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Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus

4.27  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,251 Ratings  ·  128 Reviews
A bold and astute narrative history of conservatism's climb and one of the best-reviewed books of 2001.
Rick Perlstein's "Before the Storm" tells the story of the rise of the conservative movement in the liberal 1960s -- a story that, until this book, had never been told. The figure at the heart of the story is, of course, Barry Goldwater, the handsome renegade Republican
Paperback, 688 pages
Published April 15th 2002 by Hill & Wang
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A.J. Howard
In honor of Michelle Bachman accidentally comparing herself to John Wayne Gacy I thought I'd post a quick review. I read this last January and since then I can't count how many times I've seen the news or heard snippets of conversation and thought to myself, "Jesus Christ, this reminds me of the Perlstein book." The 1964 election seems somewhat non-consequential in retrospect. History buffs might be able to think of the Daisy ad and Goldwater's "extremism in defense of liberty is no vice... mode ...more
Maru Kun
After finishing six hundred and twenty five pages of “Before the Storm” I now know more than any non-American will ever need to know about the US Presidential Campaign of 1964.

Why invest so much time reading a book about an obscure US election campaign more than half a century in the past? Because the parallels between the 1964 and 2016 Republican compaigns are just too interesting not to want to know more.

And it turns out I am not the only one who finds Goldwater’s 1964 campaign interesting. Te
Dec 21, 2008 Jonathan rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
"You go back and tell your crowd that I'm going to lose this election. I'm probably going to lose it real big. But I'm going to lose it my way."

In this magnificent book, Rick Perlstein details seemingly every skirmish, conspiracy, and speech in the conservative movement's campaign to put Barry Goldwater in the White House in 1960-4. Indeed, Before the Storm is less about Goldwater -- perhaps the least enthusiastic candidate imaginable -- than about the birth of that conservative movement as a po
Tom Ewing
May 22, 2016 Tom Ewing rated it it was amazing
If you read Before The Storm after Nixonland - as I did - be warned: the fluency and fury of that book is absent. Before The Storm is a denser, more focused read, casting Perlstein as a historian's historian, fusing the great narrative tradition of Anglo-Saxon history writing with the ultra-detailed "thick description" of the continental schools. It's still a blast, but the thick description is at times very thick, the detail of convention politicking as much re-enactment as analysis. Perlstein ...more
Aug 04, 2008 Aaron rated it it was amazing
One would be hard pressed to hit more of my sweet spots as a reader, the writing is fluid and the book hovers at that convergence of history, political science, and philosophy. It is also concerned with my own chief (impersonal) obsession of how civil society fails. While there was no formal revolution in the 1960’s, there was an end to the political culture that came before it. Often told is how the New Left and its associated hippie counterculture attempted to rewrite the terms of American pol ...more
Patrick McCoy
Dec 15, 2015 Patrick McCoy rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, history
A few years ago I read and thoroughly enjoyed Rick Perlstein's impressive Nixonland: America's Second Civil War and the Divisive Legacy of Richard Nixon 1965-1972 (2008). And am looking forward to reading the last book in the trilogy of the rise of the conservatism in America, The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Regan (2014). But before undertaking the last volume in the series, I thought that I should go back and read the first volume in the series, Before the Storm: Barry G ...more
Apr 12, 2016 Matt rated it really liked it
I bought Before the Storm after reading Perlstein's Nixonland expecting it to be not a prequel, but the first of what will most likely be multi-volume history of the rise of the conservative movement in the United States. Before the Storm not only fulfilled, but exceeded those expectations as one learns the roots of conservative ideas and how slowly they were put into words to that could be consumed by the average American one day. Before the Storm is also about how the conservative movement fou ...more
Brian Willis
Aug 16, 2014 Brian Willis rated it it was amazing
Before the Tea Party and Neo-Cons and the so-called Reagan Revolution, Republicans were actually a very reasonable group of pols for the most part. Since Teddy Roosevelt's Progressive Revolution of 1912, the GOP has struggled to reconcile two branches of its own party: the socially conscious and progressive wing, and the libertarian-leaning conservative dinosaurs who refuse to acknowledge that governmental protections of workers' rights and the personal freedoms that don't reconcile with suppose ...more
May 03, 2014 Rfilippelli rated it it was amazing
Shelves: just-finished
Great Book. Essential reading for those interested in understanding the creeping divergence in American politics over the last 50 years. This detailed description strongly challenges the dominant narrative among many historians that there was a widespread coalescence around progressive, liberal, political solutions in the country under JFK and in the early years of LBJ. And that those tendencies represented the spirit of the age, only to come crashing down in the jungles of Vietnam. On the contr ...more
Aaron Million
Nov 18, 2012 Aaron Million rated it really liked it
Perlstein does a solid job of describing the rise of the conservative movement that began in the late 50s, gained steam in the early 60s, and resulted in Barry Goldwater's Republican nomination - and subsequent landslide defeat at the hands of Lyndon Johnson - in 1964. Perlstein delves into the various elements that came together to almost force Goldwater to run. He details how sometimes Goldwater and his "Arizona mafia" [all close friends of his from Arizona who he insisted on trusting with run ...more
Aug 22, 2010 James rated it really liked it
This book is great -- a nice mix of journalism and history, well-written and engaging. It gets a bit too bogged down in encyclopedic detail (accounts of the nominating conventions, etc.), which distracts from his basic thesis, which seems very important and correct: we think of the 60s as the birth of the counterculture and of a revitalized left, but in the long run, the most important product of the 60s was the counter-counterculture, and the revitalized right. The Goldwater campaign of 64 was ...more
Oct 09, 2012 Jim rated it really liked it
an interesting perspective on the first major national politician to operate on the series of concepts and values of the modern conservative movement. goldwater's rise and fall, as told by perlstein, is compelling. perlstein has an interesting habit of criticizing everybody else in goldwater's camp (as well as just about everybody else) with little evidence, but goldwater himself largely escapes criticism — that he didn't like the segregationists doesn't make his tacit support of their movement ...more
Brian Eshleman
Sep 03, 2015 Brian Eshleman rated it really liked it
Occasionally can drift into condescension, writing off the conservative movement as a fit of anger. But at least as often, this writer can show real perceptiveness as to the motivations of individuals and the most subtle turns in the culture. He also has a gift for breaking down the stuff of sociology with a particularly apt every day analogy.
One of the best histories of the American conservative movement. Perlstein does an excellent job of describing the twists and turns that led the Republican party to embrace Goldwater. In his narrative we catch glimpses of individuals who will, down the road, play a major role in the shaping of the GOP. The cold war and the civil rights movement play a major role in the shaping of the neo-cons to come. After two hundred years, Thomas Jefferson's "Fire Bell in the night" is still ringing. Pointing ...more
Jeff Pearson
Nov 02, 2014 Jeff Pearson rated it really liked it
A thorough, well-researched account of modern conservatism's first concerted attempt at gaining national power. Barry Goldwater plays the star role of straight-shooting idealist - dedicated to his political principles, sincere in expressing them but also hopelessly naive and unprepared for the tests of a presidential campaign. Also along for the ride are a motley crew of strategists, true-believers, Birchers and doomsayers. Perlstein writes well, lucidly and at times even entertainingly (the las ...more
Aug 02, 2015 Brian rated it it was amazing
I've been reading Caro's biography of LBJ, so that's my introduction to the politics of the 60's. He hasn't gotten to 1964 and Barry Goldwater yet, so I hadn't until I read this book. I'd heard a lot about Goldwater, including the comments from some Republicans about wanting to run another Goldwater to get back to the roots.
This book gave me a much understanding of Goldwater, and helped me understand that the struggle between the moderate, establishment wing of the Republican Party and the more
David Bales
Jul 07, 2015 David Bales rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015
Rick Perlstein covers the Goldwater movement of the 1950s and '60s, that is the attempt by arch-conservatives, (Republicans but also segregationist Democrats) to find a candidate that spoke their language in an era in which New Deal and Great Society liberalism was still in force. The lesson here from the Goldwater debacle of 1964 was not that Goldwater didn't become president--he was unsuited to be president, an opinion he himself held, but that the conservative movement grew by leaps and bound ...more
John Norman
Jan 17, 2015 John Norman rated it it was amazing
Here's a crude version of the consensus historian's idea of Goldwater: Goldwater was a nut who couldn't give a speech and who was demolished by Johnson's "Daisy" TV advertisement which suggested that Goldwater would launch the missiles.

This book tells the story anew with a lot of detail. Just a tidbit from near the end: When waiting in line to vote in 1964, Goldwater drew a little tictactoe hash on his wife's neck. I'm not sure what that has to do with anything, but that is the level of detail y
Paul Dinger
Jan 03, 2015 Paul Dinger rated it really liked it
This is the first part of the series that culminates in The Invisable Bridge to form a modern history of conservatism. Goldwater was the original tea partyer in every way, pro little government, no healthcare or social security, anti welfare, and pro business. He was painted by Lyndin B. Johnson as a extremist who would destroy the world, one wonders what his presidency would be like. Given his support of the Vietnam war, if his policies were tried, this country would have suffered as much reces ...more
Andrew Tollemache
Oct 21, 2014 Andrew Tollemache rated it it was amazing
"Before the Storm..." is the first of a trilogy of lengthy books Rick Perlstein has written on the rise of conservatism in American politics. It covers the election of 1964 and how Barry Goldwater came to face and get wiped out my LBJ. I read "NixonLand" first since it is regarded as the best of the 3, but that view is mistaken. "Before the Storm" is way better. Chronicling the tormented, cynical mess that was Richard Nixon is a pretty well worn path and NL taught me many new details, but little ...more
Jan 10, 2016 Csparrenberger rated it it was amazing
I am old enough to remember the 1964 election. I enjoyed this book and would highly recommend it. This was a pivotal time in American history and was well covered. Goldwater and Johnson represented very different views of what the role of government should be in America.
Dan Cohen
Apr 04, 2016 Dan Cohen rated it really liked it
An interesting and well-written account of the Goldwater phenomenon and. more widely, the growth of conservatism in the US in the 50's and early 60's. The author's theme is that a middle-ground consensus had existed in US politics and that the conservative movement started the process of breaking that consensus. The unspoken suggestion is that this was the start of the process that led to today's rather more fractious US political scene.

The parallels with more recent US political history are sta
Jan 08, 2015 Max rated it really liked it
Shelves: american-history
Perlstein’s account of the birth of modern conservatism also provides fascinating perspective for the hyperbole so prevalent today. Fully appreciating how people felt in the past means putting aside knowledge of ensuing events. Take the recent Ebola scare in America. Fear ran rampant, kids stayed home from school, people without symptoms were quarantined, an Ebola Czar was appointed, and rumor had it that radical Islamists were infecting themselves in order to decimate America. Looking back we m ...more
Jesse Young
Jun 03, 2015 Jesse Young rated it it was amazing
I read Perlstein's first book last (for no good reason), and it does not dissapoint. It's a staggering work of research and reads really well. His third book on Reagan is probably a more cohesive read, but you can't go wrong here - we think of the Republican party of old as being well-ordered and top-down, but the conservative movement of the 50s and early 60s was anything but. Fascinating.
Oct 14, 2014 Mshelton50 rated it really liked it
As with his "Nixonland," Perlstein's "Before the Storm" is a wonderful history of the 1960s. It is also a sparkling history of the 1964 presidential election. I highly recommend it.
Jul 19, 2014 Ja rated it it was ok
Would have liked to have scored it higher. Fascinating topic written by a writer with a much better vocabulary than I could ever dream of having. Yet, his subjective liberal leanings, his uncontrollable iconoclastic indulgences, his excessive character assassinations, even those would be tolerable compared to his sarcastic writing style that just makes the reader want to strike him down with a two by four. I am one of the least pleasant, most unapologetically sarcastic people on the planet and e ...more
Sean Kottke
May 19, 2016 Sean Kottke rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016
The Maelstrom ride at EPCOT's Norway pavilion featured a troll who told guests "ye are not the first to pass this way, nor will ye be the last ..." That aptly sums up the sense of dread that unfolded in me while reading this deep dive into the 1962 and 1964 election cycles. I'd read Perlstein's excellent Nixonland and The Invisible Bridge, and felt like I should cycle back to the first volume of his (so far) trilogy on American conservative politics. Holy cow, how frighteningly similar this acco ...more
May 04, 2010 Don rated it it was amazing
This is an excellent telling of the story of Barry Goldwater's run for the Presidency in 1964. The most interesting aspect of this book, published in 2001, is how much his descriptions of the right wing that provided the impetus for the Goldwater candidacy reminds one of the current political environment.

Aug 07, 2014 Jeff rated it really liked it
I had read Perlstein's Nixonland a few years ago and knowing his next book in the series, The Invisible Bridge, was soon to be published. I went back and read the authors first book Before the Storm. It is a brilliant book. Barry Goldwater has been analyzed a million times a million ways but the significance of the 1964 campaign cannot be overstated. The ever constant split between Eastern establishment Republicans and their more conservative brethren from the South and West split into a wide fi ...more
Apr 07, 2015 Ben rated it really liked it
Most people under 50, even political junkies, know little to nothing about Barry Goldwater except, perhaps, that he got absolutely trounced by LBJ in the 1964 presidential race. The general population dismissed him as a raving nut and a hawk straight out of Dr. Strangelove. But the seeds he sowed in a generation of impressionable, disillusioned hard-right conservative youth continue to bear fruit decades later. The Tea Party itself may never have been born, or at least not have galvanized into a ...more
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Eric S. "Rick" Perlstein (born 1969) is an American historian and journalist. He graduated from the University of Chicago with a B.A. in History in 1992. He is a former writer for The Village Voice and The New Republic and the author of numerous articles in other publications. Until March, 2009 he was a Senior Fellow at the Campaign for America's Future where he wrote for their blog about the fail ...more
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“Violent crimes had increased from 120 per 100,000 in 1962 180 per 100,000 by 1964.” 1 likes
“Scranton describing Sen. Robert A. Taft's conservatism as compared to Goldwater's said Taft was "a conservative in the truest sense of the word. He sought to conserve all the human values that have been carried down to us on a long stream of American history. He saw history as the foundation on which a better future might be built, not a Technicolor fantasy behind which the problems of the present might be concealed.” 1 likes
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