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

4.17  ·  Rating details ·  2,374 Ratings  ·  179 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 (first published 2001)
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Mar 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: politics
Good day to you, sir/ma’m. Thank you for answering your door. I’ve only been knocking for ten minutes. What do I want? Why, I’m here to make a literary suggestion. Could I interest you in a book on the 1964 U.S. presidential elect – Hold on! It’s impolite to throw things at people when they’re talking. Now you’re walking away. And still throwing things!

I get it. It hasn’t been that long since we finished the most bruising election cycle in recent memory, if not the most bruising in all the histo
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
UPDATE: Rick Perlstein has written an outstanding article, appearing top of the front page of the New York Times: I Thought I Understood the American Right. Trump Proved me Wrong. The article reads as Rick Perlstein's mea culpa for underestimating extremism in the development of today's conservative movement, for example ignoring the popularity of groups such as the German American Bund or the Black Legion. For anyone interested in the history behind Trump's presidency this article is a must-rea ...more

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

Selected Bibliography
Man oh man, I think I know everything I'd ever want to know about the 1964 primary and election, yet there's now a brick of a biography on Nelson Rockefeller I'm eager to read. :D I can now see why Perlstein is so highly rated as a popular historian. He can take a subject such as this and make it absolutely riveting. Not only that, but even though this was written in 2001, it was highly illuminating about the craziness we witnessed as a nation during the 2016 election. There's a long thread wove ...more
Oct 20, 2008 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
It's hard to believe Perlstein wrote this had this published only in 2001. It is so detailed and filled with period detail (1960s) that he writes as though these people or events were familiar to us in some way. He writes in English, but he may as well be talking about another country, the information is so distant from my sphere. Add to that the extraordinary density of the information (I suppose like Caro's LBJ series) and you come up with a 'fascinating I'm sure' work that is completely undi ...more
Tom Ewing
Mar 10, 2016 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 03, 2008 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
Brian Willis
Aug 16, 2014 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
Patrick McCoy
Nov 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, non-fiction
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
May 22, 2012 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
Michael Griswold
Jul 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
As a Democrat, Rick Perlstein’s series on Modern American Conservatism may seem like an odd choice, but this current election cycle has put me on a major American Presidents/Presidential elections kick.

Before the Storm’s first one hundred or so pages provide a great foundation by explaining how the forces that would encompass Barry Goldwater’s base of support got up and running. The rest of the book is dedicated to the rise of this diverse political sect against the Eastern Establishment of the
Brian Eshleman
Aug 23, 2015 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 everyday analogy.
Apr 23, 2010 marked it as to-read
Incidentally, awesome cover design.
Dec 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Oct 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Fantastic, really remarkable book. Perlstein has a talent for writing history in a way that gives it a forward momentum. I've read a lot of history where the topic and information was fascinating but the writing didn't pull you forward. This book was not like that at all...and it could have been total snoozebait. The inner workings of the Young Americans for Freedom is not inherently riveting material.

Perlstein's premise is that the 60s was not the decade of the left, it was the decade that the
Aaron Million
Oct 31, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: american-history
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
This was pretty fascinating. While Goldwater gets top billing, the real stars here are the conservative movement activists who chose him as their horse to ride - to short-term defeat in the 1964 election, but long-term victory in their control over the Republican party. If Johnson’s embrace of civil rights for African Americans provided the impetus for the split and Nixon and Reagan later executed on the Southern Strategy to cement the realignment, the Goldwater campaign really set the stage for ...more
John Cooper
Oct 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
2016 is not the first year Republican presidential politics seemed batsh*t crazy. Once before we had a nominee whom pundits and analysts considered an unqualified lunatic; who caused foreign observers to question the sanity of the American electorate and worry about the global future; who resolutely flew in the face of accepted wisdom about how to run a campaign. How such a candidate emerged not (as now) in a climate of polarization but in one of placid liberal consensus is the subject of this b ...more
May 03, 2014 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
Oct 27, 2011 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
Jesse Young
Jan 08, 2015 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.
Aug 02, 2010 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
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
Jan 15, 2018 rated it liked it
I love Perstein's book on the history of the American conservative movement. I have read them somewhat out of order, reading this the first book in the series last. Like his other books, he offers a very detailed but also very critical look at the growth of the modern conservative movement. His books are marketed as being about a specific politician, Nixon, Reagan and in this case Goldwater. They aren't really, they are more about the different strains of right-wing thought at different points i ...more
Dec 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
Perlstein's massive book on the Goldwater phenomenon comes across as more polemic than history, but his language and writing style do a remarkable job of capturing the rage and paranoia beneath (and not always beneath) the surface of America's supposed consensus politics of the late 1950s and early 1960s. I can think of no better comparison than LBJ's notorious 'Daisy' political commercial that promised nuclear devastation with a Goldwater victory. Goes a long way towards foreshadowing some of t ...more
Jan 03, 2015 rated it it was ok
Skip ahead to the second book, Nixonland. Perlstein is a far more accomplished historian and writer in his later books. This book peters out without an ending, without a reckoning of what Goldwater meant to the Republican party, whether his legacy is more related to his deeds (the Southern strategy, for example) or as an idea, a conservative hero.
One of the stories within the sweep of the book, regarding Clif White, who orchestrates Goldwater's primary victories and maneuverings to become the 1
May 04, 2010 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.

Dec 10, 2015 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.
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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
“Ronald Reagan was just as angry. But he made you want to stand right alongside him and shake your fist at the same things he was shaking his fist at.” 1 likes
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