Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Year of 25 Books: #11 - The Seventies

We're officially halfway through the year, which means I'm officially behind on my quest to read and blog about 25 books this year. For those who may have forgotten, it was my resolution back in January to spend more time reading (and writing) and less time mindlessly surfing the net. So far, I've been pretty successful despite my being behind. I have read a lot of proofs for Dreamspinner that I haven't blogged about so in truth, I'm actually ahead. But what I blog about is where the rubber meets the road, so I have work to do.

I actually read The Seventies: The Great Shift in American Culture, Society and Politics a while back, but just haven't blogged about it. I've read countless books about the 1970s - specifically the 1970s in America. It's one of the most fascinating periods of history to me. It was a time period during which I was alive, but not really aware. I remember some of these events like you would remember a conversation that was going on in the background of your life. You would think that after reading so many books on the 70s, it'd just be the same thing over and over again. While there's an element of truth to that, I am never bored by books on this topic (unless the writing is awful) because even though the events stay the same, each book has a slightly different take on it, each focusing on something different.

This book took an interesting approach to examining the 70s and in many ways, showed the parallels between that time and the time in which we are living now. Schulman's argument is that the main outcome of the 70s was to serve as a counterpoint to the 60s liberalism and the Great Society. With the economy tanking, the oil embargo and general dissatisfaction with what was perceived to be liberal elitism, the 70s actually represented a reversal in the misfortune of the Republican Party, despite some very visible failures in the early part of the decade. Even though 1976 brought about the election of a Democratic president, the seeds of a conservative revolution were sown in the discontent of the early-to-mid 70s, most surprisingly in a rather savvy way by Richard Nixon. It wasn't until the late 70s that the seeds bloomed under the leadership of Ronald Reagan and formed what seemed like a conservative majority in America.

It was during the chapter on tax revolts and railing against "big government" that I felt like I could have been reading a history of the last two years. So many of the things described in the book felt like they were lifted from a Tea Party rally. It made me think of that oft-repeated phrase "those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it." Hopefully we will learn from that history but I don't hold out much hope.

But as everyone knows, the 70s were not all about the rise of conservatism. There was hedonism aplenty - a hedonism that may have been directly related to the economic struggles that also define the period. There were chapters that focused on the rise of women's movement, especially how it related to readily available oral contraceptives which allowed women to take control of their reproductive cycle for the first time. The gay rights movement is also examined and surprisingly, the changing roles of men and the definition of masculinity were addressed in the chapter on the "battle of the sexes." Other touchstone events were also mentioned, but despite its title, I felt this was much more a political book than a comprehensive cultural history of the decade.

I enjoyed this book, but my favorite book on this subject is still It Seemed Like Nothing Happened which is probably due for a reread (but not now.)


digital_sextant said...

I'm sorry to hear that you're behind in your reading, but I'm sure that you can do it!

Good review.

Dan said...

I will do it!