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The 1970s

A New Global History from Civil Rights to Economic Inequality

Thomas Borstelmann

Publication Year: 2011

The 1970s looks at an iconic decade when the cultural left and economic right came to the fore in American society and the world at large. While many have seen the 1970s as simply a period of failures epitomized by Watergate, inflation, the oil crisis, global unrest, and disillusionment with military efforts in Vietnam, Thomas Borstelmann creates a new framework for understanding the period and its legacy. He demonstrates how the 1970s increased social inclusiveness and, at the same time, encouraged commitments to the free market and wariness of government. As a result, American culture and much of the rest of the world became more--and less--equal.

Borstelmann explores how the 1970s forged the contours of contemporary America. Military, political, and economic crises undercut citizens' confidence in government. Free market enthusiasm led to lower taxes, a volunteer army, individual 401(k) retirement plans, free agency in sports, deregulated airlines, and expansions in gambling and pornography. At the same time, the movement for civil rights grew, promoting changes for women, gays, immigrants, and the disabled. And developments were not limited to the United States. Many countries gave up colonial and racial hierarchies to develop a new formal commitment to human rights, while economic deregulation spread to other parts of the world, from Chile and the United Kingdom to China.

Placing a tempestuous political culture within a global perspective, The 1970s shows that the decade wrought irrevocable transformations upon American society and the broader world that continue to resonate today.

Some images inside the book are unavailable due to digital copyright restrictions.

Published by: Princeton University Press

Series: America in the World


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. xi-xiv

We all have our histories. Most of mine was shaped in the 1970s. I turned twelve years old in 1970 and twenty-two in 1980. In between, I played a lot of basketball, fell in love with literature, left home, had my first jobs and girlfriends, spent time hitchhiking, and graduated from high school and college. I grew...

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pp. 1-18

The 1970s are a decade of ill repute. “A kidney stone of a decade,” one character in the popular cartoon strip Doonesbury called it. The nation’s core institutions seemed to be breaking down as the United States, in most tellings of the story, sank into a mire of economic decline, political corruption, and military...

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CHAPTER 1 Crosscurrents of Crisis in 1970s America

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pp. 19-72

Big trouble splashed into most Americans’ lives in the 1970s. Few symbols embodied this as fully as the 25-foot great white shark that rose from the murky depths to devour swimmers and terrorize a Long Island beach town in the blockbuster movie, Jaws. The film opened on June 20, 1975, after an unprecedented...

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CHAPTER 2 The Rising Tide of Equality and Democratic Reform

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pp. 73-121

“Good morning, boys and girls!” This greeting has rung out in elementary school classrooms throughout the United States for generations. Almost no one objects. After all, sex is a biological reality. The children are boys and girls. It seems natural to call them that. But is it really natural? Children can also be categorized in...

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CHAPTER 3 The Spread of Market Values

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pp. 122-174

“This is like 1931,” long-time socialist writer and activist Michael Harrington wrote in 1978. “Just as the conventional wisdom of the 1920s was totally shattered by the depression, the conventional wisdom of the 1960s has been shattered by inflation.” Economic growth had defined human history for two...

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CHAPTER 4 The Retreat of Empires and the Global Advance of the Market

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pp. 175-226

Across the political spectrum, Americans tend to think of their country and their history as exceptional. From the fortuitous geographical buffer of two vast oceans to a founding Constitution that emphasized liberty, from a robust base of natural resources to regular inflows of industrious...

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CHAPTER 5 Resistance to the New Hyper-Individualism

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pp. 227-277

Not everyone found comfort in the increasingly though not fully entwined enthusiasms for greater human equality and the marketplace that took shape in the 1970s. An unfettered individualism, with all progressively more welcome to participate as autonomous buyers and sellers, was emerging as the central...

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CHAPTER 6 More and Less Equal since the 1970s

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pp. 278-311

“You can call me anything you want, but do not call me a racist.” President George W. Bush was responding to accusations that the failure of the federal government to respond swiftly to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was partially due to the hardest-hit New Orleans residents being primarily poor...

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pp. 312-318

Out of the 1970s emerged the dominant contemporary American values of formal equality and free-market economics. Few would disagree that the United States became a more inclusive society while also one more deeply skeptical about the benefits...


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pp. 319-370


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pp. 371-401

E-ISBN-13: 9781400839704
E-ISBN-10: 140083970X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780691141565
Print-ISBN-10: 0691141568

Page Count: 416
Publication Year: 2011

Edition: Course Book
Series Title: America in the World
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OCLC Number: 757401407
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The 1970s

Research Areas


Subject Headings

  • United States -- History -- 1969-.
  • United States -- Social conditions -- 1960-1980.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 1969-1974.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 1974-1977.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 1977-1981.
  • United States -- Economic conditions -- 1971-1981.
  • United States -- Foreign relations -- 1945-1989.
  • United States -- Commerce -- History -- 20th century.
  • Equality -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Nineteen seventies.
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