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Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus [Paperback]

Rick Perlstein
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
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Book Description

March 17 2009
Acclaimed historian Rick Perlstein chronicles the rise of the conservative movement in the liberal 1960s. At the heart of the story is Barry Goldwater, the renegade Republican from Arizona who loathed federal government, despised liberals, and mocked "peaceful coexistence" with the USSR. Perlstein's narrative shines a light on a whole world of conservatives and their antagonists, including William F. Buckley, Nelson Rockefeller, and Bill Moyers. Vividly written, Before the Storm is an essential book about the 1960s.

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Not every presidential election is worth a book more than a quarter-century after the last ballot has been counted. The 1964 race was different, though, and author Rick Perlstein knows exactly why. That year, President Lyndon Baines Johnson, a Democrat, trounced his opponent, Barry Goldwater, a Republican senator from Arizona, in a blowout of historic proportions. The conservative wing of the GOP, which had toiled for so long as the minority partner in a coalition dominated by more liberal brethren, finally had risen to power and nominated one of its own, only to see him crash in terrible splendor. It looked like a death, but it was really a birth: a harrowing introduction to politics that would serve conservatives well in the years ahead as they went on to great success. Conservatives learned a lot in 1964:
It was learning how to act: how letters got written, how doors got knocked on, how co-workers could be won over on the coffee break, how to print a bumper sticker and how to pry one off with a razor blade; how to put together a network whose force exceeded the sum of its parts by orders of magnitude; how to talk to a reporter, how to picket, and how, if need be, to infiltrate--how to make the anger boiling inside you ennobling, productive, powerful, instead of embittering.
These were practical lessons that anybody in politics must pick up. For conservatives, the rough indoctrination came in 1964, and Perlstein (who is not a conservative) tells their story in detail and with panache. Before the Storm is not a history of conservative ideas (for that, read The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America, by George Nash), but a chronicle of how these ideas began to matter in politics. The victory of Ronald Reagan in 1980--to say nothing of Newt Gingrich in 1994 and George W. Bush in 2000--might not have been possible without the glorious failure of Barry Goldwater in 1964. As Perlstein writes, "You lost in 1964. But something remained after 1964: a movement. An army. An army that could lose a battle, suck it up, regroup, then live to fight a thousand battles more." --John J. Miller --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

In the 1964 presidential campaign, LBJ ate Barry Goldwater for lunch and thereby, according to the pundits, stuck a fork in the heart of American conservatism. But Goldwater's politics were vindicated, Perlstein argues, by subsequent elections, especially Reagan's in 1980, and his tenets are championed today on both sides of the aisle. Perhaps. What's more important about Perlstein's argument is its subtext. By casting the senator as the long-term winner, Perlstein's chronicle vindicates what appears to have been Goldwater's magnificently ham-handed campaign. Conservative readers will cringe at the missed opportunities and wrongheaded tactics; the scattered and mismanaged themes, including Goldwater's crippling clarion call for extremism; the extremists who embraced him; and the backroom machinations and supporters that in many ways created Goldwater. Certainly they'll see Nixon and Reagan in an unlikely light: using the deck of the sinking ship Goldwater as a platform for their own careers. Liberal readers, on the other hand, will approach the pinnacle of schadenfreude. And they'll either be peeved or amused by Perlstein's unabashed partisanship, perhaps best shown in his observation that LBJ's deputy Bill Moyers pioneered dirty campaign tactics: "the full-time-espionage, sabotage, and mudslinging unit." Aptly casting conservativism as the triumphant underdog, Perlstein observes that "in 1995 Bill Clinton paid Reagan tribute by adopting many of his political positions. Which had also been Barry Goldwater's positions. Here is one time, at least, in which history was written by the losers." With Republicans again in the ascendancy, this account of their fall and subsequent rise should interest readers of all political stripes. Illus. not seen by PW.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Quality book June 2 2004
Format:Hardcover
If you are interested in the history of the contemporaty American conservative movement, this is close to a "must read". A real strength is Perlstein's research, especially archived private letters of such notables as William F. Buckley, Henry Regnery, Clarence Mannion, and Goldwater himself. Also, the book covers the roles of some figures of the right whose importance has been largely overlooked, e.g., Regnery, Mannion, and Robert Welch.
However, this book is not without its flaws. Though Perlstein's unorthodox prose rather grew on me, some readers might not be so kind. Also, though it is obvious that Perstein is a man with a sense of humor, he was at times a little too cute for my tastes. Along these same lines, Perlstein wore his liberal political bent a little too much on his sleeves. Finally, I am not sure the book lived up to its billing as telling the story of how American political history was forever changed in 1964. In other words, I think the book is better described as "interesting", as opposed to "important". However, this is a quality book, and I tip my hat to Perstein on his first effort.
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3.0 out of 5 stars great story but lean on analysis April 8 2004
Format:Paperback
Rick Perlstein is an excellent writer, and here he tells a great story. He attempts to capture the general mood of the time and especially the political climate. This was in the aftermath of President Kennedy's assassination; words like "hate" and "extremism" were everywhere. And even though the Cold War had thawed slightly after the Bay of Pigs in '62, that war was still very much on people's minds, still very much a source of fear. And that was another watchword for 1964--"fear." DR. STRANGELOVE played on those fears to humorous effect and highlighted the dangers and absurdity of nuclear war. (As another reviewer has pointed out, Perlstein does, however, spend a bit too much time on an overview of that film, important though it was, and afterwards constantly refers to it.)
This is primarily a story about campaign politics, and Perlstein is at his best when describing the behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing that made Barry Goldwater the Republican nominee. However, readers should know that Perlstein focuses on political action and organization rather than on the animating ideas behind the movement. In general, this doesn't affect the book, but a full appreciation of what people were doing and why requires treatment of the core ideas. For example, Perlstein devotes much space--and many colorful anecdotes--to the activities of the John Birch Society, the Young Americans for Freedom, and the libertarian Republicans in places like Orange County, California, but we don't really get to see why they were cooperative or antagonistic with each other; and the significance of William F. Buckley's uniting project is lost. (For a treatment of the ideas, I'd recommend George Nash's THE CONSERVATIVE INTELLECTUAL MOVEMENT IN AMERICA.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Tremendous reporting, masterful writing April 17 2003
Format:Paperback
In my experience, it's rare to find a book that features both thorough, impeccable reporting (primary sources, no less) and wonderfully skilled writing. "Before the Storm" is that rare book. I have read it through twice in the two years that I've owned it, and I enjoyed it even more the second time. As a 45-year-old liberal, I harbor little memory and no nostalgia for Mr. Goldwater. Though I enjoy reading political nonfiction, I would not have expected to enjoy a book about a long-ago, lopsided presidential race featuring a right-wing extremist as the Republican candidate. But a New Yorker book review intrigued me, so I checked out the book.
It is the finest book I have read in the past two years. As others have said, readers from all points on the political spectrum will find "Before the Storm" interesting. Why not? A great book transcends narrow labels. I would read anything Rick Perlstein writes, and I anxiously await his next work, whatever it may be.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Politics and the '60s Oct. 8 2002
Format:Paperback
You don't have to be a political junkie to enjoy Rick Perlstein's Before the Storm - the ultimately quixotic tale of the 1964 nominating fight and presidential campaign of conservative Republican Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona. A product of exhaustive research (the Notes and Bibliography alone stretch for nearly 120 pages), Before the Storm transports the reader to the very heart of the '60s where the Cold War and the Vietnam conflict loom large, the assassination of JFK shocks the nation, the Civil Rights movement and college unrest define a generation - and a band of conservative activists establishes a public policy agenda which, though mightily rejected in the 1964 election of Lyndon Johnson, bears surprising fruit a scant two years later in the election of Ronald Reagan as Governor of California.
If you are a fledgling activist, Before the Storm will usher you into the realities of the American political process where politics is war, even the most minute organizational details matter, and all things are ultimately possible.
If you are a student of American history, Before the Storm will bring new life to the story of the '60s for you with real people, real ideas and terribly real events pushing and shoving you in every imaginable direction. After reading Before the Storm you will never view the '60s with simple, rose-colored glasses again.
If you are a child of the '60s, Before the Storm will bring back your youth in bold strokes and striking colors. Whether you see yourself as conservative or liberal, you will feel once again the siren call of human freedom that so clearly marked that generation of Civil Rights Workers and Young Americans for Freedom.
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Most recent customer reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars An important story marred by poor writing
Goldwater's disastorous 1964 Presidential campaign is the vehicle for telling the book's real story: the rise of the ultra-conservative movement in American politics in the... Read more
Published on Jan. 6 2002 by E. Hawkins
5.0 out of 5 stars This is an historical keeper!
Don't bother with this book if you are a partisan (right or left) who simply wants a quick read to confirm your own opinions. Rick Perlstein did not write this for you. Read more
Published on Sept. 7 2001 by Michael Miller
4.0 out of 5 stars A Detailed Look at "Mr. Conservative"
Mr. Perlstein, who is by no means a conservative, shows how people who disagree with a politician or any person can write a mostly fair and accurate biography of that man or... Read more
Published on Aug. 23 2001 by Alan L Seals
4.0 out of 5 stars Goldwater's Disastrous 1964 Campaign Revisited
This is a very enjoyable and knowledgeable book about the events of 1964 and the overwhelming victory of Lyndon Johnson against "extremist" Barry Goldwater. Read more
Published on July 25 2001 by Charles Reilly
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, But Not Great
Before the Storm has some important strengths. In particular, Perlstein is a good storyteller and has a knack for conveying what it was like to be present at the birth of the... Read more
Published on July 5 2001
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent work, for a rookie
This is a book that anyone on the fringe of American politics should read. It shows how a group of people that were considered to be crazies took over one of America's major... Read more
Published on June 10 2001 by timbob
5.0 out of 5 stars MUST Read Regardless of Your Political Persuasion
Aficionados of U.S. political history, regardless of their political persuasion, will immensely enjoy Rick Perlstein account of the pivotal Presidential election of 1964. Read more
Published on June 9 2001 by Steve Iaco
5.0 out of 5 stars The origins of the modern Right, as seen from the Left
Why should you read this book? Lots of reasons.
First, read BEFORE THE STORM for it's look at the origins of the modern political era. Read more
Published on June 8 2001 by Stephen M. St Onge
5.0 out of 5 stars A highly enjoyable learning experience
I eagerly awaited the release of this book. I was not disappointed. This is a thoughtfully written, carefully researched, and thoroughly entertaining look at a frequently... Read more
Published on May 23 2001 by "dave in milwaukee"
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