Book Review: The Seventies: The Great Shift in American Culture, Society, and Politics by Bruce J. Schulman; Part Two:The Book Itself

In the first post about this book I recounted what the seventies mean to me personally.  Heady times they were, to be sure, and integral to my development as a writer.  Now I will go into an analysis of the book itself.

In short, I found it a disappointment – but part of it was my fault.  I was hoping that it would be something it was not.  I should have had a clue when I realized how short it was.  No book of 250 pages can hope to be an in-depth look at a decade.  What it gives is a bird’s-eye view of some of the main events and trends, while what I had wanted was a comprehensive history of the era.  As I read I kept hoping for more.  The writer would touch on a fascinating point, but then that was it.  The elaboration I longed for would never follow.  It would be a touch here and a touch there, and then onwards to something completely unrelated.  It reminded me of when I used to make out with girls in high school:  there would be a bit of fondling, a bit of groping, but then a great deal of frustration afterwards.

What the author does fly over in his distant aerial reconnaissance is fascinating indeed.  There is a bit of culture, a dab of politics, a sprinkle of economics.  He writes of the presidencies of Nixon, Carter, and Reagan, of Reaganomics and yuppies and privatization, of the rise of ethnicity and feminism, of independent filmmaking and punk rock, of rural communes and environmentalism.  But brief glimpses, all – the tiniest of hors d’oeuvres when what I desired was a sumptuous feast.  What makes it even more thin and spread out is that the writer covers not just the seventies but the era from around 1968 to 1984.

Okay, I concede that it is not necessarily the writer’s fault.  Perhaps all he intended was to provide a peek.  Perhaps all he had in mind was an overview.  But it left me disappointed.  It was not what I was looking for.  I have yet to find a comprehensive history of the seventies, though I will keep looking.  Maybe the decade is too recent for historians to give it the meticulous treatment.  But I hope someone has, or will.  It is a fascinating era, and there is so much I missed that I want to catch up on.

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