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

4.29 of 5 stars 4.29  ·  rating details  ·  731 ratings  ·  80 reviews
An astute and surprising account of the 1960s as the cradle of the Conservative movement
"Before the Storm" begins in a time much like the present--the tail end of the 1950s, with America affluent, confident, and convinced that political ideology was a thing of the past.
But when John F. Kennedy was elected President in 1960, conservatives--editor William F. Buckley Jr., J
Hardcover, 671 pages
Published by Hill and Wang (first published April 15th 2002)
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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
Dec 21, 2008 Jonathan rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
Aaron Million
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
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
Jeff Pearson
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
Andrew Tollemache
"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
Brian Willis
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
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
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.
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
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.

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
This is a fascinating tale of how the conservatives seemingly highjacked the Republican party in 1964 to nominate Barry Goldwater for president. The election of that year proved to be a disaster, but, of course, the tale won't end there. The organizations, individuals and ideas taking form in 1964 will revive with a renewed vigor later (there are two more volumes in this trilogy). And now, the liberal Republicans that the Goldwater contingent battled that year (Rockefeller, Javits, Scranton etc) ...more
Bill Manzi
A pretty fine book. I am not sure that folks that are not enamored of politics would be of the same view, as it adds a level of detail that might not be for everyone. The book shows us the roots of the modern American conservative movement, which grew out of the ashes of the Barry Goldwater campaign for President in 1964. This is not a campaign book on 1964, but rather a look at how conservatives managed to begin to assume control of the GOP Party apparatus after the Nixon defeat in 1960. This i ...more
Apr 28, 2010 Eric marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Incidentally, awesome cover design.
For much of the 20th century the U.S. political parties and much of the general populace lived under the assumption that the U.S. was a consensus country with nothing major to disagree over. Enough of the country was economically prosperous enough that major political fault lines were essentially papered over. By the time the 1964 election rolled around, however, some of those fault lines were coming to the fore. Barry Goldwater's campaign and its eventually introduction of "moral values" as a p ...more
I was a bit disappointed in this book. I really liked Perlstein's book Nixonland and the subject matter of this book looked very interesting. I had hoped to learn more about the Goldwater movement and really what he (and those who came after him) tapped into to "unmake the American Consensus." Instead, I felt this book was a bit too straight forward in that did a good job of providing a play-by-play of Barry Goldwater's run for the presidency. However, it did not (to the extent that I hoped for) ...more
Dec 28, 2007 Wythe rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Political dorks
This book documents the birth of the modern conservative movement in the United States. It starts in the late 50's with a few dedicated libertarians, then follows the growth of their Movement and their eventual coalescence around Arizona senator Barry Goldwater. It culminates with Goldwater's righteous spanking in the '64 general election, but dangles the thread of conservatism's eventual resurgence.

I've been reading a lot of contemporaneous political accounts lately, which, while valuable in th
Very interesting history of the 1960s and the beginning of the modern nutso conservative movement (read Reagan/BushII). Perlstein doesn't really like any of the politicians he describes so it isn't in any way a hagiography but it is a good study of how an organized, activist clique can take over a party, and ends just with a hint of how everything was set up for Reagan to take advantage.

As a side note, Humphrey, Reagan, Obama - 3 politicians whose first national speeches propelled them towards
"Before the Storm" is a marvelous work of history that dives deep into the trenches of the 1960's Republican Party and nascent conservative movement. The book has a great many virtues, and details Goldwater's reluctance towards entering the race, the groundswell of popular support that produced his candidacy, and the parallel story of the establishment telling itself, at all times, that everything was fine. Consensus was still possible, moderation in policy and in politics meant that a great man ...more
Needless to say, there are more than a few similarities between the Draft Goldwater movement and the Tea Party, so I'll just limit myself to two:

1)Apparently the hardcore conservative activists of the 50s/early 60s were basing the tactics from the playbook that they believed the union activists and communists used to take over the country (union activists and communists being pretty much the same thing, for them). It sounds a lot like the conservatives who ran out to pick up Reveille for Radica
Never picked this up when it came that its sequel "Nixonland," has come out, I thought I'd order a copy. No such luck, out of print, and the cheapest copy is over $100.00! So, I discovered this neat program known as Inter Library Loan.
Anyhow, all I knew about Barry Goldwater was that he wanted to nuke the Russians, and that's why he lost to LBJ. Well, that's not ALL I knew, but this book certainly provides a lot of background to the '64 campaign, while employing a pretty smooth narrati
This was a most unusual book. I gravitated toward it hoping to learn how the radical right took over the Republican party, since that is the force that has dominated American politics my entire life. What I got was a blow-by-blow account of Barry Goldwater's rise to power and fruitless 1964 campaign for president, with very little explanation of how those events spawned the conservative movement that swept Nixon, Reagan, Bush, and Bush into office. The thing is, it's pretty damned fascinating, e ...more
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
Although this is the first book in what is at least a trilogy that tells the story of the conservative movement from the mid sixties onward they do not have to be read in order and I sure didn't. Pearlstein has a very good way with words and that makes reading his books a very pleasurable experience. There are one or two errors in the telling but nothing that overly detracts from the story he is trying to tell.

Awe-inspiringly interesting. Savvy about politics, and campaigns. And crazy---all these SoCal and SW nutsos who believed fluoridation was a commie conspiracy and everybody to the right of Robert Welch (founder of the John Birch society) was a commie, including Dwight Eisenhower, rallied to the cause of someone who shared some of their ideas but not all (or who simply didn't bother thinking out those of his ideas that were easily turned into hard-right social policies), and whose flinty integrity ...more
Republicans had opposed New Deal programs from the start but by the 1950s many had accepted them as permanent fixtures on the American political landscape. Social Security, labor unions, federal regulation of banking, progressive taxation, and many others had become, in the words of Rick Perlstein “the American consensus”. At least Republicans like Dwight Eisenhower and Nelson Rockefeller seemed to think so. Barry Goldwater and the emerging conservative movement had other ideas.

Perlstein seems
50 years after LBJ's defeat of Barry Goldwater, this history of the rise of the modern Republican party is amazing. The fact that Jackie Robinson was a Republican doesn't even crack the top ten most fascinating things one learns through reading this encyclopedically thorough book.
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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
More about Rick Perlstein...
Nixonland: America's Second Civil War and the Divisive Legacy of Richard Nixon 1965-72 The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan The Stock Ticker and the Superjumbo: How the Democrats Can Once Again Become America's Dominant Political Party The Tribes of America: Journalistic Discoveries of Our People and Their Cultures Quo Vadis Amerika?: Die Welt nach Bush

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