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A War for the Soul of America: A History of the Culture Wars

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When Patrick Buchanan took the stage at the Republican National Convention in 1992 and proclaimed, “There is a religious war going on for the soul of our country,” his audience knew what he was talking the culture wars, which had raged throughout the previous decade and would continue until the century’s end, pitting conservative and religious Americans against their liberal, secular fellow citizens. It was an era marked by polarization and posturing fueled by deep-rooted anger and insecurity.
Buchanan’s fiery speech marked a high point in the culture wars, but as Andrew Hartman shows in this richly analytical history, their roots lay farther back, in the tumult of the 1960s―and their significance is much greater than generally assumed. Far more than a mere sideshow or shouting match, the culture wars, Hartman argues, were the very public face of America’s struggle over the unprecedented social changes of the period, as the cluster of social norms that had long governed American life began to give way to a new openness to different ideas, identities, and articulations of what it meant to be an American. The hot-button issues like abortion, affirmative action, art, censorship, feminism, and homosexuality that dominated politics in the period were symptoms of the larger struggle, as conservative Americans slowly began to acknowledge―if initially through rejection―many fundamental transformations of American life.
As an ever-more partisan but also an ever-more diverse and accepting America continues to find its way in a changing world, A War for the Soul of America reminds us of how we got here, and what all the shouting has really been about.

384 pages, Hardcover

First published April 23, 2015

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Andrew Hartman

25 books14 followers

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Displaying 1 - 29 of 29 reviews
Profile Image for Lorraine.
387 reviews83 followers
October 24, 2017
Read this. Read this. Read this. It's been getting lots of attention academically, and no wonder. So many books on the cultural wars focus on the 80's and 90's, but this book actually traces its roots back to the 60s. Particularly of interest is the alliance between neoconservatives and religious conservatives against the left. Many of the neocons were Jewish (children of Jewish immigrants) and that in itself is significant, for the American Dream and the maintenance thereof (compare this to Arendt's We Refugees). Here we see how the 'traditional heartland' Americans moved right, from the New Deal era, how the word 'liberal' came to be associated with the American left.

We also can see how the neocons have turned, more or less, into the libertarians of the day, and even infected the 'liberal left' with its intellectual stances, pushing many apparently clever people right. The neocons, according to Hartman (with luminaries from top schools in America), helped to provide an intellectual articulation of why the revolutions in the 60s were bad -- cultural conservatism.

Hartman goes on to trace, competently, how this schism continues through to today, while continuing to fracture within itself (eg the fractures within the left now). The fractures within the right (neocon vs religious con) are now less obvious I think, due to political reasons -- neocons are less overtly socially conservative than religious conservatives -- given that both parties are right-wing now (just a matter of degree) the liberal right has cause to ally with the liberal left. In fact, we see on the ground a dissatisfaction from the liberal right, that it has lost its 'home' of sorts -- it needs to vote for the Democrat party but hates many of its fellow voters. I wish he had written more about today's politics, but there's a second edition coming out soon that deals with that (this was published in 2015, guess what big news issue was missing?).

My only quibble is that Hartman has not given post-structuralism, in my view, a completely fair hearing, though most of what he says I would broadly agree. I am also not sure of his parsing of Jameson. But this is just quibbling -- he has had a huge amount of material to work through -- including seminal court cases and etc -- and I have my own readings of the theoretical material being of the literary persuasion.

Lastly, I'm not sure what school of history Hartman hails from, but a warning note for those who might want to feel offended: Hartman is clearly "liberal left" and isn't afraid to show it. It shows in his adjectives! He doesn't like identity politics either, and at some level is an old skool humanist of the left persuasion (hence, a palpable dislike of deconstruction and etc). That's all fine and good, but warning people who might be #triggered.
Profile Image for Pamela Burdick.
276 reviews8 followers
September 23, 2015
This beautifully written and well researched book offers something for everyone.

The chapter "The Trouble with Gender" is fascinating and I believe the first half of the chapter would make excellent required reading in high school explaining how men and women have arrived in their current state regarding gender conversations.

Personally, I recently found myself in you another conversation where the woman I spoke with prefaced her statement with "I am not a feminist but...." This statement floors me every time I hear it, as feminism by definition is the advocacy of women's rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.

I have never heard another group state they are not for their own equal rights prior to making a statement on their own behalf. The author stating fascinating references explains how we, as a society, have reached this confusing state of affairs.

Throughout approximately 60 years of history this book shows how we view our own history including belief about race, gender, pornography, nuclear war, film, entertainment and more, and how these views have created a framework for American culture.

The question remains, are we learning our history or are we reacting to a well marketed plan by groups with an agenda, and do we have the fortitude to look for the answer? The author has done his research and allows us to ponder the answers. This is an excellent read.
Profile Image for Oliver Bateman.
1,163 reviews63 followers
July 22, 2015
A fine overview of the culture wars and a good companion to Kazin's The Populist Persuasion. Hartman, who founded the excellent USIH blog, credits its many contributors throughout the work and provides a good example of how digital collaboration can shape the development of a manuscript.

That said, this remains a cool title, some good info, and a starting point. I'm not an expert on everything described in the book, but I'd say I've read and watched as much of Pat Buchanan's work as anyone currently living, including Pat Buchanan...and he's a thing unto himself, but here he gets about as many pages as Allan Bloom, whose impact was comparatively much slighter.

Hartman also does the thing that we all do when writing about the living and nearly-dead: like Wilentz in The Age of Reagan, he provides odd little post hoc judgments on the quality of this or that piece of rhetoric that recall the curious judgmental treatments of the Carrs, Actons, et al.

But that's just some hairsplitting. This is a great work, and could even conceivably be assigned to upper-level undergrads (particularly if supplemented in class with YouTube clips, primary source readings, etc.).
46 reviews
August 20, 2018
Brilliant, really! A lot to take in; and, as a consequence, a lot learned.
Profile Image for Joseph Stieb.
Author 1 book148 followers
November 10, 2020
A very useful intellectual and cultural history that gives historians a great framework for conceptualizing the CW. Hartman's core argument is that the culture wars are the playing out/extension of the 1960s, a decade when a series of tectonic shifts occurred (civil rights, feminism, gay rights, antiwar, other identity movements) that fundamentally challenged the power structure of the country. You also saw the emergence of a much more nationally unified and self-conscious conservative movement that rose up not necessarily to stop these changes (although sometimes, definitely yes) but to channel and/or challenge them and save what they saw as essential American norms. Most of the culture war disputes of the subsequent decades, therefore, were really reflections of this massive shift in power and ideas. For Hartman, I think, thinking of the culture wars as something in the 1990s misses how they became more or less a continuous feature of AMerican life from the 60s forward.

Hartman mostly charts out intellectual and cultural struggles revolving around race, sexuality, education, popular culture, and art. He duly shows the shades and degrees in these disputes, never making this into a binary story. Beneath the fighting over these questions was the deeper, often unspoken questions about who was an American, whether or not this is a good country, and what we should think and teach about ourselves. Hartman is thorough but relatively concise, making this a great resources for teachers from high school up. He is also fair-minded in his descriptions of conservative and/or liberal thinkers.

I have a few mild critiques. First, sometimes the book gets a little divorced from the cultural and political context, especially in the 1990s; that's why I'd describe this as a primarily intellectual history. Second, Hartman's conclusion (to this edition) says that the CWs had basically exhausted themselves by 2015 or so with the victory of gay marriage, the acceptance of obscenity in most circles, and other seeming liberal/left victories. Of course, this was terrible historical timing given that Trump , who rose largely on cultural/racial appeals, was just around the corner (Hartman put out another conclusion later changing his stance here). Third, this book sometimes leans to hard on the "backlash" model/understanding of modern conservatism in which conservative thought is mainly a product of resentment against the gains made by marginalized groups and their challenges to established norms and groups. That's obviously part of modern conservatism, but we also need to think about how it reflects deeper traditions/outlooks/ways of life in the United States and how conservative activism preceded the 1960s (McGirr's Suburban Warriors is a great example of this IMO). That's less a critique of Hartman specifically than of much of the sub-field of the study of modern conservatism.

I'd recommend this mainly for historians of the late 20th and early 21st centuries as a great way to conceptualize the last 50 years or so, especially in the history of thought, especially in education, which is Hartman's wheelhouse. It would also be interesting to see what he thinks is the difference, if any, between culture war (now a somewhat outmoded term) and polarization (a hot-button term that seems to be quite similar to CW).
Profile Image for R.J. Gilmour.
Author 2 books11 followers
July 14, 2015
A really good analysis of how the culture wars of the 1980s and 1990s developed over time. An important book for anyone interested in the period and how the neo-conservative movement developed. Would make a great teaching tool for anyone wanting to unravel how politics divided after the 1960s.

"But the sixties universalized fracture. Many Americans prior to the sixties, particularly middle-class white Americans, were largely sheltered from the "acids of modernity," those modern ways of thinking that subjected seemingly timeless truths, including truths about America, to a lens of suspicion." 4

"The New Left was younger and more affluent than any American left before or since. This was particularly true of the hundreds of thousands of young white Americans who, inspired by the civil rights movement and radicalized by the Vietnam War, committed themselves to leftist action of one sort or another." 11

"Black Power and the other identity-based movements of the sixties underscored new forms of knowledge, a new intellectual agency in relation to oppression that might be termed an epistomology of liberation." 21

"When we think about the neoconservative persuasion as the flip side of the New Left, it should be historically situated relative to what Corey Robin labels "the reactionary mind." 38

"Crime was another issue that aligned the neoconservative imagination with white-working class sensibilities. Irving Kristol famously quipped that a neoconservative is "a liberal who has been mugged by reality." 64

"That evangelicals have tended to mix their religious and national identities has long tinged the rhetoric of American cultural politics with an eschatological hue." 71

"Indeed, disentangling the Christian Right's moral panic from white racial panic is no easy task." 85

"In short, AIDS motivated both sides of the culture wars over homosexuality. Religious conservatives saw AIDS as a chance to intensify their backlash against gay liberation. But gay rights activists worked overtime to deny Christian Right efforts to make them into pariahs."159

"In 1988 Koop sent an eight-page condensed version of the report to every household in America 107 million in total, the largest single mailing in American history. Thanks in no small part to Koop's efforts, Reagan finally spoke publicily about AIDS on May 31, 1987. By then 36,058 Americans had been diagnosed with AIDS, and 20,849 had died of the horrible disease." 160

"Even after the conservative movement had long captured the Republican Party, and even after a conservative Republican Party had controlled the White House for twelve years, right-wing culture warriors were insecure about their power. The national culture-art, music, film, and television-seemed to have slipped from their hands, signaling that the America of the conservative imagination was dead or dying." 199

"A 1983 NEA pamphlet exemplified this gentler approach: "As Americans, we have a unique opportunity to celebrate people, for our borders are filled with a precious assortment of cultures, each one contributing to history and seeking appreciation." The new name for this curriculum was "multiculturalism."...But since multiculturalism was more about representing diversity than about challenging institutional hierarchy, it appealed to a wider array of teachers and allowed it to become the implicit ethos of national curriculum." 202-203

"Rather than transform the American political system, the Left "marched on the English department while the right took the White House," as Todd Gitlin put it with his pithy metaphor for academic solipism in the face of conservative triumph." 223

"Whether it be Nuremberg or Woodstock," he proclaimed, "the principle is the same." Weimar analogies were particularly a fetish of those, like Bloom who had studied with German emigre Leo Strauss..." 233

"By the late 1980s deconstruction had become a generic if pretentious signifier for much of went for academic inquiry. In the words of one critic, it was "the squiggle of fancy French mustard on the hot dog of banal observations." 239

"As Gertrude Himmelfarb eulogized: "The beasts of modernism have mutated into the beasts of postmodernism-relativism into nihilism, amorality into immorality, irrationality into insanity, sexual deviancy into polymorphous perversity." 250

"Fracture, whether political, in the form of identity politics, or epistomological, in in the form of postmodernism, was not liberating. Rather, it was a product of political reaction. Whereas the modern era of capitalism ushered in mass movements that mad the world a better place, the postmodern era brought atomization that saw the weakening or even dissolution of such working-class cohesion. (Jameson):" 251

"Can we have both cultural revolution and social democracy? This is a serious dilemma with no easy answers. One thing seems certain, however. The reigning American economic ideology-the belief in the goodness of capitalism-makes cultural revolution much likelier than social democracy....it has become increasingly clear that capitalism has done more than the state to pitilessly destroy the values they held dear. Capitalism, more than the federal government-Mammon more than Leviathan-has rendered traditional family values passe." 290
Profile Image for Tom.
133 reviews7 followers
June 14, 2018
A history of the Culture Wars, and their lingering effects.

The book closes a bit prematurely, with the "conclusion" hinting at where we are now - a Capitalism that has triumphed over both conservative and liberal worlds, perhaps, in my own words, putting a price on everything, thus reducing everything, every idea, to a commodity. I hope Mr. Hartman is at work on another book.

But if you're not clear about the Culture Wars and their devastating impact on our nation, this is a very good read. It helps to know that the issues of the "day" have long roots, often reaching into the most bitter of deadly soils. It's clear that our soul has been a divided one, and it remains to be seen where and how we'll find a way to be one America, and not two, or even more, as we seem to be fragmenting at an alarming rate.

For me, a bit sad.

I'm a liberal, and it would seem that we liberals have been bested and outfoxed on nearly every front, even as we liberals seem more than happy going after one another, even as we continue to combat the conservative juggernaut.

Yet, I believe an FDR Liberalism holds great promise for America ... a liberalism of justice and inclusion.

A liberalism that requires some thinking about our history, our identity, our values, as contrary to conservatism with its pious platitudes, its clear and terrible enemies, offering an America, not of the future, but of the past, with a promise, that if we recover what has been lost, indeed, what has been stolen by liberal Marxist, socialist, secularism, we'll once again be great.

Of course, no definition of greatness is offered, but only hinted at, and the hints are enough to sicken me, and these days, some of the outworkings of it all present, at least to me, a hideous specter devouring our nation.
Profile Image for Carol.
72 reviews6 followers
October 6, 2017
Comprehensive and meaningful analysis of the topic of culture wars in the United States. Andrew Hartman traces the origins of the divide of the American populace to the upheaval and strife of the 1960's, when so many previously subjugated groups fought for identity and justice. Their demands and the increasingly radicalized tone that accompanied them caused other Americans to yearn for what had once been their normality in the homogenized fifties. Hartman includes the voices of some of the most prominent spokespersons for each movement. Although I lived through the times and have many anecdotal recollections of what transpired, this historical and sociological perspective helped me refine my understanding of the polarization that now grips our society.
Profile Image for B. Tyler Burton.
75 reviews2 followers
January 13, 2018
Great play by play of events that for me rang bells of foggy memory, but there is nothing like reading the words of those involved at the scene. Like when Reagan on the campaign trail for governor said he’d love to get to know those Berkeley protestors “...with a club”

The last fifty years of Bay Area politics plays heavily into the narrative which is also a plus.

Heavily recommended for those who are students of history.
Profile Image for Bill FromPA.
693 reviews30 followers
March 18, 2019
The book starts with a chapter describing the protest and liberation movements of the 1960s; the next chapter describes conservative reaction against some or all of the aims and actions of these movements, with an emphasis on "neoconservatives", former liberals who found the "new left" too radical (or too inclusive) for their comfort. Subsequent chapters take on, subject by subject, the areas of new consciousness raised by the 60s movements and the conservative counter-measures that were taken against them: secularization dethroning the hegemony of Protestantism, race, gender (women's and gay liberation), the arts (rap music, the film The Last Temptation of Christ, various NEA-supported controversial art exhibits), public school curricula (evolution), college curricula (multiculturalism, The Closing of the American Mind), and the understanding of history.

In the first chapter Hartman mentions protests against the Vietnam War and the fact that many young men saw resistance to the war as a personal, life-and-death matter due to the existence of the draft. I think he greatly downplays the extent of radicalization that resulted from this - and does not note the coincidence of the rise of "culture war" thinking in the US with the cessation of the draft.

Hartman pretty much takes conservative statements on various issues as honest arguments made in good faith, which is more than I’m generally willing to concede, even to the point of pretzling the definition of "science" to make "creation science" seem like it might not be an oxymoron. This is less evident in the chapter on history, the author's own discipline, and even he can’t sustain his evenhanded attitude when writing about The Bell Curve, which is still serving up talking points for “reasonable” racists on various mainstream platforms. The present day relevance of this, as well as many other issues, such as the right to abortion, more endangered now than it was in any post-Roe period covered in this book, demolishes the claim in the brief "Conclusion" that the culture wars are now over or irrelevant. The author also never looks at provocation "in kind" coming from the right such as The Passion of the Christ or the "war on Christmas". Hartman does do a service in showing how the right uses "culture war" issues to divide the left and, incidentally, in explaining "deconstruction" and its controversies in a clearer manner than most writers who approach it from a literary criticism perspective.

As I neared the end of this book, I saw a potential narrative arc which the author did not emphasize.
He quotes a Ronald Reagan speech from 1980 where Reagan, who famously wore a uniform only in the movies, called the Vietnam War a "noble cause". The passage in less the 10 years from the cause of passionate, life-risking protests to "history" used for rhetorical aggrandizement sums up the "culture wars" perfectly; issues that to the left are matters of justice and human rights are subverted and opposed by the right to score rhetorical points for electoral or legislative (which is ultimately economic) advantage.
Profile Image for Greg Brown.
320 reviews67 followers
September 20, 2022
A pretty good, textbooky look at the culture wars from the 1970s through to the middle of the 1990s. It's pretty evenhanded with treatment of the various disagreements, trying really hard to treat conservative complaints as if they were presented in good faith.

Unfortunately, the same impulse kind of keeps it from presenting a compelling theory of why the culture wars happened the way they did, other than being echoes of the tumult of the 1960s. And that sort of shines through in the conclusion, where he comes up with a muddled argument that the culture wars are gradually on the way out.

It's kind of funny because he did the same conclusion for the first edition in 2015 and for the second he has to go "ok so Trump happened but I still believe this because X, Y, and Z." But here we are in 2022, and we've got conservatives bleating about "cancel culture" nonstop—helped along by squishy, decorum libs—and people calling in bomb threats to children's hospitals over imagined transgender ideology. That's not even to mention the still-reverberating freakout over masks during the pandemic.

I guess the argument I'd make—one that points to a continued heightening of the culture war as opposed to the cooling he posits—goes something like this: The culture war is a release valve for political conflict in times of policy and electoral stasis. And with the current political setup dominated by an unrepresentative, minoritarian Senate with veto power along with a Supreme Court set to be conservative and nakedly-partisan into the future, it's hard to see any future where the culture war goes away. And when the conservative media ecosystem is self-contained enough to perpetuate an illusionary majority to its adherents, they'll gladly join in—especially if it hits the same ur-fears of their family and power.

As much as I hope we'll get to the class conflict point that Hartman predicts towards the end, as Matt Christmas said at Trump's inauguration in 2017: "This is the stupidest day in American history, a record that will be broken by every subsequent day in American history."
Profile Image for Salamah.
536 reviews2 followers
January 6, 2019
This was a recommended read by one of my professors since I am interested in education in the United States. However, this book touches on several different topics besides education such as gender, neoconservatism and how history is portrayed in America. I felt the book focused on how America seems to have always been split in two. Individuals who want to keep the status quo and keep alive the way Americans lived from the 1920's to the 1950's. Then there are those individuals who want to see change that includes more equity amongst Americans. Hartman does a good job of providing a historical context for why what is occuring in society today is happening. It seems that the same type of issues prevelant in the 1960's are still prevelant now even though some things have changed. . I particulary focused on the education piece though in which Hartman talked about the Nation at Risk agenda, how religion was removed from schools and how the multiculturalism wave in schools really did not accomplish what some thought it would accomplish. Even though the book is not an exciting read, it is not difficult and does not include hard to grasp jargon.
Profile Image for Paul.
716 reviews66 followers
October 9, 2021
This is a really interesting and illuminating history of post-1960s political fights. Hartman essentially provides a long-form tick-tock of how the reshaping of American society in the 1960s led to conservative reaction, which led to liberal pushback, etc. His writing style is brisk, and his ability to synthesize numerous sources and strains of thought into a cohesive narrative is truly impressive.

Of course, one of the big misses of this book is Hartman's laughable-in-retrospect conclusion in his 2015 conclusion that (paraphrasing) "this is a history of the culture wars because the culture wars are history." Hartman ended up writing a much longer conclusion for a post-2016 edition, but the notion that the culture wars were somehow no longer a going concern during the Obama presidency strikes me as a perfect example of the white liberal idealism that blinded so many to the reactionary backlash that was brewing outside of the centers of elite culture.
Profile Image for Cedric.
21 reviews
February 13, 2018
I read this book because it was a required reading assignment. I normally like to read about history. Being a Libertarian, I really did not like reading this book. From my point of view, this book outlines pretty much everything that the government and politics should not be involved in. That being said, you could make the argument that the culture wars in America did lead to everyone being a little more equal than they were when the Declaration of Independence was written.
Profile Image for Christopher McQuain.
239 reviews15 followers
July 10, 2022
I'm going to assume that niggling little copy-editing lapses (the assertion that Madonna "ironically" took her moniker as a stage name, a glaring inaccuracy in the face of common knowledge; "medium income" in place of "median income," etc.) have been fixed in the second edition. Otherwise, this is a deep-diving, well-related, clear-eyed, and enlightening history (even to someone like me, who assumed I was very familiar with the topic) of all those long-running divisions in American culture.
Profile Image for Khaled.
31 reviews
September 17, 2022
كتاب مهم في المجمل إلا أنه قد كتب للقارئ الأمريكي قبل اي قارئ اخر ولو أننا افدنا منه كنص معرب فسيكون في مجال للمقارنة بين أنماط وطرق الصراع الفكري الدائر في عالمنا العربي بين الأصالة والم��اصرة ففي النهاية تلك الاحالات التي أوردها الكاتب أفقدت النص تماسكه وتسببت في شرود القراء لغموض فقرات مطولة من النص خاصه لمن هو غير امريكي ولم يعتصر تلك المواقف أو بالأحرى المعارك الثقافية الكبري في امريكا
Profile Image for Thomas Christianson.
Author 4 books11 followers
April 12, 2018
A fascinating and fairly academic look at the history of the culture war which seems to rage hotter in our society every year.
25 reviews
February 3, 2020
Absolutely backs you up with a good background on how often people's opinions are shaped by outside sources, and how the government plays a role to support one of many of those opinions.
111 reviews2 followers
March 13, 2017
This is a pretty good recounting of the Culture Wars that have been raging ever since the Civil Rights movement. But I thought it focused a little too much on the battles fought between intellectuals in their ivory towers. I would have liked to have learned more about how it was experienced on the front lines. I was also surprised that the book didn't say much about 21st Century developments.
Profile Image for Kari.
7 reviews
March 6, 2017
After reading this, I have a new understanding of the battles fought between professors on my senior thesis committee, not to mention different family arguments I recall from childhood. Hartman takes care to present a fairly well-balanced perspective from both sides of the "war," which I especially appreciate.
Profile Image for Alex Strohschein.
702 reviews103 followers
November 3, 2015
"A War For the Soul of America: A History of the Culture Wars" by Andrew Hartman offers a sweeping account of a changing America. Hartman effectively demonstrates how the 1960s laid the groundwork for America's divisive culture wars, tackling topics such as feminism, education, religion and race.

Hartman's book is well-researched and ranging. He highlights interesting twists in the theatres of the culture wars, such as how Andrea Dworkin and other feminist opponents of pornography found themselves in alliances with conservative Christians, how feminists came to debate what exactly was meant by sex and gender and how scholars and politicians had similar disputes about race and poverty. Hartman is also astute in pointing out divisions within the Right and the Left, such as on page 238 where he writes, "On the one hand was an academic Left interested in either identity politics or theories that delegitimize universal claims to truth. On the other hand was a political Left that believed their causes were better served when grounded in universal assertions about justice and human agency." Hartman is attentive to how both the counterculture and mainstream media (which gradually acquired counterculture values) such as "Maude" helped to promulgate more relaxed ideas about feminism and sexuality.

Hartman's own liberal convictions occasionally come out in the book. Sometimes I wonder if the term "anti-feminism" is used too broadly, especially given that there are dozens of different types of feminism and that some of those who oppose more liberal notions of feminism in favour of "traditional" gender norms aren't necessarily "anti-feminist." At the same time, Hartman shies away from some of the extreme conservative figures, such as the widely-derided revisionist historian David Barton and I am grateful for that as Hartman thus attempts to focus primarily on the mainstream Left and Right.

Although similar to Daniel T. Rodgers "Age of Fracture," Hartman's book is more readable (mercifully, it lacks Rodgers' excruciatingly boring chapter on the economy). While "A War For the Soul of America" has a lot of content, one wonders why it seemingly ends at the end of the 20th century - surely the first 15 years of the 21st century could have also be included, particularly in light of such rapid changes such as the legalization of same-sex marriage. But all-in-all, this is a fine tome that will aid those interested in exploring how America changed culturally over the last half of the 20th century. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for The American Conservative.
564 reviews238 followers
September 9, 2016
Just a decade ago, intellectual history was considered an outmoded sub-field of history. The long decline of intellectual history was the result of a deliberate effort by a generation of social historians to push it from the halls of academia—to banish the unfashionable emphasis on the ideas of preeminent Western thinkers. Classifications such as race, class, and gender replaced the study of history as ideas.

By the 1980s, “social history” had morphed into “cultural history,” which borrowed its approach from a host of mid-20th-century anthropologists more interested in symbolism and language than in social structures. But then cultural history struggled to lay firm foundations for the historical profession, as challenges to cultural anthropology became legion by the early 1990s. Gradually, cultural history lost its vogue, as many self-styled “culturalists” began publishing works that mirrored the intellectual histories their dissertation advisors sought to displace decades ago.

Profile Image for Bookforum Magazine.
171 reviews57 followers
August 8, 2016
"By grounding his account in a broader historical context, Hartman reminds us that the signature battles of contemporary culture warfare represent much more than a short-lived conflict between the Christian Right and the rest of society.

He is an extremely entertaining writer, and his nimble turns from pop music to porn to abortion to politics and back make for engaging, smooth reading."

–Elizabeth Bruenig on Andrew Hartman's A War for the Soul of America: A History of the Culture Wars in the April/May 2015 issue of Bookforum

To read the rest of this review, go to Bookforum:
Profile Image for Scott.
209 reviews
August 22, 2020
This was a very enlightening book to read. I did not care for the format - it felt like a number of scholarly articles strung together and reworked as a book. But it did help me better understand that the years I spent at university were deep in the culture wars. As a matter of fact, no one ever explained the culture wars to me while it was going on around me. I’ve felt for years my education was substandard and not worth what I’m still paying for it. It makes so much more sense now that I see my place in it.
Profile Image for Mauberley.
435 reviews
February 8, 2016
A sharp and insightful analysis of the culture wars and their enduring effects on the contemporary landscape. 'Normative America' has been confronted with numerous opposing voices (feminism, multiculturalism, identity politics, the 'new class' of the professoriat, etc.) and collision is explosive. Special note must be made of the clarity of Hartman's exposition.
Profile Image for Andrew.
21 reviews1 follower
July 1, 2016
One of the best books I've read this year. For intellectual history, it moves fast, but doesn't sacrifice erudition. Must read for anyone who enjoyed the recent documentary Best of Enemies, or generally enjoys a good debate.
5 reviews
June 12, 2020
Very educational. Kinda dense and pretty academic, but lots of helpful history factoids to understand the cultural divides that we see in America today.
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