirty years of teaching experience, I have read many such historical surveys of a specific era, and just couldn't imagine why this particular one sparked so much disapproval. My immediate surmise was that title, accurately fixing Reagan as the central political figure of the last quarter of the twentieth century,attracted the attention of suspicious conservatives who presumed that a self-professedly liberal academic would unfairly demean the man who has been hailed as the Republican messiah for the past several decades. Having read through it, I fail to understand what the furor is about. Wilentz is critical of several aspects of Reagan's presidency, but that in itself does not make his presentation biased. Not only does he recognize Reagan's successes as chief executive, but he also demonstrates a willingness to recognize failure on the part of Democrats. Wilentz's assessment of the Carter presidency is merciless - no reader could come away from this book believing that Wilentz sees Carter as anything other than a failed president. I notice that several critical reviewers have misrepresented what Wilentz has written about Carter as well as other topics - for example, the author does not claim that Carter cagily lured the Soviets into Afghanistan. Neither does Bill Clinton come off looking very well, Wilentz describing him at one point as "pathetic." In addition to presenting an accurate and detailed account of the rise and fall of both conservatism and the Republican party during these years, Wilentz excells in his in-depth coverage of the Iran-Contra scandal and the numerous Clinton scandals. Any reader desiring to understand the nuances of either will find them well explained here. Wilentz also reminds readers of the extended rightwing temper tantrum that followed Clinton's election, just as has occured again in 2009 -violent rhetoric, rapidly-assembling militias, warnings of sinister government conspiracies, efforts to de-legitimize a liberal president. History does sometimes repeat, it would seem. Though I accept the author's contention that historians can legitimately approach recent history (however warily)I agree that this book has its faults. The pages devoted to the post-Clinton era offer little analysis beyond that offered in the periodical press. Without question, despite the manifold apparent failures of the Bush administration,it may well be decades before any conclusive judgments can be made about his presidency. Nonetheless, I note that a panel of C-Span scholars has recently already placed Mr. Bush in 36th place among US presidents. My final judgment on this work is that it is a reasonable and often engaging account of the era with some strong points, but by no means Wilentz's best. From what I can tell, most of the complaints come from those folks who were determined to find an anti-conservative bias that just isn't there. Those reviewers who constantly employ meaningless Bill O'Reilly-esque phrases such as "far left" and "ultra far left" in describing those who are more accurately termed liberals only reveal their own far-right perspective (On any ideological spectrum, the far left is communism - liberalism and concervatism hover near the "vital center.") Their case would have been stronger had Wilentz offered only condemnation of conservatives and praise of liberalism. Those who have actually read this book know that this is not the case. Readers may disagree with Wilentz's analysis (I do in some cases), but that is not ipso facto proof that his history of the era is biased. This is legitimate history, whether you like it or not. If you only want to read books that exalt conservatism and denounce liberalism, pick up one of Ann Coulter's screeds. You can find them in the remainder bins at bargain prices.
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