... absorbing ... Perlstein doesn’t point out the irony, but he doesn’t need to. The joy of this book, and the reason it remains fresh for nearly a thousand pages of text, is that personality and character constantly confound the conventional wisdom ... Perlstein is never deterministic, and his sharp insights into human quirks and foibles make all of his books surprising and fun, if a little smart-alecky at times ... a small, redeeming moment in Perlstein’s overspilling narrative, but the glimpse into Reagan’s conscience is characteristic of Perlstein’s storytelling. Reagan is hardly a hero to Perlstein, whose own politics are to the left. But in this description, the former movie actor turned politician is intensely human, and capable of empathy, or at least shame ... full of portents for the current day.
The book concludes the series, providing continuity with the previous entries, but it will also be met by an audience that is living daily in Trumpland, an experience bound to shape their sense of conservatism’s impulses and effects ... Perlstein’s works are less X-rays of the internal structures of the nation at a given time than an MRI of its nervous system, showing when different regions of the brain lit up: here, activated by fear, here by sex, here by joy, here by anger. This is what has made his books grow in size—Reaganland runs to over 1,000 pages—they resemble reading several years of news, with the benefit of hindsight. They succeed when they can make sense of the structure of people’s feelings in a time of significant social division ... One of the values of Perlstein’s heavily narrative and loosely argued approach is that it restores a sense of randomness to outcomes ... Conservative activists remade the country with intensity, opportunism, and persistence through defeat. Those hoping to push back against their influence today might take some strange comfort in the story of their success. Studying the past does not tell you what will be possible in the future, nor promise that hard work will be rewarded. But it seems fair to conclude that the work is necessary, if not sufficient, and that many will not feel the tremors as the ground shifts under their feet.
A hallmark of Perlstein’s work is his blending of political and cultural history, often a tricky balance ... As might be expected from its massive length, Reaganland occasionally sags, and like any kitchen-sink history, it inherently invites quibbles with points of emphasis and omission. Perlstein’s rapid-fire style of chronological narrative is riveting, like the world’s most exciting microfilm scroll, although it can occasionally blur the lines between correlation and causation. It’s not the best book in Perlstein’s series ... If anything, Perlstein deserves credit for his ability to wring two huge and immensely readable books out of such a relatively uncompelling person ... Perlstein’s epic achievement of history has finally come to an end, and I hope that someday Reaganland will, too
Reaganland detonates revelatory pop-ups...throughout its narrative. Taken together, they illuminate an era that remains a dreary, hectic blur to those who lived through it. As with the best popular histories (an undervalued subgenre, even with such widely acknowledged masters of the form as Barbara Tuchman and William Manchester), Perlstein’s book not only rolls out its sequence of events but also evokes their emotional impact, whether it was shock, incredulity, or delight. No dots go unconnected in his American tableaux, in which the popularity of movies like 1977’s Star Wars and 1978’s Superman contribute as much to the country’s enchantment with rousing triumphalism as the US hockey team’s 'Miracle on Ice' upset over the USSR in the 1980 Winter Olympics. Nothing seems left out ... Perlstein’s chronicle, which seems to be in something of a hurry to conclude, makes me even more certain that, in the end, the people who voted for Ronald Reagan and his politics in 1980 knew exactly what they were getting—and, as suggested above, they did not care.
... for what Reaganland offers in insight, it asks too much in terms of patience from its readers ... The bulk of the book is made up of a seemingly-endless recitation of events ... Perlstein’s analysis of these events is limited to introductory paragraphs to selected chapters and brief—sometimes one word—asides to the reader interspersed throughout. Readers are meant to divine the gist of the book through reading many, many descriptions of selected events between Carter’s election and Ronald Reagan’s, sometimes loosely organized by theme but often strung together chronologically ... valid, if not exactly mind-blowing, analyses of the period in question. But they are drowned in hundreds of pages of detail about what was going on in America and its newspapers at the time ... The experience of reading Reaganland is that of drowning in a sea of bullshit.
Not a news-making investigative foray into the Conservative movement, Reaganland is, instead, a phenomenal collection of data and detail masterfully woven into a compelling narrative about how the country turned right, steered brilliantly and cynically by think-tank founder Paul Weyrich and direct-mail mastermind Richard Viguerie ... Perlstein poured extraordinary research into this book, and those who lived through the era may be stunned to learn all they missed at the time — or wished they had ... With editorial asides that are informed, trenchant, and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, Perlstein pillories Democrats as much as he punches Republicans, and in the process becomes a trustworthy narrator.
...enthralling and resonant ... Reaganland delivers a worthy and captivating conclusion to a rip-roaring, revelatory, and definitive four-volume journey through the dark heart of Movement Conservatism ... Reaganland devotes much of its fast-flipping 1,000-plus pages to chronicling all of the converging strains that comprised the rising New Right, which breathed new life into a GOP left for dead after its defeat in 1976 ... Some of Reaganland’s most compelling episodes concern the culture wars that drove political polarization and animated the Christian right ... Reaganland demonstrates how quickly and dramatically those shifts came about, and how the New Right cleverly transformed American economic and political thinking through culture war.
... authoritative and engaging ... Perlstein’s knack for bringing these long-forgotten clashes to life and his eye for telling details — along with cameo appearances by Roger Stone, Paul Manafort and Trump, a 'hungry young killer' out to conquer New York real estate — conjure many eye-opening moments. Although Perlstein rarely draws explicit comparisons to modern-day politics, the unnerving parallels between the time periods — and the origins of the many divisions currently ailing the nation — jump off nearly every page. Reading Reaganland, it’s easy to identify Trump’s imitation of the New Right’s ploys and its fixation on toxic, socially contentious issues to woo voters through emotional appeals ... Lacking the bountiful incisive commentary of Perlstein’s earlier work, however, and bogged down by the unremitting rotation between multiple story lines, Reaganland’s narrative doesn’t reach full speed until the 1980 campaign.
Perlstein’s books are uninhibitedly large items, constructed, apparently, on the principle of maximum inclusion. He is not a creature of the archives either: These are heavily anecdotal narratives, combining a rehashing of big, media-driven spectacles with a deft appreciation for the smaller tremors...Perlstein sees American culture holistically, and his method is to implant you into the whole of a living tissue. Reaganland is so mammoth in scope and so scrupulously agnostic in presentation, each reader will likely find their own book in there. I walked away grateful for its larger arc ... Reliving this period via Perlstein in what feels like real-time detail, one is shocked to discover how much of our politics remains shaped not by Reagan, but by Carter ... What’s most unsettling about the ’80s is only hinted at in Reaganland: Malaise was cured in the end by mania.
In fact, in this long but never-a-wasted-word account, much is depressingly familiar, including tax giveaways to the very rich and the political exploitation of what a Reagan aide called middle-class 'discontent, frustration + anger.' Other moments seem at once distant and contemporaneous, from confrontations with Iran and North Korea to episodes such as Jonestown and the murder of Harvey Milk ... A valuable road map that charts how events from 40 years ago helped lead us to where we are now.
Resurgent conservatism defeats enervated liberalism in this sweeping study of the Carter administration and the rise of Ronald Reagan ... Perlstein masterfully connects deep currents of social change and ideology to prosaic politics, which he conveys in elegant prose studded with vivid character sketches and colorful electoral set-pieces ... The result is an insightful and entertaining analysis of a watershed era in American politics.
Perlstein casts a broad net, riffing on everything from Ted Bundy to New York Mayor Ed Koch, but that is part of the package here; by the end readers have more insight on the rising tide of conservative politics.