I read Kurt Andersen’s “Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History” several years ago, but that’s not what inspired me to read “Evil Geniuses.” Rather my reading group -https://groups.io/g/AllNonfiction – chose to read it and I’m so glad they did. Personally, I would have been put off by the title. Now though, having read the book, I understand why he chose it.
Evil Geniuses: The Unmaking of America: A Recent History
By Kurt Andersen
08/2020 – 416 pages
Read by author: 16h 24m
Rating – 9 / history – current events
(both read and listened)
I keep coming across articles and books which seem to say that everything changed in the 1970s and ‘80s. Well yeah – looking at the big picture of American history, they certainly did change. I wonder if all these authors who are saying this read “The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The U.S. Standard of Living since the Civil War” by Robert J. Gordon. Andersen did for sure but he takes off on a somewhat different slant in that he looks at what happened after the “Fall” (1970 or so). The idea that American economic growth increased dramatically between the years 1870 and 1970 after which it stalled and then started decreasing seems pretty well established now. It was a miracle century. So the storyline in Chapters 2 and 3 is much the same as in the Gordon, but using Anderson’s ideas and language.
But “Evil Geniuses” takes off where “The Rise and Fall…” stops and where Gordon’s book is about the economics (in depth), Anderson’s covers the right wing business politics of economics. They are both history books at heart. I remembered quite a lot of the material from having lived it, but starting in Chapter 7 a lot was new because I just hadn’t put it together like this.
The economic pendulum went from the peak of prosperity in the very early 1970s and followed that with Reagan’s ’80s continuing on up to now and Trump’s call to “Make America Great *Again.*” I knew this stuff – why had I not put it together with the nostalgia either? Of course folks are nostalgic!
Another book Anderson makes use of, seems rather close to, actually (but which I haven’t read) is “Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires” by Jane Mayer. That was a hot book a few years ago and I might have to read it now – to catch up on things which I’m sure are still going on.
From the Civil War to 1970 the US saw incredible growth and prosperity. But we hit our peak and although we didn’t sink immediately, we started the long slide. And instead of looking at the big picture, we as individuals (some of us) looked at how we weren’t individuals getting “our share” and blamed immigrants and entitlements and what were seen as the evils of liberalism.
Sad to say, the book gets kind of boring starting at Part Two, Chapter 8 and continuing to about Chapter 11. It’s Reagan and Reagan-omics and consists of a rehash of what happened politically during the Reagan years. Bo-ring – or maybe it’s me, because when it turns back to the economics I got interested again. I’d say Chapter 12 through the end. I’ll have to reread the chapters where I lost interest. There might be more there than meets a bored reading.
From Wiki: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evil_Geniuses:_The_Unmaking_of_America
Evil Geniuses examines coordinated efforts to achieve conservative economical and political changes in the United States from the 1970s to 2020, and discusses how the resulting unfettered laissez-faire approach to capitalism has resulted in an extreme level of economic inequality.