According to Edward D. Berkowitz, the end of the postwar economic boom, Watergate, and Vietnam all contributed to an unraveling of the national consensus in 1970s America. His unique history-which touches on everything from the decline of the steel industry to the blossoming of Bill Gates, from Saturday Night Fever to the Sunday morning fervor of evangelical preachers-argues that the postwar faith in sweeping social programs and a global U.S. mission was replaced in the 1970s by a more skeptical attitude toward the government's ability to affect society positively. Berkowitz explores the decade's major political events and movements, including the rise and fall of détente, congressional reform, changes in healthcare policies, and the hostage crisis in Iran. He traces the "rights revolution," in which women, gays and lesbians, and people with disabilities all successfully fought for greater recognition. He argues that reaction to these social movements as well as the issue of abortion led to the rise of powerful, politically conservative religious organizations and activists. Written by an accomplished historian of modern America and a longtime Washington insider, Something Happened is an engaging look at an important and previously unappreciated decade.
The 1970s used to be considered either the decade when "nothing happened" or the inward-looking "Me Decade." Of course, a lot did happen during the 1970s, as such recent books as Stephanie A. Slocum-Schaffer's America in the Seventies and Bruce J. Schulman's The Seventies: The Great Shift in American Culture, Society and Politics have shown. Now Berkowitz (history, public policy & administration, George Washington Univ.; Robert Ball and the Politics of Social Security) may have written the best of the lot. Borrowing his title from Joseph Heller's long-awaited second novel, Berkowitz defines the Seventies as the period from 1973 to 1981, a time that he sees as both transitional and truly transformational in U.S. history. He focuses chiefly on the political and economic events that fed into the rise of Reaganomics and social conservatism, but he also addresses the popular culture of the time, including the movies and television programming (which he calls the "reassurance of the familiar"). While readers will be familiar with the litany of problems and crises in the 1970s-Watergate, gasoline shortages, abortion politics, Three Mile Island, and the hostages in Iran-Berkowitz links these and other events to Americans' loss of faith in politicians and to a crisis of competence on the part of the government (reflected in both the Ford and Carter administrations). Further, he believes that the decade marked the end of individual and national self-confidence, both of which President Reagan partially restored in the 1980s. An illuminating chapter addresses the impact of feminism and the "rights revolution" on American society. An ambitious study that is still concisely focused and very readable, this will stand as the definitive book on the 1970s for some time to come. Highly recommended.-Thomas A. Karel, Franklin & Marshall Coll. Lib., Lancaster, PA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.