Evil geniuses The unmaking of America : a recent history

Kurt Andersen, 1954-

Book - 2020

"Americans have disabled the government's ability to solve even basic problems, making us vulnerable to the most dangerous demagogue ever to pretend to the White House. Kurt Andersen shows how the masterminds of the economic right rode an unprecedented wave of nostalgia by dressing up their harsh new rich-get-richer system in patriotic old-time drag, making it their mission to take over the government for their purposes alone and convincing the country that the mid-century consensus ab...out the function of the American government was all wrong. Only a writer with Andersen's crackling energy, deep intelligence, and ability to see complex systems with clarity could make such a vital book both intellectually formidable and completely entertaining. In his diagnosis of what happened and what it means for us today, Andersen spares no one, committing to a pinpointing of his own boomer generation as accessories to the great dismantling of the American experiment"--

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New York : Random House [2020]
First Edition
Physical Description
xxvii, 430 pages ; 25 cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
Main Author
Kurt Andersen, 1954- (author)
  • A brief history of America. Land of the new: America from 1600 to 1865 ; Land of the new: an economic history from the 1770s to the 1970s ; Approaching peak new: the 1960s
  • Turning point. The 1970s: an equal and opposite reaction ; The 1970s: liberalism peaks and the counterrevolution begins ; The 1970s: building the counter-establishment ; The 1970s: from a bicentennial pageant to a presidency ; The 1970s: neoliberal useful idiots
  • Wrong turn. The Reagan revolution ; Raw deal: what happened in the 1980s didn't stay in the 1980s ; The rule of law ; The deregulation generation ; The culture of greed is good ; How Wall Street ate America ; Workers of the new world, you lose ; Insecurity is a feature, not a bug ; Socially liberal, fiscally conservative, generally complacent ; The permanent Reagan revolution ; The 1990s: restrained and reckless
  • Same old same old. Rewind, pause, stop: the end of the new ; The politics of nostalgia and stagnation since the 1990s ; Ruthless beats reasonable ; Winners and losers in the class war ; American exceptionalism
  • Make America new again. Winners and losers (so far) in the digital revolution ; How the future will work ; This strategic inflection point ; What is to be done? ; The plague year and beyond.
Review by Choice Review

This book summarizes the author's interpretation of recent US history and explains his belief that the country took a wrong turn politically during the 1970s and 1980s. In this coda to his earlier Fantasyland (CH, Jan'18, 55-1830), best-selling author Andersen says the country was on the right track politically and economically from the New Deal of the 1930s until the fateful recent turn. Active government policies resulted in improvements in the American standard of living, and Americans' characteristic interest in the "new" fostered acceptance of beneficial changes. Wealthy and conservative people, however, capitalized on several convergent factors to influence change that benefited themselves at the expense of others during recent decades. Andersen begins with a brief review of American history until the 1960s, explains how liberalism reached its peak of influence during the 1970s before the counterrevolution began, and then recounts the wrong turn the country took during the 1980s and continuing into the 1990s. He finally surveys contemporary efforts he believes might change the country's political and economic trajectory in the future. Andersen's mostly entertaining text is not footnoted, but interested readers may consult sources and citations available on the author's website. Some sources are also listed in the bibliography. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates. Graduate students, faculty, and professionals. General readers. --Jerry Purvis Sanson, formerly, Louisiana State University at Alexandria

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission. Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

In this sweeping jeremiad, journalist Andersen (coauthor, You Can't Spell America Without Me) traces the origins of today's economic inequality and political dysfunction to "the quite deliberate reengineering of our economy and society since the 1960s by a highly rational confederacy of the rich, the right, and big business." This reengineering, Andersen contends, was aided and abetted by a more spontaneous cultural trend: "a wholesale national plunge into nostalgia" in TV (Happy Days), movies (Grease), music (Bruce Springsteen), and design (New Urbanism). Right-wing politicians and economists exploited this "nostalgia boom," Andersen writes, by pitching regulatory rollbacks, tax cuts, and small government as a return to a more "rugged" and "frontiersy" America. Andersen also blames the Clinton administration's deregulation of financial markets and the Supreme Court's gutting of campaign finance laws for contributing to today's "extreme insecurity and inequality," and holds out tentative hope that the coronavirus pandemic and protests against racial injustice will shock the country out of its economic, political, and cultural stasis. Much of Andersen's material will be familiar to newshounds, but he arranges it into a cohesive argument backed by hard data and stinging prose. Readers will get a clearer picture of how the U.S. got to where it is today. (Aug.)

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved Review by Kirkus Book Review

How inequality happened in America. Journalist, editor, magazine founder (Spy, Inside), and host of the public radio broadcast "Studio 360," Andersen builds on the political and cultural critique he offered in his last book with a timely, hard-hitting analysis of America's "hijacked, screwed-up political economy." "Whereas Fantasyland concerned Americans' centuries-old weakness for the untrue and irrational, and its spontaneous and dangerous flowering since the 1960s," he writes, "Evil Geniuses chronicles the quite deliberate reengineering of our economy and society since the 1960s by a highly rational confederacy of the rich, the right, and big business." Synthesizing many works on capitalism, inequality, greed, and corruption, Andersen focuses on the "hyperselfishness" that took hold in the 1970s, when economic equality was "at its peak." What Tom Wolfe called the "Me Decade" extended beyond personal behavior to infect the nation's economy, leading to "strategizing, funding, propagandizing, mobilizing, lobbying, and institution-building" by big business, turning the U.S. political economy "into a winner-take-all casino economy." The author sees the '70s as a turning point in American life that gave rise to neoliberalism, a move toward deregulation of business, and a glorification of a culture of greed. "The anti-Establishment subjectivity and freedom to ignore experts and believe in make-believe that exploded in the '60s was normalized and spread during the '70s and beyond," he writes (especially during Reagan's presidency) and is in evidence today in a mistrust of government--regulations, taxes, oversight--and a nostalgia for some imagined, stable past. Andersen believes that change can occur, unrelated to partisan politics: He urges Americans to push for "goals that can seem radical--lots more power for workers and average citizens, optimizing the economy for all Americans rather than maximizing it for rich ones and corporations--but then being nondoctrinaire about how we achieve the goals." A rousing call for desperately needed systemic transformation. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.