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.)
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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.