NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • When did America give up on fairness? The author of Fantasyland tells the epic history of how America decided that big business gets whatever it wants, only the rich get richer, and nothing should ever change—and charts a way back to the future.
“The one book everyone must read as we figure out how to rebuild our country.”—Walter Isaacson, author of Steve Jobs and Leonardo da Vinci
During the twentieth century, America managed to make its economic and social systems both more and more fair and more and more prosperous. A huge, secure, and contented middle class emerged. All boats rose together. But then the New Deal gave way to the Raw Deal. Beginning in the early 1970s, by means of a long war conceived of and executed by a confederacy of big business CEOs, the superrich, and right-wing zealots, the rules and norms that made the American middle class possible were undermined and dismantled. The clock was turned back on a century of economic progress, making greed good, workers powerless, and the market all-powerful while weaponizing nostalgia, lifting up an oligarchy that served only its own interests, and leaving the huge majority of Americans with dwindling economic prospects and hope.
Why and how did America take such a wrong turn? In this deeply researched and brilliantly woven cultural, economic, and political chronicle, Kurt Andersen offers a fresh, provocative, and eye-opening history of America’s undoing, naming names, showing receipts, and unsparingly assigning blame—to the radical right in economics and the law, the high priests of high finance, a complacent and complicit Establishment, and liberal “useful idiots,” among whom he includes himself.
Only a writer with Andersen’s crackling energy, deep insight, and ability to connect disparate dots and see complex systems with clarity could make such a book both intellectually formidable and vastly entertaining. And only a writer of Andersen’s vision could reckon with our current high-stakes inflection point, and show the way out of this man-made disaster.
In this sweeping jeremiad, journalist Andersen (coauthor, You Can't Spell America Without Me) traces the origins of today's economic inequality and political dysfunction to "the quite deliberate reengineering of our economy and society since the 1960s by a highly rational confederacy of the rich, the right, and big business." This reengineering, Andersen contends, was aided and abetted by a more spontaneous cultural trend: "a wholesale national plunge into nostalgia" in TV (Happy Days), movies (Grease), music (Bruce Springsteen), and design (New Urbanism). Right-wing politicians and economists exploited this "nostalgia boom," Andersen writes, by pitching regulatory rollbacks, tax cuts, and small government as a return to a more "rugged" and "frontiersy" America. Andersen also blames the Clinton administration's deregulation of financial markets and the Supreme Court's gutting of campaign finance laws for contributing to today's "extreme insecurity and inequality," and holds out tentative hope that the coronavirus pandemic and protests against racial injustice will shock the country out of its economic, political, and cultural stasis. Much of Andersen's material will be familiar to newshounds, but he arranges it into a cohesive argument backed by hard data and stinging prose. Readers will get a clearer picture of how the U.S. got to where it is today.
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All Americans Should Read This Book
Many of us may have suspected that the things Andersen exposes in his book were happening, but we didn’t know how nor why. This book breaks it all down with remarkable clarity, a connecting of the dots that shines light on the long-game strategy that slowly eroded an exceptional America into a winner-take-all Pottersville that benefits a caste of small, uber rich, of-mostly-inherited-wealth, entitled conservatives. It’s highly likely that the Americans who need to read this book won’t. If they did, it would be a potential game-changer in that they might actually come to understand why it feels like they are working harder than ever for an ever-smaller piece of the American pie. “Evil Geniuses" is easy to read, easy to understand, and you won’t be able to put it down.