From the bestselling author of Nixonland: a dazzling portrait of America on the verge of a nervous breakdown in the tumultuous political and economic times of the 1970s.
In January of 1973 Richard Nixon announced the end of the Vietnam War and prepared for a triumphant second term - until televised Watergate hearings revealed his White House as little better than a mafia den. The next president declared upon Nixon’s resignation “our long national nightmare is over” - but then congressional investigators exposed the CIA for assassinating foreign leaders. The collapse of the South Vietnamese government rendered moot the sacrifice of some 58,000 American lives. The economy was in tatters. And as Americans began thinking about their nation in a new way - as one more nation among nations, no more providential than any other - the pundits declared that from now on successful politicians would be the ones who honored this chastened new national mood.
Ronald Reagan never got the message. Which was why, when he announced his intention to challenge President Ford for the 1976 Republican nomination, those same pundits dismissed him - until, amazingly, it started to look like he might just win. He was inventing the new conservative political culture we know now, in which a vision of patriotism rooted in a sense of American limits was derailed in America’s Bicentennial year by the rise of the smiling politician from Hollywood. Against a backdrop of melodramas from the Arab oil embargo to Patty Hearst to the near-bankruptcy of America’s greatest city, The Invisible Bridge asks the question: what does it mean to believe in America? To wave a flag - or to reject the glibness of the flag wavers?
©2014 Rick Perlstein (P)2014 Brilliance Audio, all rights reserved
Rick Perlstein is a brilliant writer and political analyst. His two previous books, one about the rise of Goldwater, the other about the rise of Nixon, were chock full of surprises: Perlstein is a master of the forgotten detail and the hidden pattern. In the third book, he presents the rise of Reagan against the backdrop of Nixon’s fall. Together the three books provide new insight into the growth of modern-day American conservatism.
One of the surprises in this book, for me, was Perlstein’s negative attitude toward Jimmy Carter. I have a higher opinion of Carter’s presidency than most people, and his actions after his presidency have only increased my opinion of him as a man. But in Perlstein’s view, virtually every action, every speech of Carter’s is tinged with hypocrisy and vindictiveness. It's a puzzling attitude on the part of an author with whom I seem to be in agreement on almost everything else.
The book ends with the 1976 Republican convention. And another surprise for me was how divided that convention was. Ford and Reagan arrived at the convention with neither having a clear majority of delegates. The horse-trading that gave the nomination to Ford also saddled him with the most conservative platform in American political history. This was the year the Republican Party and antiabortion activists became fellow travelers.
I lived through those times, and I've always thought of myself as a well-informed and moderately active political junkie. And yet I don't remember any of that. Perlstein turns it into a nail-biter.
David Devries is not nearly as good a reader as Perlstein is a writer. It took me a long time to get used to his pattern of pauses and emphases. I played a lot of the book at 1.25x and even 1.5x speeds (to tell the truth, I listen to most books at a minimum of 1.25x at this point); the faster speeds seemed to even out the rhythm of the narration. By the time I was about a fourth of the way through, I stopped noticing the narration and was able to immerse myself in the story. The one complaint I still had at the end of the book is a trivial one: Devries, like most audiobook narrators who tackle this period, repeatedly mispronounces Gordon Strachan's name. Maybe different branches of the family pronounce the name differently; but for this minor participant in the Watergate scandal, the last name rhymes with "brawn," not with "bacon."
Much of the book is given over to a biography of Ronald Reagan. I knew little about his past going in, and Perlstein’s account is by turns informative, caustic, and sympathetic. Reagan didn't have an easy time of it: he grew up in grinding poverty with an alcoholic father. He became a lifeguard; he went to a small Christian college; he acted in school plays. He became a sportscaster and later an actor in Hollywood. So far so good: the caustic part comes in when Perlstein notes the many contradictions and exaggerations in Reagan's account of his past. Many of Reagan’s stories about himself are not, Perlstein says, borne out by other accounts. Yet there was a sunniness about his disposition, a warmth of character, that left people wanting to believe everything he said.
If Nixon saw everything as a PR problem, Reagan saw everything as a fairy tale - and saw himself as the white knight riding to the rescue.
He turned his charm to political advantage, first in the actors' union, then in California politics. He became a staunch anti-communist early on, converted by a single meeting with FBI agents who gave him the "scoop" on his fellow union activists. (If that's all it took to convert him, he was probably more than halfway there already.)
Come 1976, many conservatives in the Republican Party were disenchanted with Ford’s (and Kissinger’s) realpolitik approach to foreign policy. They saw Reagan as Goldwater’s heir and pressured him to enter the race. When he did, all bets were suddenly off, and the convention in Detroit was one of the more rambunctious of modern times.
I've only scratched the surface of Perlstein’s comprehensive narrative. Among other things, he covers the Watergate hearings, the Nixon impeachment hearings, the sad tale of Patty Hearst, the return of Vietnam POWs, "peace with honor," the EPA, the Arab oil embargo, “Ford to NY: Drop Dead!”, and the race riots in South Boston. To read the book is to relive the period, with the benefit of a much greater historical context than was available at the time.
I hope he writes at least one more book on the topic. I would love to read his account of the Carter and Reagan presidencies.
I have a different take on this book than most of its readers because I'm of a later generation. Being born in 1976, I didn't live through any of these events. I grew up during the Reagan years, and have had to learn a little history to understand his appeal. While it's clear that Perlstein has a point of view, the narrative remains factual. In fact, as a relatively liberal reader, this book, as well as Nixonland, have done a great job of helping me understand the conservative concerns and motivations of the time. The portrayal of Reagan as "always aware of the gaze of others", as the eternal optimist, as a black and white thinker, and man who sees a "good vs evil" storyline in everything, does not come across to me as contemptuous. It actually does a lot to explain the appeal that he had at the time, and why he was such a polarizing figure. This book also helped me understand the decision by the Republican Party to abandon moderate positions that placate liberals and moderates, in favor of gaining the strong recognizable party identity that has served them fairly well ever since. Any book of this sort will have some bias in what information is included and excluded. The fact that Perlstein writes in a manner that makes his own point of view obvious makes his book honest and forthright, not biased or misleading. Perlstein doesn't shy away from including plenty of unflattering facts about the liberals of the time, either.
The narrator's voice is not my favorite, but I got used to it. He's clearly a trained professional, and he presented the material admirably.
The writing is engaging, and the details he chooses to include really paint a vivid picture that made me feel like I was living through the time period. This is probably the book's greatest strength. Still, I do agree with those who have said that the book is too long. While Nixonland was as gripping as a roller coaster ride from beginning to end, there are stretches where this book drags a bit. Perhaps the minute procedural details of the politics of the day are more interesting to those who lived through the time period than they were to me.
If I were to recommend one of Perlstein's books, it would certainly be Nixonland, but if you liked that one, The Invisible Bridge will be almost equally enjoyable.
Letting the rest of the world go by
The author starts his story with the return of the POWs from Vietnam and ends it with the nomination of Gerald Ford at the Republican Convention. As we're living life and experiencing it as it's happening we don't have the time to put the events into proper context and give it a narrative to tie the pieces together. This is were the author excels. He gives the listener the context and a narrative to tie the story together in a coherent way and enables the listener to understand what was really going on in a big picture kind of way.
The author is expert at not missing any detail or major pop cultural event and weaving it into his framework. "Happy Days", "The Exorcist", "Nashville" the movie, as well as "Convey" the song are all tied into his story and almost any other event those of us who lived through this time period might remember. Often, as we were living the events during the time period, only part of the story was fully told (e.g. "The Mayaguez" ship, Richard Welch, CIA agent killed, Patty Hearst, and so on) and the author gives us "the rest of the story" as Paul Harvey would say and does in the book. The author doesn't miss a story that shaped who we are and how they lead to the rise of Reagan.
Reagan's worldview and how the world was changing is at the heart of the book. The author is always aware of his narrative that Reagan is always optimistic, believes if America has done it, by definition it can't be wrong, and "God put America here because we are exceptional", seeing the world in two parts: good and evil, and so on. This is why the book works so well. Every event is seen through the central narrative on how Reagan sees the world.
I loved relearning these events and putting them into their proper historical context after all of these years and with the perspective of history and hindsight.
The Invisible Bridge is an awesome accomplishment. It is the latest installment of what is shaping up to be a modern masterpiece from Rick Perlstein. The book covers the prior between 1972-1976. It's greatest strength is the way that it recounts an enthrawling political narrative by placing it squarely within the context of the larger social and historical forces buffeting the nation in the mid 1970s.
In its way, Invisible Bridge ranks with Robert Caro's epic LBJ epic series and Morris's TR trilogy as the best American history I've listened to on audible.
The chapters dealing with watergate and Nixon's final year were excellent and could be a book unto themselves. But if the contest between Reagan and Ford is really at the heart of this book, these were some of its highlights:
1. The mini biography of Reagan is outstanding.
2. The author's treatment of the U.S. bicentennial
3: Ford to City: Drop Dead
4. The authors investigation of the early 1970s battles over school textbooks.
5. The authors treatment of the 1976 GOP convention
The book often made me chuckle. I was listening to it I was walking around with a grin. This author has a good sense of humor and a knack for deploying anecdotes, to reveal basic truths about the characters, and to tie the book's broader themes together.
The book is not politically biased. It has no contemporary political agenda.
I'm just a dumb troglodyte who like reading. Me feel good after I read book.
The Invisible Bridge (IB) describes the cultural, economic, political, domestic, and social conditions that set the occasion for the "Reagan Revolution" or political realignment of the U.S. in favor of conservatism. Rick Perlstein starts “IB” with a detailed analysis of the Nixon administration’s break-in at the Watergate hotel in September 1971. Perlstein reminds the reader that Nixon had other problems brewing in 1971: Bombing of Cambodia, attempting to withdraw from Vietnam without the appearance of losing the war, POWs, and student demonstrations. Overall, the consecutive Presidency’s of Johnson /Nixon permanently changed the American people’s perception of the executive office. The office that was once revered and respected was now seen as corrupt and implacably tarnished.
Reagan’s story and ascendance is always lurking as the backdrop to the scandalous events ranging from Vietnam to Jimmy Carter. Perlstein gives the reader a good biography of Reagan’s development and history, but this is not comprehensive. The emphasis of IB is a microanalysis of political and cultural events that affected Americans between 1971 and 1976. I must admit, I had forgotten how turbulent and chaotic these years were in American history; especially the high degree of domestic terrorism.
IB is not a love letter to Republicans, Democrats, or Reaganites. Perlstein appears to treat all of the players between 1971 and 1976 with equal contempt and cynicism. If you interested in learning about a fairly turbulent time in the United States that set the occasion for a conservative agenda, IB is a winner. If you are a fan of Rush Limbaugh looking to re-affirm your existing worship of the 40th President, look elsewhere.
One of the problems with a book like this is that your opinion of the book will likely depend on your politics. Yes, the book is critical of Reagan, seeing him in some simple and unflattering terms. I found it an interesting way to frame his words and deeds during his political career. I had interesting memories from my own youth of that difficult time of Watergate, the Church Commission, et al.. The author does an interesting job trying to capture the milieu of the times including references to the popular movies of the time. Ronald Reagan was one to tell an inspiring story. The times were bleak. All you have to do is to think of Stagflation, and the helicopter lifting off the last Americans from Saigon. I will say that Reagan did reinvigorate pride in America. I think what the book may question is whether that represented either what America is or has ever been. Certainly looking beyond this book, a legitimate question is whether that pride is even universally held? Does the very "My country right or wrong" actually cause embarrassment among the thinking Liberals? Very interesting and very engaging. I'm glad to have read this book.
Perlstein is unparalleled in his ability to bring context to historical events. A lot of times history is from 30,000 feet. Not here. You feel like you are sitting in the room as Nixon is contemplating resignation, as Carter's peanuts are huffing it around New Hampshire. I really like this style. My criticism has to do with the decision to include what turns out to be a mini-pre-political life biography of Ronald Reagan with strains of psycho-analysis along the lines of "you can see why he is the way he was as a politician by looking at his childhood." I don't buy it and for me it takes away from the underlying story -- the rise of the Reagan star (and the decline of Nixon). So, if you get this and start to get discouraged by the Reagan flashbacks, DON'T STOP LISTENING! They will end and the rest of the story is really engrossing.
I was hoping for more of a "why" book but Perlatein instead focuses on the endless play-by-play of elections, speeches, quotes for newspaper headlines, etc. still a good read but it would be better at 2/3rds the length.
There were times when this book felt long-winded, but overall a great title for an audiobook.
I thought the political treatment was fair and balanced and not leaning left like so many others have said. With the way he portrays Jimmy Carter I don't see how he was left-leaning! I'd recommend this book to a history buff like me, especially if you're interested in the mid-70s and the "Reagan Revolution".
Narrator was awesome and now I'm waiting for the sequel!
The story is presented in a way that is never dull and yet you feel like you learn so much.
I can't pick out one moment. I feel like I have lived the 70s as an adult (I was a child). I'm inspired to learn more.
Of course, it's like "history teaches us that history teaches us nothing". Or "history teaches some of us (let's hope) that history teach us nothing".
He sucks you in with his style. It could be so boring. Although to be fair to Rick Perlstein, the continual interest is mostly generated by the flow of the book.
I hope Audible.com makes other books by the author available. I will snap them up.
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