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When—and how—did America become so polarized? In this masterful history, leading historians Kevin M. Kruse and Julian E. Zelizer uncover the origins of our current moment. It all starts in 1974 with the Watergate crisis, the OPEC oil embargo, desegregation busing riots in Boston, and the wind-down of the Vietnam War. What follows is the story of our own lifetimes. It is th When—and how—did America become so polarized? In this masterful history, leading historians Kevin M. Kruse and Julian E. Zelizer uncover the origins of our current moment. It all starts in 1974 with the Watergate crisis, the OPEC oil embargo, desegregation busing riots in Boston, and the wind-down of the Vietnam War. What follows is the story of our own lifetimes. It is the story of ever-widening historical fault lines over economic inequality, race, gender, and sexual norms firing up a polarized political landscape. It is also the story of profound transformations of the media and our political system fueling the fire. Kruse and Zelizer’s Fault Lines is a master class in national divisions nearly five decades in the making.


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When—and how—did America become so polarized? In this masterful history, leading historians Kevin M. Kruse and Julian E. Zelizer uncover the origins of our current moment. It all starts in 1974 with the Watergate crisis, the OPEC oil embargo, desegregation busing riots in Boston, and the wind-down of the Vietnam War. What follows is the story of our own lifetimes. It is th When—and how—did America become so polarized? In this masterful history, leading historians Kevin M. Kruse and Julian E. Zelizer uncover the origins of our current moment. It all starts in 1974 with the Watergate crisis, the OPEC oil embargo, desegregation busing riots in Boston, and the wind-down of the Vietnam War. What follows is the story of our own lifetimes. It is the story of ever-widening historical fault lines over economic inequality, race, gender, and sexual norms firing up a polarized political landscape. It is also the story of profound transformations of the media and our political system fueling the fire. Kruse and Zelizer’s Fault Lines is a master class in national divisions nearly five decades in the making.

30 review for Fault Lines: A History of the United States Since 1974

  1. 5 out of 5

    Mehrsa

    The book is great, but it's pretty elementary. Maybe good for high schoolers or a college course. The book is a catalogue of big events that happened in the political space and cultural fights etc. If you read a lot of history books, there is nothing in here that is new. It's a good summary of the last 40 years though so it's good for many audiences to have it in once place like this

  2. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    June 17, 1972. It was the day of my marriage. By our first anniversary, the date had another meaning: the date of the Watergate break-in. As a girl, I had seen America come together with the assassination of President Kennedy and divide over the war in Viet Nam. The sounds of my teenage years were the chants of "Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today," and the music of Woodstock. I finished my education, worked, had a child, sent him to college, saw him settle in work and a house, and ret June 17, 1972. It was the day of my marriage. By our first anniversary, the date had another meaning: the date of the Watergate break-in. As a girl, I had seen America come together with the assassination of President Kennedy and divide over the war in Viet Nam. The sounds of my teenage years were the chants of "Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today," and the music of Woodstock. I finished my education, worked, had a child, sent him to college, saw him settle in work and a house, and retired against the backdrop of a further dividing America. Fault Lines condenses history into paragraphs, each event eliciting a memory. I remembered it all. And the more I read the angrier I became. In under 400 pages, Kevin M. Kruse and Justin E. Zelizer have compacted American political, social, and media history into a readable narrative. Movements arose demanding equal rights while counter-movements strove to maintain the status quo--the authority of white males. The conflict has not resolved to a Hegelian shift to the center though, just a rising antagonism and deepening divide. They describe how cultural shifts and disturbances impacted film and television and how the rise of the Internet and cable news shattered the common ground of national news. For me, it was a condensation of memories. I had to wonder how a younger reader would respond. The authors are historians and Princeton University professors. They have taught this history to students. This is a history book and not an offering of solutions; there are plenty of current books that address where to go from here. The authors state that the challenge is to "harness the intense energy that now drives us apart and channel it once again toward creating new and stronger bridges that can bring us together." But so far, those leaders who endeavored to bridge the gap and pledge bipartisanship failed. There is no indication that the old fashioned values cherished in the past--working together for the common good, obeying the rule of law and custom, communicating, finding common ground--are reemerging. Instead, political leaders are ignoring the will of the majority, engineering ways to disenfranchise groups, with special interest group money buying political clout. We are told that by knowing the past we can plan for the future, understanding our errors we can proactively prevent the repetition of those errors. I know that America has gone astray many times in our brief history, and the countering movements arighted our ship of state. It is my 'glass half full' hope. I received an ARC from the publisher. My review is fair and unbiased.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Bryan Alkire

    Mediocre history. It was disappointing. The idea was sound, but the authors never really get into detail. The organization is really two books, a lightweight political history and chapters of cultural history, which actually do a better job of showing the American divide. The writing is not very exciting and the authors’ political bias seeps through. The content is narrative with little analysis. It never really answers why, just shows the divide. I’m probably being overly harsh, but I don’t bel Mediocre history. It was disappointing. The idea was sound, but the authors never really get into detail. The organization is really two books, a lightweight political history and chapters of cultural history, which actually do a better job of showing the American divide. The writing is not very exciting and the authors’ political bias seeps through. The content is narrative with little analysis. It never really answers why, just shows the divide. I’m probably being overly harsh, but I don’t believe history can be written about any time after about 25 years. There’s just not enough time to let events soak in and for the ripples to be visible. So, I’m skeptical of any history written about events which take place say after 1995. I think this book could have been much better. So, I give this book a 2. It was a good idea and there are flashes of insight, but otherwise, is too lightweight and lacks analysis of the divide in America.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin

    It feels weird putting the last 45 years into an attempted bird's eye objective view of what is happening in US history. Everything thing is too close in time. Everything touched on has some salience to where the reader stands politically. The author's try to be neutral but there is no neutral now that is something for the age of three channels and Huntley/Brinkley and Cronkite. The author notes this development of polarization in politics and media but tries to stay above and in my opinion, is It feels weird putting the last 45 years into an attempted bird's eye objective view of what is happening in US history. Everything thing is too close in time. Everything touched on has some salience to where the reader stands politically. The author's try to be neutral but there is no neutral now that is something for the age of three channels and Huntley/Brinkley and Cronkite. The author notes this development of polarization in politics and media but tries to stay above and in my opinion, is too evenhanded in observations of polarization. Polarization has happened right and left but much more polarization has occurred on the right by far. In addition to the polarization one side, the center-left and left have been more faithful to journalistic integrity by far than the right. Still, as a narrative trying to take a sweeping overview of the past four and a half decades, it does pose the right questions and notes the right landmarks on how we got to this phase. It also gives an idea of where it is probably going which is not likely a good place.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Tory Cross

    First, this book was EXTREMELY readable. It was clearly written to be read not just by academics, but by the general population trying to get an understanding of our political reality. Secondly, I learned a lot that I didn’t know! I gained a much deeper understanding of things I had never understood - the dot com boom, how fucking close popular votes are but there’s wild havoc in the electoral college, the large large impact of the formation of different media companies. Because this was sort of First, this book was EXTREMELY readable. It was clearly written to be read not just by academics, but by the general population trying to get an understanding of our political reality. Secondly, I learned a lot that I didn’t know! I gained a much deeper understanding of things I had never understood - the dot com boom, how fucking close popular votes are but there’s wild havoc in the electoral college, the large large impact of the formation of different media companies. Because this was sort of bare bones (in order for it to not be 6 million pages long presumably), on topics that I personally know a lot about I found it really lacking, but I imagine anyone would feel that way, since all topics got a few brief pages, given the pure amount of content it needed to cover. As the authors said, they modeled the book off of their undergraduate course on history of American since 1974, and it shows. It feels very much like it’s written in the model of a medium-level undergraduate history course - aka giving enough bones to make the argument while also possibly sparking interest in specific events or time periods without getting too deep into the information themselves. It felt like a jumping off board so that people got enough information to not have gaping holes, but could decide they wanted to go into history 300 or 400 classes that were more pointed and had tighter focus. It is interesting that they decided to start with 1974, and I agree that there was a particular level of political discord started then. However, I am surprised they didn’t address that the same level or greater happened prior to WWI, and that the WWI through 1960 was an anomaly in American history. It also is SUPER white and cis and het and male to talk about the time before 1974 as some sort of great American cohesion - it is true that there was cohesion in a lot of ways, including because the wealth disparities weren’t as large. It also is true that communities that were Othered were fighting hard as hell to survive at all, especially to survive on our own terms during the War and Post-War-but-pre-1974 time frame, especially when you look at everything happening with the Civil Rights movement and the fact that a president, a presidential candidate, and Dr. King were all murdered shortly before the beginning of this book. I know that their primary thesis is that the true political polarization all was really sparked in 1974, but their argument and evidence for that is not robust enough to “prove” their point. Especially since it seems to sort of just… pretend that the 1950s and 1960s didn’t really happen? Which is perplexing. Even if what they mean is that in the federal government political polarization didn’t become so large until that point, like… George Wallace? Barry Goldwater? Their final paragraph is, “The question that the United States of America now faces as a divided country is whether we can harness the intense energy that now drives us apart and channel it once again toward creating new and stronger bridges that can bring us closer together. Whether the fault lines of the past four decades will continue to fracture, or whether these rifts will finally start to heal, is a chapter yet to come.” I think this is… it really exemplifies where the priorities lie to them. Their priorities seem to lie far more in finding cohesion and cooperation than it does with moving forward for the most marginalized of us, and that’s where it really doesn’t sit quite right with me. I know their personal work fairly well, and both of them DO care a lot about marginalized populations, so this conclusion and finale don’t seem to fit and are disconcerting. It seems not to acknowledge that there is no finding agreement with people who want us dead, people who want to debate whether we exist at all, people who would commit violence against us. We will not go back and we will not go silently and there is not an adequate acknowledgement of that. Overall I am glad that I read it, and there are people who I would suggest read it, but I did not love it and I was definitely not convinced of their thesis that 1974 was a large starting point.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Brant

    Kruse is my favorite follow on Twitter; in addition to his full-time gig as a history professor at Princeton, he finds time to call out politicians and pundits for their misrepresentations of the past with unmatched wit, humor, and, oh yeah, primary sources. For a child of the 1980s, I (and I assume this is true for many of my peers) know very little about the happenings of my decade and the one that preceded it. The 70s and 80s were too recent for my high school history teachers to include in th Kruse is my favorite follow on Twitter; in addition to his full-time gig as a history professor at Princeton, he finds time to call out politicians and pundits for their misrepresentations of the past with unmatched wit, humor, and, oh yeah, primary sources. For a child of the 1980s, I (and I assume this is true for many of my peers) know very little about the happenings of my decade and the one that preceded it. The 70s and 80s were too recent for my high school history teachers to include in their U.S. history survey classes. I remember running out of time to cover it in detail during my university classes too. This book helped connect the dots as it traced the movement of social and political "fault lines" in the American experiment. The book is smart but accessible. The authors move quickly from event to event--but there is far too much personality and wit to be labeled a textbook.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Tony Heyl

    Kevin Kruse is a historian famous for dunking on Dinish D'Souza on Twitter, which is like being a basketball player being known for dunking on third graders. So while I was kinda meh on his other recent book, I was interested in this because it's received some good attention, has a co-author, and it just happened to be a new release at my library. The premise of the book is that American politics and society has fractured and that significant fault lines have exacerbated the problems since Waterg Kevin Kruse is a historian famous for dunking on Dinish D'Souza on Twitter, which is like being a basketball player being known for dunking on third graders. So while I was kinda meh on his other recent book, I was interested in this because it's received some good attention, has a co-author, and it just happened to be a new release at my library. The premise of the book is that American politics and society has fractured and that significant fault lines have exacerbated the problems since Watergate. The authors point to issues of distrust in government, racial and gender injustice, changes in media, and economic problems and inequality, all fine reasons. The first few pages are about these general issues in the 1970s. Then the book just feels like a rundown of things that happened from Reagan until today. So it starts with some analysis and synopsis, but then most of it is just..... stuff. There's some good conclusions that you can make if you want, but the book itself doesn't make any of those conclusions. It either doesn't mention or glosses over things like the rise of Facebook and Twitter, the OJ trial, the Ned Lamont/Joe Lieberman primary, Scalia's death, birtherism, the Obama/Clinton primary and many other issues. It talks about race early, and then really not again until the end. Trump isn't mentioned at all until the last section instead of weaving him in earlier. It talks about rising income inequality a bit, but then that just drops. There's highlights of the hardening of the Religions Right, but barely any examination of why they've grown or changed. This is an easy read and I'm sure anyone will remember a lot of what is in the book, but there's so much missing, from polling trends on issues, stats on demographic moves, TV ratings changes, and more. It's safe in that it doesn't actually tell anything.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    I'm sorry to say I was a little lukewarm on this book. It's a fine overview and it's written clearly, which would make it a good book to teach from, but I was really struck by how closely the first 100 pages resemble Bruce Schulman's The Seventies, and the 1980s and 1990s parts are very similar to Gil Troy's "Morning in America" and "The Age of Clinton," as well as the CNN decade documentaries. It's not plagiarism, exactly, but it doesn't offer a new perspective and it actually felt a little too I'm sorry to say I was a little lukewarm on this book. It's a fine overview and it's written clearly, which would make it a good book to teach from, but I was really struck by how closely the first 100 pages resemble Bruce Schulman's The Seventies, and the 1980s and 1990s parts are very similar to Gil Troy's "Morning in America" and "The Age of Clinton," as well as the CNN decade documentaries. It's not plagiarism, exactly, but it doesn't offer a new perspective and it actually felt a little too broad on the fault lines we're dealing with--it's focused on Democrats vs. Republicans, but there are other fault lines (populist vs. centrist, isolationist vs. internationalist, urban vs. rural) that are not really discussed in depth here.

  9. 4 out of 5

    CoachJim

    Fault Liners: A History of the United States Since 1974 by Kevin M. Kruse and Julian E. Zelizer The authors begin by outlining the divisions in the country mentioned by President Obama in his farewell address in January of 2017. To the divisions of economic, racial, and political the authors add the division in gender and sexuality. These become the Fault Lines of the Title. The authors then follow these Fault Lines through the decades from Nixon’s resignation to the 2016 election. Anyone paying at Fault Liners: A History of the United States Since 1974 by Kevin M. Kruse and Julian E. Zelizer The authors begin by outlining the divisions in the country mentioned by President Obama in his farewell address in January of 2017. To the divisions of economic, racial, and political the authors add the division in gender and sexuality. These become the Fault Lines of the Title. The authors then follow these Fault Lines through the decades from Nixon’s resignation to the 2016 election. Anyone paying attention to the Democratic campaigns right now is aware of the increasing economic inequality. The authors mention that early on in this period of history the ratio of the highest paid employee and the lowest paid employee of a company was in some reasonable range, but following the supply side economics of the Reagan era this ratio started to skew towards the rich. It has only gotten worse lately. Regarding the racial divisions the authors mention: “The Fault lines in race relations, long submerged by the fiction that America had become a ‘postracial nation’ after the accomplishments of the civil rights era and, more recently, the election of the first black president, burst back into public view.” (page 320) As an acquaintance recently said why are we even still talking about race. But the most important discussion for me was the issue of partisan polarization that was at the heart of the 2016 election. My political bias is apparent here but it is hard to not lay this issue at the feet of the Republican party. There are several examples following the election of President Obama. In early January of 2009 the House Republicans met to discuss their agenda which became “The purpose of the Minority is to become the Majority.” The Senate Republicans followed the same pattern. A Republican Senator from Ohio stated “the plan was simple — whatever Obama proposed, they would oppose: ‘If he was for it, we had to be against it’.” (page 298) The most stunning example was Kentucky Minority Leader “Moscow” Mitch McConnell who said “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” These were the goals of elected representatives sent to Washington to govern, but while the country was undergoing a financial meltdown and the new President was making efforts to usher in a “postpartisan era”, the Republicans were only interested in gaining power, not in what might be good for the country. I found this book to be an excellent history. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in reading about this period. Instead of giving a minute by minute description of events it mentions the event and then analyzes the consequences. The attacks on 9/11 are described in one paragraph and the transformation of our political and social life are described at length. (pages 249-254). There was some discomfort in reading this book. I became eligible to vote in the 1968 presidential election. There have been 13 presidential election in my voting life and there is only 1 president out of the 8 we have elected that makes me proud. That is a dismal record for my generation. That is a criticism of the period of history not of the book. As I stated above my generation has a dismal record. The current “OK Boomer” phrase seems appropriate now. I believe I will follow the advice of Abigal Disney who recently gave this advice to Baby Boomers: “Sit The F**k Down And Let The Kids Drive.”

  10. 4 out of 5

    David

    2.5 stars. A perfectly okay book but largely forgettable. So forgettable I forgot to add it to my list of books. It took me about a week to read it. Fault Lines was written by academics and it reads as such. I generally prefer the works of historians or journalists and books like this are the reason why. The passages were overly long and not particularly engaging. (My tastes are pretty ordinary.) I did enjoy certain portions (see highlights), particularly the more recent historical sections. At fir 2.5 stars. A perfectly okay book but largely forgettable. So forgettable I forgot to add it to my list of books. It took me about a week to read it. Fault Lines was written by academics and it reads as such. I generally prefer the works of historians or journalists and books like this are the reason why. The passages were overly long and not particularly engaging. (My tastes are pretty ordinary.) I did enjoy certain portions (see highlights), particularly the more recent historical sections. At first I thought the book would overlap significantly with Tailspin (by Steven Brill); both books talk about the decline of America from the past several decades to the present. Some points were the same but there were surprisingly few repeats. I guess that shows there are countless reasons why America is decaying and the analysis is more subjective than objective. Given a choice between the books Brill's is the the better selection. He's guilty of analyzing down to the subatomic level but he provides better insights and writes fascinating passages when he's not meandering in the analytical weeds.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Sanjida

    I really liked Kruse's other books and his Twitter persona, and I was looking forward to this book and feel let down. It is a useful jaunt down memory lane (remember music on MTV? Remember Bush v Gore? Remember Katrina?) but seemed to only touch the surface of these events, devoting only a page to subjects that should be whole books or at least chapters. I wanted deeper analysis and a clear throughline. Rather than track the increasing polarization of America, the main message I got here was tha I really liked Kruse's other books and his Twitter persona, and I was looking forward to this book and feel let down. It is a useful jaunt down memory lane (remember music on MTV? Remember Bush v Gore? Remember Katrina?) but seemed to only touch the surface of these events, devoting only a page to subjects that should be whole books or at least chapters. I wanted deeper analysis and a clear throughline. Rather than track the increasing polarization of America, the main message I got here was that America has always felt like it was in crisis, our presidents for decades have always been bigoted and corrupt (Iran-Contra is worse than anything Trump has done, yet) and every election is the most important one yet. Perhaps this is what the authors intended. Maybe I'll have to wait for Ezra Klein's book to get deeper analysis and evaluation. Maybe I'll need to read Perlstein's the Invisible Bridge for more details.

  12. 4 out of 5

    James Lurie

    It feels weird to read a history book and to remember everything that it described. Quoting T.S.E., "I grow old..." Good summary of the events which led to the development of the fault lines which cleave the American public today. However, I had hoped for something more analytic and a theory of both proximate cause, if such a thing exists, and some suggestion as to what can be done to close the gap. Could be that the author has no more acceptable and practical suggestions than I do!

  13. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    There's nothing new here for anyone who could read in 1974. This is essentially "history lite" with an emphasis on social problems -- abortion, crime, racism, etc. If the author(s) set out to define the root cause of the blue/red divide (rather than just enumerate the symptoms), then they failed miserably.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Erik Davis

    Trump: Revolution or Evolution? How did we come to this? How did the United States fall into such a state of division and discord? While some observers try to pinpoint “the” single source of division in America today, we find that there were multiple forces transforming the nation in these decades. That is the story of this book. To say that the 2016 American presidential election was an upset in some circles would be a vast understatement. Leading up to the election, Donald Trump, a political o Trump: Revolution or Evolution? How did we come to this? How did the United States fall into such a state of division and discord? While some observers try to pinpoint “the” single source of division in America today, we find that there were multiple forces transforming the nation in these decades. That is the story of this book. To say that the 2016 American presidential election was an upset in some circles would be a vast understatement. Leading up to the election, Donald Trump, a political outsider who was perhaps best known for his reality TV show, brazenly abandoned the usual norms of respectable campaigning, resorting instead to particularly crass showmanship, bullying, and ultimately, raw power politics. Still, Hillary Clinton was the respectable candidate, and favored in the polls leading up to the election. However, as the results rolled in, liberals and many mainstream conservatives found themselves shocked by the new reality: Donald Trump would be the 45th President of the United states. Kruse and Zelizer's book, published in early 2019, attempts to make sense of Trump's election, and the broader landscape of the "culture war", by considering how we, the American people, got to this place. Reeling from the initial impact of the election, many Americans felt as if they had entered into a fundamentally new sort of America. However, argue Kruse and Zelizer, far from being an anomaly, Trump's rise can be viewed as the most recent development of a longstanding set of political crises and disagreements, which manifested themselves clearly in the early 1970s and which have dominated American politics in some form or fashion ever since. These crises are as follows (in no particular order). First, there was a loss of American political legitimacy, with the failures of the Vietnam war and the developments of the Watergate scandal. Second, the American working class began to suffer from a suite of economic challenges, including stagflation and a painful transition away from manufacturing and towards IT and service jobs. Third, the civil rights movement, coming off of the progress of the 1960s, reached a plateau of sorts, in which the aspirations of integration were left unfulfilled. Fourth, divisions over gender and sexuality heightened, with, for example, debates around abortion becoming increasingly polarized. This is the primary analytical framework of the book. After presenting these four basic issues in American politics, Kruse and Zelizer proceed chronologically, with the time from Watergate to present day divided into chapters which correspond roughly 1-1 with presidential terms. For someone who lived through these presidencies as an observant adult, there is probably not much to learn here. I found the discussion generally useful, as I was not alive during the time of Carter or (much of) Reagan, and had only a very limited secondhand understanding of the policies of Bush and Clinton. Particular attention is paid to the development of an alliance between the evangelical religious right, which had adopted the abortion issue as something of a focal point, and the "new right" neoconservatives, which hoped to dial back New Deal programs at home and to return to a more hawkish realpolitik abroad. These two groups united in the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan. However, their grandest ambitions would not be realized, as Reagan was unable to push forward the substantial changes which the "new right" hoped to see (e.g., a privatized social security), and likewise reneged on some of the implicit promises to the religious right. Kruse and Zelizer pay particular attention to developments in American political media. In brief, there have been several revolutions in how Americans interact with "the news", including the transition from network television to cable television, the rise of right-wing talk radio, and the invention of the internet, blogs, and social media. Kruse and Zelizer argue (although today this is also the conventional wisdom) that this has enabled a certain radicalism of subpopulations, and that this has also driven a shift in political norms. In the early 1970s, there was essentially a monopoly on broadcast television, with three networks (ABC, CBS, NBC) dominating. Due to their monopoly status, these networks were required (by the Federal Communications Commission) to abide by a certain "fairness doctrine", which stipulated that when presenting controversial issues of public importance, networks were required to present the issues in an honest, equitable, and balanced manner. This policy was eliminated in the 1980s, after the meteoric rise of cable television effectively broke the network monopoly. Under the big three networks, evening news might occupy a 30 minute time slot. With cable, one could have a channel like CNN dedicated completely to "breaking news" (and similarly, another channel dedicated to sports). Perhaps these new outlets carried with them some of the norms of discourse inherited from the networks, but eventually it became clear that it was commercially viable to specialize further, with the classic example of Fox News targeting an American conservative audience. Today, political outlets are specialized even further. The authors call attention to the alt-right news website Breitbart, which was popular amongst a certain contingency of Trump voters. Even more extreme is the possibility of "personalized" news, which is based on a broad mesh of consumer tracking and driven by the commercial imperative to drive "user engagement", and delivered seamlessly via opaque mechanisms such as feed curation on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Unfortunately the authors do not have much to say on this development. On the whole, this is a very interesting book, and I would recommend it to anyone who wishes to familiarize themselves with the broad strokes of the past 40 years of American politics. However, let us return to the grand questions raised in the preface. Or to put it more pointedly, how can one explain Trump's election? In the final analysis, Kruse and Zelinzer's answer to "the Trump question", in the form of an extended chronology interspersed with occasional pop-culture vignettes, feels inadequate to the task. Here one cannot help but notice parallel crises across other Western countries, which seem in some regards alien and in others quite familiar (particularly the resurgence of right-wing nationalism across continental Europe and the UK). How will historians of the future understand our present? As ever, for the answer one must wait.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jean-Marie

    Dear U.S. GenXers: This is our historical timeline. Starting with the events around Richard Nixon and Watergate, Kruse and Zelizer outline how the modern U.S. became so politically divided. I'm a lifelong Floridian, so I wasn't surprised to see my state get a fair amount of print time. Some things I had completely forgotten about - Southern Baptist and Florida Citrus Commission spokesperson Anita Bryant launching her horrible anti-LGBTQ campaign in Dade County in the late 70s. Some things I wish Dear U.S. GenXers: This is our historical timeline. Starting with the events around Richard Nixon and Watergate, Kruse and Zelizer outline how the modern U.S. became so politically divided. I'm a lifelong Floridian, so I wasn't surprised to see my state get a fair amount of print time. Some things I had completely forgotten about - Southern Baptist and Florida Citrus Commission spokesperson Anita Bryant launching her horrible anti-LGBTQ campaign in Dade County in the late 70s. Some things I wish I had forgotten about - the 2000 election with the butterfly ballots and hanging chads. Some things we will never forget about - Trayvon Martin and Parkland. Fault Lines is an easy read that does an excellent job highlighting some of the specific historical events that have played a large part in deepening the left-right political rift. Spoiler alert: the media and religion play leading roles in the divide. I think my fellow GenXers will enjoy this historical walk down memory lane.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Rhodes

    This is an excellent history of the past forty years in American history. It begins with Nixon's Watergate scandal and resignation in 1974 and ends with Trump's election in 2016. This book explores not only the moments of what happened in American history the past four decades, but also the "fault lines" exposed in the political, social and cultural lives of our country. It seeks to explain the polarization and divisiveness that we now face as a nation by looking to our recent past and viewing t This is an excellent history of the past forty years in American history. It begins with Nixon's Watergate scandal and resignation in 1974 and ends with Trump's election in 2016. This book explores not only the moments of what happened in American history the past four decades, but also the "fault lines" exposed in the political, social and cultural lives of our country. It seeks to explain the polarization and divisiveness that we now face as a nation by looking to our recent past and viewing their origins. I highly recommend this book. If you want to understand where we are now, this book explains it by telling the story of where we have been.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Kristin Donegan

    It was interesting to read how the two political parties started to not just disagree, but outright hate the other party (both sides). It was crazy to read what ended a person's election campaign even 40 years ago knowing in 2016 it didn't stop an election. Good historian perspective of the last handful of decades. It started as lectures at Princeton and turned into this book, so it was heavily fact checked and re-read and discussed through years of teaching and then creating a book. I felt they It was interesting to read how the two political parties started to not just disagree, but outright hate the other party (both sides). It was crazy to read what ended a person's election campaign even 40 years ago knowing in 2016 it didn't stop an election. Good historian perspective of the last handful of decades. It started as lectures at Princeton and turned into this book, so it was heavily fact checked and re-read and discussed through years of teaching and then creating a book. I felt they tried very hard to be historian and not political.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Denise

    Good overview over how US politics became ever more strongly divided from the Nixon administration until the 2016 election. Occasionally it simplifies matters a little too much, but it's a good resource for tracing the development over those four and a half decades to the shitshow that is US politics today.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jacob Moreno

    Based on a popular course taught by the authors at Princeton, Fault Lines is a very fine book that explores American history from the 1970s to the present. That being said, because of its broad nature certain events were not explored with the depth they require or weren't mentioned at all (Reagan's policy towards Afghanistan was curiously never mentioned).

  20. 4 out of 5

    Dawn S

    This book is a good summary of partisan politics and significant political events since 1974. Good overview of how we got to where we are today. I was born in 1972, so it was interesting to see what I remembered, what I didn't, and how much my beliefs have changed over the years.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Aaron

    This book is a masterful rundown of how we got to the age of Trump. Fact-crammed and comprehensive, it keeps the peddle on the truth and doesn't let up. If you've forgotten that the GOP used to have a stronger strain of moderation, this book reminds you of it with, for example, statements from the likes of the first Bush about doing something about the climate crisis. Not that I'm a fan of either the first Bush or the GOP. But the book kind of slaps you in the face with the cold fact that our pol This book is a masterful rundown of how we got to the age of Trump. Fact-crammed and comprehensive, it keeps the peddle on the truth and doesn't let up. If you've forgotten that the GOP used to have a stronger strain of moderation, this book reminds you of it with, for example, statements from the likes of the first Bush about doing something about the climate crisis. Not that I'm a fan of either the first Bush or the GOP. But the book kind of slaps you in the face with the cold fact that our politics seem to no longer have the capacity to even recognize a center, to recognize the stipulation to fact, to solve problems through compromise. Granted, I'm a progressive Lefty. But this country, if even through moderate steps taken by both the GOP and Democrats, could have been making progress toward solving major problems. But the rise of the Religious Right, and its fusion with a failed ideology of tax cuts for the rich and deregulation - all of which came to a head with the entrance of Reagan - set the country on a course toward polarization from which it has not recovered. Add in the fragmentation of media and the rise of scorched-earth politics, and you get a country where people, including those in power, can live in echo chambers, watching "their" news, declaring "fake news," and using any means necessary to focus on one thing: clobbering and defeating The Other. The book's distillation of the Obama years, showing how the Republicans fought even the most modest of reforms - such as the Affordable Care Act - and did everything they could to oppose solutions is excellent. Obama truly believed there was room for compromise - only to find out that the Republicans had planned otherwise from the outset. I'm withholding a star in the review only because I wanted a stronger ending, one that reached more robust conclusions about what we can do about all of this going forward.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jeff Bobin

    This book is packed with great information that has shaped how we got to where we are today. It is an important read for those that want to look at the reality of good historical perspective. While I lived all this history it brought much of it back to life for me and clarified some things I thought were true but wasn't sure of. This is a brief easy to read history that I believe we can learn from and maybe start to make some changes that will lead to a brighter future.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jeff

    A fascinating — albeit increasingly depressing — look at the ways in which our modern political landscape can be traced to the events of 1974. Putting a box around historical events is always folly on some level, and there are obviously threads left hanging out of either end here, but the authors make a compelling and reasonably comprehensive case. It may not fill you with hope, but it's a worthwhile read.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Chris Jaffe

    This is as 3.5 stars a rating as I'll ever get. I first put it as 3 stars, then decided to put it back up to 4, then started second-guessing my second-guessing... eh, I'll leave it at four. After all, this is a solid retelling of the last 40-some years of American history. It hits all the main notes as it goes. There's nothing wrong with it....but the book didn't really spring to life for me. Maybe I read it too soon after finishing Steve Kornacki's book about American politics in the 1990s. Mayb This is as 3.5 stars a rating as I'll ever get. I first put it as 3 stars, then decided to put it back up to 4, then started second-guessing my second-guessing... eh, I'll leave it at four. After all, this is a solid retelling of the last 40-some years of American history. It hits all the main notes as it goes. There's nothing wrong with it....but the book didn't really spring to life for me. Maybe I read it too soon after finishing Steve Kornacki's book about American politics in the 1990s. Maybe it's that I already lived through it and remember so much that I'm not going to get much out of it. But the book just felt like, "and then this happened, and then this happened, and then this happened" - it was just retelling the tales that I already know. There was an overall point being made, but it often got lost for me as it went over stuff. The book's main point is that the US has become increasingly divided since the 1960s. Common ground was abandoned then, with traditional institutions discredited by Vietnam and Watergate. Ever since, we've been more polarized. OK - valid point. But not an especially original point, so much of the book reads like "and that happened." The parts I got the most out of were the early chapters - the parts I'm not old enough to remember, or only hazily remember. I'm opting for four stars over three, because it really does cover the ground well. It's just ground I knew well already. Some of the parts that stuck with me: The culture wars of the 1980s began with a conservative counterattack on cultural changes in the 1970s. People sometimes say that feminism caused more women to enter the workforce but the authors contend the opposite is what happened - that women entering the workforce helped spark feminism. The big issues for the original version of the Christian coalition were homosexuality, feminism, and (of course) abortion. I'd in porn as well. The National Women's Conference in 1977 helped spark Phyllis Schafley's family-orientated counterattack. Conservatives like Dick Cheney thought Iran-Contra was just a witch hunt. One interesting point made is that the rise of cable and computers in the 1980s helped fracture American politics. We would no longer get our news from the same source while at the same time liberal culture was more fractured. The end of the Cold War helped fracture American politics, but removing the consistent foreign policy goal that unified America. The same era saw domestic politics fracture along the lines of AIDS and Supreme Court picks. The ugly '88 presidential campaign also helped fracture things. Mostly, though, the book was just a political version of the old VH1 series, "Remember the 80s?" Oh, there's ABSCAM and Prop 13 and the PMRC, and 2 Live Crew, and triangulation, Prop 187, compassionate conservatism (which gave way to W. going hard on cultural issues in '04), Terry Schavio, etc. Thinking it over, what this book is sorely lacking? A reason. WHY did things get so polarized. WHY were things unable to move in a more unified direction. Sure, Vietnam and Watergate began it, but most American alive now aren't old enough to remember that. He mentions more fractured news sources and all that. True, that plays a role - but that's not the main theme of the book. (If it is the main theme of the book, the authors never should've started in 1974). The never-ending cultural wars are a main factor driving the division of the country, but the book can't really explain why the cultural divisions are so huge now if that earlier. Why? Is it backlash to America's rising racial/ethnic diversity? Is it a reaction to the decline of median income among American families? Is it something else? This book gives the what, but never the why. This book is far stronger on the what than on the why. Yeah, I just realized that while writing this paragraph. Maybe this deserves three stars more than four after all.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jarrod S

    This book covers a different area of history than I usually read, but I that's one of the reasons I chose to read it. The last four decades are a blind spot in my historical literacy, and I was hoping this book could fill in the blanks of what I knew and add depth to the little bit I did know. It was inconsistent in fulfilling this hope but generally did a good job in covering the bare-bones of the time period. The two authors view Trump's election as a culmination of the political, social, and This book covers a different area of history than I usually read, but I that's one of the reasons I chose to read it. The last four decades are a blind spot in my historical literacy, and I was hoping this book could fill in the blanks of what I knew and add depth to the little bit I did know. It was inconsistent in fulfilling this hope but generally did a good job in covering the bare-bones of the time period. The two authors view Trump's election as a culmination of the political, social, and technological developments since 1974. In this way this book is useful, although readers should not expect too much. This endpoint in large part decides what they choose to highlight. This framing both helps and hurts the effectiveness of the history. By focusing heavily on the basic national politics, the surface-level progression from Watergate to Trump is well connected by the authors. The coverage of trends and topics that underlie this development is at times engaging but often leaves much to be desired. Of course, covering that much history will necessarily leave many topics out, but a few vital topics receive little or no coverage, including the War on Drugs, mass incarceration, the AIDS crisis, most American involvements abroad, unions, NAFTA, the decline of the middle class, and changes in education. I do not recall American Indian groups, issues, or events being covered at all. Key underlying economic and social issues are never properly addressed. Although the authors do well in limited space to explain some important areas of the well-known history, for large sections of the book it reads like a future AP US History study guide, with detailed focus on elections and presidents, and only cursory coverage of all other issues or the wider connection of it all. A note about sources: at times the authors dive too deep into explaining plots of movies, shows, TV commercials, and other pop culture items. I disliked these parts, and some of this is personal preference (although it may help me at trivia to be fair). Without other forms of historical evidence, however, they undermine the credibility of many of the authors' arguments. Perhaps more of the traditional historical evidence would have been a wise choice. This history is also detached from nearly all of American history before the 70s and global history at any point. This severely limits the scope of what trends the authors can truly examine and what conclusions/connections they can actually draw. A good number of trees are examined, but the forest is largely missed. I suppose this is a consequence of writing a history that slams up against the present. How does one really know which trends, topics, and people are most important when you're still living amongst them? This book is useful as a primer for those that want to know the basics of America's recent political history, but for any use beyond that, I find faults.

  26. 5 out of 5

    John Newton

    I would recommend Fault Lines more highly to anyone who is coming to this story either as a non-American or as someone too young to have lived through the events the book describes. (I'm old enough to have been politically conscious from about Reagan onward.) It was helpful for me in recalling some of the events, and their sequence. If forced on the spot to name what year the Benghazi attack took place or when Trayvon Martin was shot, for example, I could only hazard rough guesses. (The answers I would recommend Fault Lines more highly to anyone who is coming to this story either as a non-American or as someone too young to have lived through the events the book describes. (I'm old enough to have been politically conscious from about Reagan onward.) It was helpful for me in recalling some of the events, and their sequence. If forced on the spot to name what year the Benghazi attack took place or when Trayvon Martin was shot, for example, I could only hazard rough guesses. (The answers are Sept 2012 and February 2012.) The details of ABSCAM, in 1980, are ones I once knew and forgot. But mostly this book is covering a history that I've lived through, and so perhaps less compelling than it might be to those who are in greater need of an overview of what happened in America from 1974 to today. Kruse and Zelizer's main thesis doesn't feel especially surprising: The beginnings of our current division into (roughly) two different camps, a red America and a blue America, can be traced back, at least, to Nixon and Watergate. Along the way disagreements over issues including abortion rights, gay rights and civil rights more broadly have solidified that divide. The rise of cable news, the Tea Party, the elevation of punditry over reporting, and the dominance of social media have helped widen this gap. That Trump isn't the source of this fundamental division but a symptom of it is an argument many have made (the fact that it might not be original doesn't mean it's any less true). In any book this sweeping, it is easy to wonder about details that have been skipped over (just one example: neither John Anderson or Ted Kennedy are mentioned in the discussion of the 1980 presidential race, and both their roles seem relevant to Kruse's argument). Sometimes I wanted the authors to provide more evidence for specific claims—it seems arguable whether Sanders supporters were less likely to vote for Clinton than the supporters of other losing candidates who have been expected to switch their allegiance to their party's nominee and yet the authors appear to assume that is true. A more fundamental omission for me was a focus on how economic realities have contributed to the hardening of these fault lines. Inequality comes up in the context of Occupy Wall Street, but from white flight to the suburbs, encouraged by federal housing policies, to the decline of unions, the authors could have written much more on this aspect of recent American history. Still, they cover a lot and when it comes to providing a big picture view of the last few decades in the United States, this book does a good job. My guess is Fault Lines won't be the final book on this period and likely it will fall to someone else to write the authoritative history on it. My guess is that even the authors might agree with that prediction. They are presenting a historical analysis of events that are still very fresh, and I expect with time how we make sense of them will evolve.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jacob

    Based on hearing Kruse and Zelizer interviewed, and following Kruse on Twitter, I'm quite to the left of Kruse. With that said, it would be tough to parse their partisan/ideological leanings based on a majority of this book, which is quite impressive. Really, all that stands out is the Trump chapter. And, of course, discussion of him is nearly impossible without revealing your ideological proclivities. People who tend to like him just will not cop to certain facts about him, and people who don't Based on hearing Kruse and Zelizer interviewed, and following Kruse on Twitter, I'm quite to the left of Kruse. With that said, it would be tough to parse their partisan/ideological leanings based on a majority of this book, which is quite impressive. Really, all that stands out is the Trump chapter. And, of course, discussion of him is nearly impossible without revealing your ideological proclivities. People who tend to like him just will not cop to certain facts about him, and people who don't like him will quickly point them out. The objectivity bubble bursts with Trump, that's part of the reason the "objective" media has so much trouble covering him. They basically have to distort what he says so that they never can be accused of being polemical. This is all strange coming from me anyway, as I don't really like a book attempting to be objective, but this book does it about as well as I've seen it done. Stemming from that, though, is a heavily fact and event-based writing that not everyone will enjoy. Kruse and Zelizer speed through modern American history at lightspeed with no narrative and little addition of their own. To some, it might read like a textbook. I enjoyed it though. The authors lay out a few main points about each administration, from the Nixon administration (Watergate-era) on: 1) big ticket policies, 2) major events, 3) elections, 4) media, and 5) the electorate. It's pretty standard but solid fare. And don't look for a deep dive, it's a quick hit and then go operation that basically serves as a timeline of events with short explanations sprinkled with some good anecdotes. In a good way. On the thesis: the argument is that polarization was a natural occurrence of political history since 1974 combined with the breaking of media into informational bubbles. The authors rely on the events to speak for themselves for the most part. As a lens to look at the history through, it's not quite as powerful as I think they might have been hoping for. My other issue is, I'm not quite sure that the polarization is as inherently negative is it as normally portrayed, but that's neither here nor there. If you are well-versed in American history, this book is probably not of much interest to you, as I imagine much of the information will be redundant, but I will leave that judgment to you. My normal criticism to most non-leftist foreign policy discussions always applies: get extra context for the foreign policy stuff, the authors seem to make the mistake of relying on American outlets as sources in this area. Again, this is all explained so quickly that I'm not sure how much can be covered, but it's always something that irks me.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Sandra

    Back in the day, my high school textbook ended with the Berlin Wall coming down and though I majored in history in college, I never took a course that would cover the seventies through now, at least broadly. Seeing that the authors (and their undoubtedly even more hard working grad students) worked so hard to produce this book based on their co-created course at Princeton, I knew this was a book I wanted to read. And despite the fact that I think I’m pretty smart (haha) I learned some things and Back in the day, my high school textbook ended with the Berlin Wall coming down and though I majored in history in college, I never took a course that would cover the seventies through now, at least broadly. Seeing that the authors (and their undoubtedly even more hard working grad students) worked so hard to produce this book based on their co-created course at Princeton, I knew this was a book I wanted to read. And despite the fact that I think I’m pretty smart (haha) I learned some things and discovered some events in recent history that I had previous misunderstood. One being Hilary’s emails, now a political punchline. It’s likely that every generation has said to themselves at one point or another that it feels like end times when it comes to our divided politics; as such I think sometimes we can look at the past with rose colored glasses (MAGA, anyone?) but this book clearly demonstrates a sharp political divide that enhanced in the 70s and got worse with each subsequent administration. My stress level and blood pressure certainly increased with each chapter and by the time Republicans decided to block everything Obama did, pretty much because they didn’t like him and they could (read: old racist white men) I wanted to throw the book across the room. It isn’t just the issue that we are deadlocked ideologically, it’s the ignorant willfulness of the right to remain so. The religious right is now controlling our nation despite the fact that they represent a small group of the population. And don’t even get me started on them. I apologize my review has become a rant. Sigh. The book is incredibly well sourced with almost forty pages of notes/sources and even though it is very critical of the GOP, I think they would be very hard pressed to find inaccuracies, especially since many of their leaders have openly admitted to some of their more nefarious tactics (there are several examples in chapters 13-14 if you’re interested). And lest you think the authors are without criticism of the left, be sure to read the chapter on Bill Clinton.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Philip Guzman

    Have you recently finished reading a current events article, or watched the evening news and thrown your arms up into the air and shouted, "How the hell did we get here???" . . . "Fault Lines" tries to breakdown our currently political and national polarized climate by looking back through recent history to try and put in perspective the current age of incivility and the hard "fault lines" that divide Americans. Though polarizing issues and personalities extend well before 1974, authors Kruse an Have you recently finished reading a current events article, or watched the evening news and thrown your arms up into the air and shouted, "How the hell did we get here???" . . . "Fault Lines" tries to breakdown our currently political and national polarized climate by looking back through recent history to try and put in perspective the current age of incivility and the hard "fault lines" that divide Americans. Though polarizing issues and personalities extend well before 1974, authors Kruse and Zelizer start with Watergate and the Presidency of Richard Nixon (though they do sweep back to the era and accomplishments of Lyndon Johnson in this survey of the country's recent political history), and provide a historical survey of the political climates from the 70's through our present. How did Watergate undermined people's confidence in government? . . Do you remember the gas lines of the 70's? . . . Can you define "stagflation?" . . . What is the one thing that President Trump is doing with cabinet appointments that mirrors the actions of Ronald Reagan. . . Can you name one of the promises made in Newt Gingrich's Contract With America? . . . How much of the current GOP playbook was used effectively in the 80's and 90's?? Those my age can re-live those past times (for better or worse!), or if you're too young to remember, "Fault Lines" goes a long way to critically point out that what we are seeing today is nothing new --- just "ratcheted up" to a breaking point. The book ends with this thought-provoking question -- "The question that the United States of America now faces as a divided country is whether we can harness the intense energy that now drives us apart and channel it once again toward creating new and stronger bridges that can bring us together." . . . . . Or NOT, I would add. Great thoughtful review of all that divides us -- from the past to today and moving forward.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Joel Wentz

    The reader should know what this book IS (and what it is not) before diving in. In the positive sense, this is a highly readable, zoomed-out, sweeping account of the factors and events that contributed to how the US has become so radically culturally polarized, culminating in the shocking election of Donald Trump. The book is largely centered on politics, focusing on elections and supreme court cases, but does consider broader cultural events. The book is also pretty even-handed, in a left-right The reader should know what this book IS (and what it is not) before diving in. In the positive sense, this is a highly readable, zoomed-out, sweeping account of the factors and events that contributed to how the US has become so radically culturally polarized, culminating in the shocking election of Donald Trump. The book is largely centered on politics, focusing on elections and supreme court cases, but does consider broader cultural events. The book is also pretty even-handed, in a left-right political sense, as both sides are thoroughly covered and critiqued in their contributions to polarization. It's also worth repeating that this book is very, very accessible. There is little academic jargon, the writing is crisp, and the pacing is very fast. It's, quite simply, an enjoyable read. In the negative sense, it's not "deep history," and feels more like historical reporting, as it's quite light on interpretation of historical events. The authors are (obviously) not without interpretive bias - the decision to start the account in 1974 is itself an interpretation and the core of the book's main argument. But given the thesis - that the events of the late 60s and early 70s created cultural fractures that have deepened and ossified over 40+ years - the rest of the book is occupied with simply telling you what has happened in those decades. So if a breezy account of the past 40 or so years in America is what you're looking for, this is the absolute best place to start. For me, as someone born in the 80s, I loved getting a better grasp of the cultural landscape I was born into, and simply grasping all the moving parts does offer great insight into how we got to today.

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