Rick Perlstein: Politician, punch line, president, and the land he left us

Historians in the News

Rick Perlstein could have called his book "Paranoia."

If Perlstein's history of the 1960s and early '70s in America has a throughline, it's mistrust. Parents don't trust their children. Enlisted men don't trust their officers. Blacks don't trust whites, Southerners don't trust Northerners, the Silent Majority doesn't trust the Intellectual Establishment, and -- soon enough -- nobody trusts the government.

And in the midst of it all was Richard Nixon: Red-baiter, former vice president, failed gubernatorial nominee, punch line, political strategist and president, a master at playing both sides to maintain his hold on power. In doing so, he provided a roadmap for his successors.

Hence Perlstein's actual title: "Nixonland" (Scribner).

"I'm fascinated with how Americans fight with each other," says Perlstein, 39, who was born the year Nixon took office. "And the '60s is the best, the most -- besides the Civil War, I can't think of a more dramatic canvas. And Nixon fits in as the guy who exploited these tensions to create a new kind of politics that we're still living with now."...

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