Great Society: A New History

January 11, 2020 - Comment

The New York Times bestselling author of The Forgotten Man and Coolidge offers a stunning revision of our last great period of idealism, the 1960s, with burning relevance for our contemporary challenges. “Great Society is accurate history that reads like a novel, covering the high hopes and catastrophic missteps of our well-meaning leaders.”  ―Alan Greenspan Today, a battle

The New York Times bestselling author of The Forgotten Man and Coolidge offers a stunning revision of our last great period of idealism, the 1960s, with burning relevance for our contemporary challenges.

“Great Society is accurate history that reads like a novel, covering the high hopes and catastrophic missteps of our well-meaning leaders.”  ―Alan Greenspan

Today, a battle rages in our country. Many Americans are attracted to socialism and economic redistribution while opponents of those ideas argue for purer capitalism. In the 1960s, Americans sought the same goals many seek now: an end to poverty, higher standards of living for the middle class, a better environment and more access to health care and education. Then, too, we debated socialism and capitalism, public sector reform versus private sector advancement. Time and again, whether under John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, or Richard Nixon, the country chose the public sector. Yet the targets of our idealism proved elusive. What’s more, Johnson’s and Nixon’s programs shackled millions of families in permanent government dependence. Ironically, Shlaes argues, the costs of entitlement commitments made a half century ago preclude the very reforms that Americans will need in coming decades.

In Great Society, Shlaes offers a powerful companion to her legendary history of the 1930s, The Forgotten Man, and shows that in fact there was scant difference between two presidents we consider opposites: Johnson and Nixon. Just as technocratic military planning by “the Best and the Brightest” made failure in Vietnam inevitable, so planning by a team of the domestic best and brightest guaranteed fiasco at home. At once history and biography, Great Society sketches moving portraits of the characters in this transformative period, from U.S. Presidents to the visionary UAW leader Walter Reuther, the founders of Intel, and Federal Reserve chairmen William McChesney Martin and Arthur Burns. Great Society casts new light on other figures too, from Ronald Reagan, then governor of California, to the socialist Michael Harrington and the protest movement leader Tom Hayden. Drawing on her classic economic expertise and deep historical knowledge, Shlaes upends the traditional narrative of the era, providing a damning indictment of the consequences of thoughtless idealism with striking relevance for today. Great Society captures a dramatic contest with lessons both dark and bright for our own time.

Comments

Anonymous says:

The “Great Society” and its roots in today’s issues This is a very important book by Amity Shlaes (“The Forgotten Man” a history of the Great Depression.) Ideas and concepts that are mainstream and sort of a “given” these days had their embryo stage in FDR’s “New Deal” but really were fully birthed in the 1960’s. I have the advantage of having lived through those times and seen the outcomes of these programs among people I knew and worked with and attended school with. This book goes over the roots of the Great Society, a plan to reduce rural…

Anonymous says:

A book both engaging and necessary Great book about the still much-heralded Great Society. This history of good intentions, government overreach, and terrible results offers lessons for both policy makers and voters today. This study reflects a commendably Burkean sensibility: prudent reform good; radical, officious transformation imposed by the Federal government problematic, leading to bad results that wiser and humbler leaders should have foreseen.

Anonymous says:

Waiting for part 2, Nixon/Ford to Reagan. I was really disappointed when it ended. For some reason I expected the book to continue at least to the election of Ronald Reagan. I was born in 1971, and this book gave me a new perspective of the world I grew up in as a child, and added to my perspective on Unions (which I generally feel do more harm than good – but that employees and employers should be free to chose how they want to deal with one another WITHOUT GOVERNMENT INVOLVEMENT/COERCION). I live in the State of Michigan, and many…

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