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The Age of Reagan: A History, 1974-2008

3.5  ·  Rating Details ·  336 Ratings  ·  55 Reviews
The past thirty-five years have marked an era of conservatism. Although briefly interrupted in the late 1970s and temporarily reversed in the 1990s, a powerful surge from the right dominated American politics and government from 1974 to 2008. In The Age of Reagan, Sean Wilentz, one of our nation's leading historians, accounts for how a conservative movement once deemed mar ...more
Paperback, 608 pages
Published May 5th 2009 by Harper Perennial (first published May 1st 2008)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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brian
i have this theory that whoever is president in your formative years, whoever is president when you are at a certain age, remains, to some degree, the standard of what a statesman should look like. (sucks for kids now, huh?)

i remember, as a child, laying in my den and reagan's grandfatherly, comforting presence spilled all over the room night after night. (little did i know that that confused and endearing succession of "i can't remember" was in reference to something pretty sinister!) -- years
...more
Justin Evans
Aug 13, 2014 Justin Evans rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-etc
An excellent chronicle of events that's marred, not by Wilentz's take on Reagan, which is as positive as any objective viewer could wish, but by his defense of Clinton, whose various actual misdeeds are buried in the narrative of Republican lunacy that focused on his penis instead of his politics. Another goodreads reviewer has suggested, disapprovingly, that "this book is intended for students of political history, but clearly not for republicans." Well, yes.

It's usually a good sign when a boo
...more
James Thane
Sep 07, 2011 James Thane rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sean Wilentz chronicles the political history of the United States from 1974 through the election of 2000, with an epilogue that carries the story through 2008, summarizing the principal consequences of the administration of George W. Bush. He argues that Ronald Reagan was the dominant political figure of the era, bringing into its own a conservative revolution that had its origins in the 1964 presidential campaign of Barry Goldwater.

Wilentz suggests that the Reagan administration was a signific
...more
Sean
Nov 04, 2009 Sean rated it liked it
The narrative in Age of Reagan is engaging; but the book is, nonetheless, disappointing. Author Sean Wilentz, (a Democrat, a witness during the Clinton impeachment proceedings, and an adviser to Hillary Clinton during her presidential campaign) gives the impression in his introduction that the reader should not necessarily expect a steady stream of criticism toward Reagan and, perhaps, may reasonably expect some favorable commentary. He writes:

"The conclusions I have reached differ greatly from
...more
Dave
Jul 02, 2009 Dave rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you are looking for an explanation of what's happened and why in the past 30 years this book is for you!

I've searched my own mind in the course of the present economic crisis to try to recall just when we embraced this culture of greed. I knew there was a fundamental change, just couldn't pin it down. Thought deep down that basic changes began when Reagon became President. Then I found this book and all my suspicions were confirmed, only worse.

Then in the course of traveling to all corners of
...more
Aaron
Aug 03, 2008 Aaron rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I am fairly sure that this is not technically a work of history; lacking significant primary sources (Wilentz spurned interviews and Bush has denied access to primary documents going back to the early Cold War), this is instead a polemic on the politics of Wilentz’s life. Had Wilentz approached the book as a memoir-polemic, he may have been on to something. However, by trying to shoe horn half a lifetime of political opinions into a history of Reagan and Reaganism, he has written an oddly hollow ...more
Oliver Bateman
Nov 14, 2012 Oliver Bateman rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
i was initially gonna give this two or three stars because wilentz is just one of those highly paid consensus historians who gets the nyt op-eds a hipster slob historian like me deserves, but this is actually a perfectly serviceable overview of the reagan era (i actually used it in a freshman survey course, and my naifs totally got the point). there's some curious editorializing on wilentz's part, and he doesn't engage intellectually with a lot of this material in the way that andrew hartman doe ...more
John-Paul
Jan 07, 2015 John-Paul rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Readable, well-researched, unpretentious.

The chapter on Iran-Contra is fantastic. The rest of the stuff on the Reagan presidency is solid and even-handed. The parts about Carter and Bush I are okay; the parts about Clinton and Bush II are not good at all.

A totally political history (as in "what high-level politicians were doing), really an overview of whatever was in the New York Times, without much real digging and absolutely no social perspective.

A bigger flaw: the Reagan Revolution wasn't as
...more
Michael
Apr 10, 2012 Michael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Listened to this book on Audible on walks in Buffalo Bayou Park in Houston. Called to mind many forgotten episodes in American political history. It is also a very good overview of the conservative era that brings some perspective to our current political impasse. Recommended reading as a curative for nostalgia. Would be a great reading for a course on the American Conservative Movement.
Joseph Stieb
This synthesis of political history in the last 20 years is kind of a mixed bag, but it is worth checking out for certain people. Liberals like me will be strongly inclined to agree with Wilentz' highly negative take on RR and his generally positive view of Clinton. Wilentz definitely could have toned the rhetoric and obvious bias down and he still would have had a strong argument that the GOP has become the crazier and less competent party. There are some chapters in here devoted entirely to ke ...more
Billy
May 06, 2008 Billy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Sean Wilentz is best known for his political and social histories of 19th century America, most recently The Rise of American Democracy. Why, then, would this Princeton historian tackle the most contemporary of political histories? His motives seep through The Age of Reagan, a work that reads critically but fairly of its main subject. Despite the book’s title—a clear nod to Schlesinger's The Age of Jackson—Wilentz contends that Reaganism cannot be synonymous with conservatism. Instead, Reaganism ...more
Mike Hankins
For Sean Wilentz, the era from Nixon's presidency, through to the present, is marked by a sharp rise of conservatism, embodied in Ronald Reagan. "The Age of Reagan" traces that conservative trend and how it differs from previous trends in American history. The book clearly comes from a leftist perspective, and like most journalist histories, Wilentz is not in the archives looking at primary sources. His sketch of the period is quite broad, but he is convincing in identifying several of the large ...more
Cat
Oct 04, 2008 Cat rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: americanhistory
My book reviews dropped precipitously over the last several months due to my ill advised decision to attempt Tristam Shandy & Tom Jones- both of which are 18th century brit lit well in excess of 500 near unintelligible pages.

I decided to switch gears into United States politics when I read a review of Sean Wilentz's "The Age of Reagan: A History 1974-2008." Willentz wrote the amazing Chants Democratic: New York City and the Rise of the American Working Class, 1788-1850, in 1986, but since th
...more
Jesse
May 27, 2008 Jesse rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
We were all supposed to read Wilentz's path-breaking Chants Democratic in grad school and never did. (Sorry, Robin.) Maybe I will get around to it someday. This encouraged me. Wilentz writes a pretty vivid political history of this period that reads history both backward and forward: in light of the recent revisions of Reagan in the light of Bush (eg he said all these crazy things but didn't really do them, unlike GWB, who both spoke crazy and acted crazy), Wilentz points out that Reagan's peopl ...more
Nick
Jul 18, 2014 Nick rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Useless book. There already is an Age of Reagan by Stephen Hayward which is far longer at two volumes at over 1,000 pages. Wilentz chose a weird starting point for the age of Reagan, 1974 after the downfall of Nixon and the continuing rise of the new right in the 1970s. By completely bypassing Nixon, no real account of the return of the Republican Party can be understood. Nixon helped create the electoral coalition of the Reagan years and had a role in the 1966 midterms which presaged voter back ...more
Christopher
When I first saw that Sean WIlentz, the respected historian of book "The Rise of American Democracy," was publishing a history of the past 30 years of political history, I was very excited and bought it as soon as it was available. Now, having just finished it, I am very disappointed in it. Whereas his previous book was meticulous and painstakingly detail oriented, with nearly one footnote for every paragraph written, this book is short and offers very little in terms of footnotes. Wilentz is a ...more
Jim
A straightforward narrative political history of the United States from the aftermath of Watergate to the administration of George W. Bush. For Sean Willentz, this is the “age of Reagan,” so named for the influence Reagan exerted and continues to exert. For good or ill (and I think one could make a good case either way), Reagan reshaped political discourse, recast American conservatism, and brought about a paradigm shift in our politics.

Willentz analyzes events from a mainstream liberal perspec
...more
Andrew
May 10, 2014 Andrew rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned, history
A perfectly competent and readable account of the successes and failures of the six presidents between Gerald Ford and George W. Bush. I didn't feel like the title was justified by the text - it didn't really present Reagan as the central figure of the era, just one in a series of more-or-less flawed presidents. In this narrative Reagan was elected as a result of Carter's failures rather than on his own strengths, or as the expression of a successful conservative movement. The attention to histo ...more
Tom Schulte
Wilentz approaches his subject as historian; this is a work of analysis not hagiography. The conditions that brought Reagan to power and the echoes of his colleagues and fellow-travelers (Bushs, Rumsfeld, etc.) mark the gamut of the Age of this study. I was very young when Reagan ruled, but I wasn't too you to recall the hue and cry over his militarism (Granada, Libya), expenditure (SDI), etc. So, I was a bit suprised to his funeral handled like that of a passing saint. Wilentz helps to explain ...more
Alistair
Not the most objective of books, perhaps this is a book that should have been left for another few years and writen by a another historian, Sean Wilentz was never going to be able to be unbiased.



As some one liberal minded myself and have come of age in the late 80's I found this to be a very good read. Being able to personally relate to many of the key events does provide a level of introspection that other political history books set before 1982 fail to provide.



The book did give me some new per
...more
Grant
Jul 08, 2014 Grant rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Can a self-identified liberal and Democratic political operative write a balanced history of a conservative movement and era? The answer it seems, is mostly yes. Wilentz does a solid job of chronicling the rise of conservative Republicanism and explaining the strength of its most influential figure, the titular Reagan. He indulges in neither demonizing nor hagiography, and while he is highly critical of episodes in Reagan's presidency, he is equally severe in citing the mistakes of Carter and Cl ...more
Yunis Esa
Feb 12, 2017 Yunis Esa rated it really liked it
I believe that a title like this would sound misleading. It is a book about the political timeline from 1974-2008. Reagan set a tone in the politics of America more any.
Greg
Apr 08, 2015 Greg rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics, history
As one of my Goodreads friends put it, "a perfectly serviceable overview of the reagan era." If you don't know much about political history over the past 40 years (which isn't something to be ashamed of), you will enjoy this book and get a lot out of it.

For my part, I used to be a political junkie before the dysfunction of DC disillusioned me and caused me to cut my consumption of political news to a trickle. I have been and continue to be a history junkie. As a result, there was little in _The
...more
Arnold Pamplona
Wilentz provides an engaging narrative spanning the presidencies of Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush 41, Clinton, and Bush 43. This narrative is more or less coherent until he reaches Clinton, when the chapters become increasingly long on conclusions and short on analysis. Indeed, the entire Bush 43 presidency is dispensed in the epilogue--remarkable given his conclusion that in many ways, W's two terms represent the culmination of the "Age of Reagan."

Although Wilentz covers the financial coll
...more
Brad C
Feb 07, 2016 Brad C rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
Pretty good synopsis of the major American political events between Ford and G.W Bush, although there is very little detail about the second Bush admiinstration. The book really covers 1974 to 2000, with a short discussion of 9/11 in the early part of Bush's first term.

The book is somewhat objective, but is certainly written with a very left slanted bias. The majority of the book centers on the Reagan and Clinton years. While the book certainly gives Reagan his due for his accomplishments and th
...more
Ray
Dec 27, 2009 Ray rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I expected this book to focus specifically on President Reagan and the modern conservative movement, however it's broader than that. Wilentz examines the impacts and legacy of the Presidents from Nixon through G.W. Bush. The author has attempted an element of fairness, praising the good and condemning the bad in each of the past administrations. Of course, since this is a political topic, people with strong party feelings from either side of the aisle will find fault with the authors criticism o ...more
Steven Dzwonczyk
Jun 22, 2011 Steven Dzwonczyk rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Absolute drivel. I didn't even finish it, though I pushed myself many hours past where I wanted to quit it just to see if it would improve. It did not.

The author proclaimed himself to be a democrat and also to be in some ways involved in some of the story, but insisted that he could be impartial. He was far from it.

I was young during Reagan's presidency and was only just becoming politically aware, but even if I was reading this and I wasn't born for another 100 years, it would strike me statist
...more
Dan
Jun 11, 2008 Dan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
First-rate political history albeit limited by the "political." More than a bio of Reagan, this is really "The Rise and Fall of Reagan Conservatism." Its time frame (1974-2008) is interesting and heartening for those of us who yearn for a new age. While author Wilentz debunks the notion that Reagan won the Cold War by spending the Soviets into the ground -- in fact, the USSR cut its defense budget after leaving Afghanistan -- he did come to appreciate Reagan's genuine abhorrence of nucelar weapo ...more
James
Jul 27, 2008 James rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Right: so if you look this title up on Amazon, you'll find that my review is the top one. As of this writing, 42 out of 49 people found my review to be of some use to them.

I could go back to add that this book was pretty good, but Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America freakin' blew my socks off, but so many partisan jerkwads are weighing in with their one-star reviews that I'd rather just let my five-star one stand, warts and all. Besides, Wilentz's book really is wor
...more
Natalie
Apr 16, 2016 Natalie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was asked to read this for a professional development class, with less than two weeks notice. I dove in, not knowing what to expect and I was pleasantly surprised.

Wilentz is highly readable and thorough. I learned a lot and plan to pass this book on to others who may enjoy it.

My only complaint is that I personally feel that this book doesn't focus enough on Reagan enough to warrant his name in the title. ok feel it is an overall history from the 70s to the 00s, regardless of the president.

I mo
...more
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Sean Wilentz (b. 1951) is the Sidney and Ruth Lapidus Professor of History at Princeton University, where he has taught since 1979

In his spare writing time, he is historian-in-residence at Bob Dylan’s official website, www.bobdylan.com/
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