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Great Society: A New History

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  161 ratings  ·  28 reviews

The author of the New York Times bestsellers The Forgotten Man and Coolidge offers a provocative and conversation-changing look at President Lyndon B. Johnsons Great Society and how its failures reverberate to this day.

In The Great Society, Amity Shlaes argues that just as Franklin Delano Roosevelts New Deal overshadowed a generation of forgotten men, Lyndon B. Johnsons

Kindle Edition, 480 pages
Published November 6th 2018 by Harper
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Charles J
Mar 16, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A few weeks ago, I watched "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood," and Quentin Tarantinos movie delivered to me what I have been seeking. Namely, the exact point America careened off the path to flourishing, abandoning our long, mostly successful search for ever-increasing excellence and achievement. It was 1969. As the shadows lengthen and the darkness spreads, perhaps it does not matter when twilight fell. But why twilight fell does matter, and much of the answer can be found in the pages of Amity ...more
Jan 12, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
One of the reviews of this book by a prominent newspaper referred to the author as a revisionist historian. I would add the adjective selective. To make her case of the failures of the great society she cherry picks programs that were less than successful and neglects government programs that moved the needle. She also tars and feathers unions particularly Walter Reuther head of the UAW. At least unions help create and sustain the middle class, which today is fighting to survive in an era of ...more
Dec 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book deserves two appendices - one from Daniel Patrick Moynihan who wrote in an article for Public Interest (reprinted in the National Interest - - "Our best hope for the future lies in the extension to social organization of the methods that we already employ in our most progressive fields of effort. In science and in industry ... we do not wait for catastrophe to force new ways upon us... We rely, and with success, upon quantitative analysis to ...more
Russel Henderson
A worthy follow-up to The Forgotten Man, Shlaes reminds us that The New Deal was not the only attempt to remake America's economy or society from above, and that many of the ideas considered novel are echoes of past failures. One would not have to reach particularly far to find echoes of John Connally or LBJ in Trump's economic programme or in the speeches of the Democratic primary field. The Great Society's failures are an interesting melange of populism and technocracy, of blustering ...more
Michael Bailey
Jan 01, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this book. The book follows the presidencies of JFK, LBJ, and Nixon. She focuses specifically on the construction of the modern welfare state, which started with FDR's New Deal but then saw a renaissance with the Democratic presidents of the 60s. Many of our modern welfare state institutions were created in this era, as people in power became focused on "solving" poverty and other social ills. The book also speaks to other related phenomenons at the time like the growth of union ...more
Mar 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Fatal Conceit, as illustrated by American history. Of course, like the rest of us, Shlaes enjoys the fascinating characters of the central planning circus far more than the gritty details of the central planning. Decades ago, Charles Murray's Losing Ground already covered the statistical facts of our social policy fiasco; Shlaes now gives us a review of the colorful egos who were behind them.
Feb 25, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It reads like a series of essays. They are strong, and Shlaes writes well, but it wasn't as cohesive as The Forgotten Man
Feb 07, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The glaring statistic never mentioned in Great Society is that the social programs enacted during the 60s achieved what they set out to and poverty fell from a high of 19% (64) to a low of 11% (74) ( Shlaes never mentions this inconvenient fact because it would conflict with this work of historical revisionism that subtly attempts to make the case that government programs are bound to fail and have negative consequences. But what can one expect from an ...more
Bob Costello
Mar 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Amity Shlaes makes the case that a number of folks from the left and the Democrat party in the 1960's wanted to turn America into a socialist society. LBJ Great Society policies were a disaster. Government bureaucrats checking public housing projects at night to make sure husband were not living with their wives and kids. Polies that encourage families to break-up. Very good book with lots of details on the players. I highly recommend it. She is a great writer and very easy to read.
Eric Chevlen
"Great Society: A New History" takes on the daunting task of retelling the lofty ambitions and the failures of the Great Society. The book is well balanced, giving appropriate attention to economics, politics, and biography. In retrospect we can recognize the hubris of thinking that poverty could be solved by transfer of wealth. The failure of huge public housing projects is told in the sad tale of the Pruitt-Igoe project. The author does not dissect the failure of the Head Start program; ...more
Thomas Ernst
Feb 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
very interesting read on the 1960's and early 1970's anti poverty efforts out of Washington DC.
no one comes off as very good in this decades long fiasco that ended up costing billions of dollars and accomplishing little meaningful change

It is shocking how Johnson simply let McNamara run the Vietnam War like he ran an automobile company ... from a board room !

Shlaes write a very readable book and does not take sides in the debate which is a refreshing change
Jan 30, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A challenging book. It should be about 3 times as long to adequately cover the subject. Several important aspects of the War on Poverty are just barely mentioned, such as the 1966 mid-term elections. The role of the Vietnam War is minimized. Parts of it are quite thought-provoking, others not so much.
Joe Oaster
Dec 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
well researched by Mrs. Shlaes. Really showed the "inside baseball" of the Great Society program.
Jan 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was an exceptional accounting of how seemingly good ideas combined with politics always fail to achieve their objectives. Neither Democrats nor Republicans could get past the reality that socialism and government initiative to change peoples behavior always seem to fail. Smart people living in intellectual bubbles with little or no experience or expertise at building things or getting things done (other than political goals) always seem to come up with harebrained ideas that dont work in ...more
Sam Nigro
Jan 27, 2020 rated it it was ok
"Great Society--A New History" by Amity Shlaes,--The book appears to be focusing on continued Negro losers because of economic considerations which are "leaving us the remains of a welfare state that has entrapped African Americans in the tender grasp of the leviathan." Well, the "entrapment" is being done by Negros to themselves. It seems that victimism is overlooked causing 20% of 45 million Negros to not embrace the positive efforts of 90% of the 195 million American Caucasians who freed the ...more
Dr. Byron Ernest
Mar 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is a well written and researched book. The book, for me, was written in such a way that lets the reader determine her/his own views on the subject. I spent a great deal of time pondering and reflecting on the content of the book. Having been a child during the Great Society era, I agree with the fact that the federal government, during this era, redefined its role in the arts, on media (television and radio), and public schools. As, Shlaes taught us, "Washington left no area untouched" (p. ...more
John Munro
The book describes the development of the anti-poverty programs of the Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon administrations. Given the ongoing challenges of the subject, it was difficult to establish an end point for the story, and Shlaes does so rather awkwardly with the demolition of the Pruitt-Igoe housing project in St Louis. in 1972.

She focuses on the key players who brought the programs into existence, and attempted to deal with the problems and disincentives they created. Familiar figures such as
Paul Miller
If we dont remember the past, were doomed to repeat it. It was in that spirit that I read this new history of the Great Society, the 60s War on Poverty. This is not a right-wing screed, but a well-researched almost plodding retelling of how a generation of leaders that experienced the public sector winning a war thought it could win the peace as well. Intentions were positive - poverty was low, but why not eliminate it? While Kennedy and Nixon arent unscathed, LBJ is the central figure here. ...more
Darrell Datte
Mar 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The author provides a compelling case for ending the so-called war on poverty. Having spent billions over the past half-century, we are not closer to ending poverty than we were at the onset of the Great Society programs. There are those (you can find some of their reviews on this site) who suggest that the author is selective in her choices of Great Society programs to critique. Sadly, Great Society success stories are few and far between. Is it somehow comforting to think that mortgaging the ...more
mark propp
it's probably not fair for me to rate this, because i've decided not to finish it. but opting not to finish a book when you've read about 320 out of 420 pages is something of a statement in itself.

i just found this to be leaden & dreary to read. i am certainly interested in the history of government expansion in this period, but i found it all was presented in a very uninteresting way - this union organizer met this person, this activist met with those folks, the president thought this.

Jack Janzen
Apr 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The book covers the government programs from President Johnson to Nixon in their attempt to move the needle on poverty. A great deal of money was spent on well meaning projects -- often gigantic projects to little effect. Sometimes election politics interfered with rational thinking. Mostly the projects were not based on free market principals but instead were based on the hubris that smart people can effectively plan. The book offers a host of excellent examples inability of the best minds in ...more
Art Thompson
Mar 18, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book supports the arguments against government programs intended to relieve poverty and manage the economy. The book is very detailed - I dont need to know every person in every meeting and what their title was - and sometimes assumes the reader remembers all the earlier details which can be frustrating. However, it is a very interesting read for identifying the history of government programs that can be wasteful and not necessarily improve what they were intended to improve. ...more
Mar 28, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: histories
Shlaes has done it again!

Having lived through the upheavals caused by Johnson's Great Society and Nixon's Wage and Price Controls, I appreciate Shlaes history of those turbulent years of guns and butter. Those who put faith in the so-called best and brightest should take a look at the mistakes made by those who felt entitled by virtue of education to drive the US into a useless war and eventually stagflation.
Adam Yoshida
Jan 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A Solid Work

Amity Shales does not disappoint. As with her earlier work, The Forgotten Man, she uses her talents to bring a fresh perspective to a vital, yet under discussed, period of American history. For example, I had never realized the degree to which monetary policy weighed on Lyndon Johnson during the last year of his presidency.
Robert E. Metzger
Mar 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Modern Economic History Masterpiece

Amity Shlaes yet again shows her mastery of modern economic history. This time she explodes the disaster that was the Great Society. I recommend all her works highly and look forward to the next one
Mark Johnston
Mar 05, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great nonfiction read! Super informative. Very timely history of social policy, especially with current discussions and debates in the Democratic Primary.
Rob Schmults
Had high expectations - not met. Book is just too much of a jumble. Could do with a solid editorial job to rework it into something more readable and that held its threads more coherently
George Brzezinski
Pretty dry
Eddie Laureano
rated it really liked it
Feb 27, 2020
Greg Baker
rated it liked it
Mar 23, 2020
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Amity Shlaes graduated from Yale University magna cum laude with a bachelors degree in English in 1982.

Shlaes writes a column for Forbes, and served as a nationally syndicated columnist for over a decade, first at the Financial Times, then at Bloomberg. Earlier, she worked at the Wall Street Journal, where she was a member of the editorial board. She is the author of "Coolidge," "The Forgotten

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