Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America


The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America

2008 • 881 pages


Average rating3.8


Interestingly, Nixonland isn't a biography of Richard Nixon but instead more a history of the 1960s in America with Richard Nixon as the main character. Perlstein tells the story of the political, social, and cultural history of the U.S. in the '60s in very entertaining fashion, jumping from historical event to historical event with very satisfying in-depth analysis and exploration. Perlstein's most valuable contribution is his ability to see past the surface of historical actors' words and analyze their rhetoric and ideology with a precise clarity. Nixon becomes the perfect protagonist for such analysis because, as Perlstein makes clear, he was a master of politics and language and controlling the conversation. Nixon chose his public words very carefully, always making sure that the American public saw the version of himself (a down-to-Earth outsider who understood their frustrations, grievances, and resentments) that he wanted them to see. His actions were carefully taken as well. Nixon was able to craft coalitions with elements of the right that suited him when he needed, be they far-right John Birchers and Southern Segregationists, or moderate liberal Republicans like those who were likely to support George Romney or Nelson Rockefeller.

Perlstein believes that the present day culture wars and sociopolitical divides trace their origins to the mid 1960s and that Richard Nixon was the soothsayer who identified them first and was able to exploit them to his benefit, ultimately winning him the presidency. I do believe that the general reactionary right wing / progressive left wing cultural dispute probably is older than suggested here, but Perlstein is able to present evidence from every single part of American society (electoral politics, mass pop culture, academia, student organizing, housing, literature, military, labor) to demonstrate how this divide grew to become a great chasm in the 1960s.

September 19, 2022Report this review