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Publisher's Summary

The New York Times best-selling 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 US 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.

Supplemental enhancement PDF accompanies the audiobook.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying PDF will be available in your Audible Library along with the audio.

©2019 Amity Shlaes (P)2019 HarperAudio

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How have we forgotten how bad these ideas were?

It was incredible to read this book while at the same time following the 2020 Democratic primaries. All of these Bernie Bros and Warren Backers should be forced to read Amity Shlaes meticulously laid out indictment of the government interventions these bearded hipsters and bubble headed freshman legislators demand. The policies they espouse, though admittedly coming from the best of intentions, have for decades damned the very people that they were intended to save. Ms. Shlaes lays out a powerful case that the devastation experienced in particular by African American communities, up through the present day, in cities like Detroit, St. Louis, and Baltimore is the unintended and perverse fruit of The Great Society, a tragic combination of arrogance married to a willful ignorance of human nature. Noone at the time seemed capable of recognizing the obvious: the unprecedented prosperity of the 1960's, so rapaciously exploited by politicians and Big Labor, was an ephemeral "bonanza" which only existed because the US essentially had an industrial monopoly for the 20 years after WWII. Instead of leaning into the competition of a resurgent Europe and Asia, our leaders instead told us that we could have it all, forever and ever. This mindset, and the deficits these lies are based on, are eventually going to crush this country.

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Very well researched and logically presented.

Having come of age during many of the events covered, I had rather skeptical expectations of this book. I was very pleasantly surprised that the book is well researched, logically and objectively presented with sophisticated coverage of individuals and events during a very interesting time in our culture’s recent history. To anyone who enjoys a thoughtful and thorough exposé, I would highly recommend this book.

6 people found this helpful

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great recap of that events and errors of that era.

Author provides an insight behind the curtain for what happened. Similar to today's political events. We can consider it a look to the future, if we continue to disregard the lessons even recent history offers us

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Another outstanding book by Amity Shlaes!

Amity Shlaes has written another splendid book. I have read other books of hers, including COOLIDGE and THE FORGOTTEN MAN, which were both superb. This one covers the period from the late 1950s to the early 1970s. She brilliantly chronicles how The Great Society, as promulgated by LBJ, achieved exceedingly few of its goals. The Democrats were happy to pass the legislation that started the US down the path towards socialism. The billions of dollars wasted on programs which were nothing but boondoggles was staggering. In effect, President Lyndon B. Johnson was trying to outshine his hero FDR! Alas, we are still feeling the fiscal effects of this "master" politician. It is so refreshing to encounter a book which has the ring of truth to it. I hardily commend all three books to anyone who wants a factual history of the 1930s-1970s. I am already anticipating her next book! Amity Shlaes is a brilliant researcher and wonderful writer. The reader is excellent.

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Well worth reading

Compliments the Forgotten Man. Helps explains the failure of the Great Society. Describes the context and origins of the Great Society.

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Excellent!

I lived through those years and though I thought I knew it, I learned a lot. I remember being perplexed when Nixon levied price controls. I was in high school and college during the LBJ years and did not know all the shenanigans going on then. Great book. I recommend it.

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A fitting follow-up to “The Forgotten Man”

Ms. Shlaes strips the Great Society of its unearned nostalgia and sentimentality, showing its architects to be as arrogant and selfishly ambitious as they were aspirational. They played SimCity with actual cities with devastating results. Their efforts to end destitution only created dependency. Their hubris invited nemesis, and Shlaes ably chronicles this modern American tragedy.

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so much great detailed history

I loved it. I think this book gave me so much insight to the historical political workings through Kennedy, LBJ and Nixon.

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Essential reading!!

This book should be essential reading for schools. It begins in the 1950’s where her previous book, “The Forgotten Man” left off and goes to the early 1970’s. Hopefully there is a 3rd book continuing from there. This fills in the blanks on so many historical questions I’ve had and puts context on why so many decisions were made. The overall presentation and recording were excellent as well. I highly recommend this book.

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Another home run

Shlaes crushed it in The Forgotten Man and destroys it in Great Society. Nothing better than a history time based on *reporting facts* and not *creating a narrative* based on the facts. Has all the details from multiple sources and quotes without the au courant media-style dog and monkey rodeo which characterizes modern "history" books. Shlaes does not pontificate or spin doctor the *facts*. The reader/listener gets the info and gets to make any decision without the author inserting herself into the timeline. She profiles presidents without the hagiography associated with an agenda. You get it all the cupcakes and unicorns of triumph with the herpes of failure based on the record. Àll the presidents presented begin as all politicians based on their altruism but then you get the dark sides of the haughty patrician Kennedy, the knuckle-draggging schoolyard bully LBJ and the insecure backstabber Nixon. Do NOT miss this book in your queue.