Rick Perlstein

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Rick Perlstein
Perlstein seated at a baby grand piano, selecting music to play from a book of jazz standards, Chicago, 2013.
Perlstein seated at a baby grand piano, selecting music to play from a book of jazz standards, Chicago, 2013.
BornSeptember 3, 1969 (1969-09-03) (age 52)
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S.
  • Journalist
  • historian
EducationUniversity of Chicago (B.A.)
University of Michigan (M.A.)[1]
SubjectConservatism in the United States

Eric S. Perlstein (born September 3, 1969) is an American historian and journalist[2] who has garnered recognition for his chronicles of the 1960s and 1970s, and the American conservative movement.[3] The author of five bestselling books, Perlstein received the 2001 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for his first book, Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus.[4] Politico has dubbed him "a chronicler extraordinaire of modern conservatism."[2]

Early life and education[edit]

Perlstein was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to a Reform Jewish family, the third child of Jerold and Sandra (née Friedman) Perlstein.[5][6] His father ran Bonded Messenger Service, a delivery company founded by his grandfather in 1955. Perlstein grew up in the Bayside and Fox Point neighborhoods of suburban Milwaukee, taking cross country trips with his parents and siblings to national landmarks like Mount Rushmore and Yellowstone National Park.[7] In high school, upon earning his driver's license, Perlstein would head to Renaissance Books in downtown Milwaukee, and spend hours in its basement among stacks of old magazines from the 1960s. He later recounted in an interview: "I ended up getting my own archive on the 1960s culture wars. That's where it started."[8] He also wrote in Rolling Stone: "A sixties obsessive since childhood, I misspent my teenage years prowling a ramshackle five-story used-book warehouse that somehow managed . . . to stay one step ahead of Milwaukee, Wisconsin's building inspectors."[9] Following graduation from Nicolet High School, Perlstein attended the University of Chicago, earning a B.A. in History in 1992.[10] While at the University of Chicago – years Perlstein described as "delightfully noisy and dissident", and a stark contrast to the suburbia of his youth, which "felt like a jail" – he was able to engage with and catch neighborhood jam sessions.[11]


After graduate study in American studies at the University of Michigan, Perlstein moved to New York in 1994, settling in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn.[12] While in New York, Perlstein interned at Lingua Franca, a magazine about academic and intellectual life, where he would become an associate editor.[13] Perlstein also began writing book reviews, for publications like The Nation and Slate.[14][15] It was Perlstein's 1996 Lingua Franca essay "Who Owns the Sixties?" that won him public notice, by exposing the emerging chasm between older and younger historians.[16] The essay also aroused the attention of a literary agent and soon after earned him a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.[13]

Chronicle of modern American conservatism[edit]

External video
video icon Booknotes interview with Perlstein on Before the Storm, June 3, 2001, C-SPAN
video icon Presentation by Perlstein on Nixonland, June 8, 2008, C-SPAN
video icon Q&A interview with Perlstein on The Invisible Bridge, August 14, 2014, C-SPAN
video icon Presentation by Perlstein on The Invisible Bridge, August 5, 2014, C-SPAN
Barry Goldwater (1962)
Richard Nixon Election poster (1968)
Ronald Reagan (1976)

As of 2020, Perlstein had published four notable books on the subject of modern American conservatism.

Before the Storm (2001)[edit]

In 1997, Perlstein began work on a history of the rise of Barry Goldwater, a transformative event for the conservative movement. Perlstein's book, Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus, was released in 2001 to widespread acclaim, including a laudatory New York Times review by William Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard. Kristol wrote of Before the Storm, "It's an amazing story, and Perlstein, a man of the left, does it justice."[17] Perlstein won the 2001 Los Angeles Times Book Prize in History.[18] Soon after, Perlstein moved from New York to Chicago. From 2003 to 2005, Perlstein was the Village Voice's national political correspondent, and contributed articles to publications that included the New York Times, The New Republic and The American Prospect.

Beginning in spring 2007 through 2009 Perlstein was a Senior Fellow at the Campaign for America's Future where he wrote for its blog The Big Con about the failures of conservative governance. A co-director at the Campaign for America's Future once noted, "Rick was unique. … I don't know when he sleeps."[19][20][21]

Nixonland (2008)[edit]

In May 2008, Perlstein's Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America was published to rave reviews.[22][23][24][25][26][27] In his review, the conservative columnist George Will credited Perlstein having "a novelist's, or perhaps an anthropologist's, eye for illuminating details" and called Nixonland "compulsively readable."[28] At the end of 2008, The New York Times included Nixonland among its notable books.[29] In 2009, The A.V. Club included it among the best books of the decade.[30]

The Invisible Bridge (2014)[edit]

In August 2014, Simon & Schuster published The Invisible Bridge: the Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan. In his New York Times review, Frank Rich wrote that the tome was "a Rosetta stone for reading America and its politics today."[31] The Invisible Bridge received favorable reviews from The New Yorker, Slate, and The Washington Post among others.

Reaganland (2020)[edit]

In August 2020, Perlstein published a fourth work detailing the events of the years before Ronald Reagan's presidency and his presidential race against Jimmy Carter from 1976 to 1980.[32] Reaganland is Perlstein's longest publication at almost 1,200 pages long.

Reaganland received favorable reviews from The Guardian,[33] the Los Angeles Times,[34] and The New Republic.[35] Reaganland was one of the New York Times 100 Notables Books of 2020.[36] It was also subject to a scathing critique in Commentary Magazine by Steven F. Hayward, himself an author of a two-part volume on Reagan.[37]

Plagiarism allegations[edit]

Conservative author and public relations consultant Craig Shirley has alleged that The Invisible Bridge stole distinctive words and phrasing from his 2004 book, Reagan's Revolution.[38] Perlstein's supporters regarded the criticism as a partisan attack. Responding to numerous complaints, Times public editor Margaret Sullivan dismissed the plagiarism allegations as a "smear" and criticized the reporting for "conferr[ing] a legitimacy on the accusation it would not otherwise have had."[39]

Responding to letters from Shirley and his attorneys, Perlstein's publisher, Simon & Schuster, stated that the claims of plagiarism "ignored the most basic principle of copyright law." Those same letters from Shirley's attorneys demanded that Simon & Schuster pay Shirley $25 million in damages, pull all copies of The Invisible Bridge and take out ads of apology in various publications. If these demands weren't met, the letters promised that a lawsuit would be filed on July 30, 2014, nearly a week before the book was to be released on August 5. On August 9, 2014, it was reported that there was no evidence a lawsuit had ever been filed.[40] For his part, Perlstein said, "Mr. Shirley has sued me for $25 million and tried to keep people from reading my book; I've told everyone to read his book."[41]


  • Perlstein, Rick (2001). Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus. New York: Hill and Wang. ISBN 0-8090-2859-X.
  • Perlstein, Rick; et al. (2005). The Stock Ticker and the Superjumbo: How the Democrats Can Once Again Become America's Dominant Political Party. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm. ISBN 0-9761475-0-5.
  • Perlstein, Rick (2008). Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America. New York: Scribner. ISBN 978-0-7432-4302-5.
  • Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan. New York: Simon & Schuster (2014). ISBN 978-1476782416.
  • Reaganland: America's Right Turn, 1976-1980. New York: Simon & Schuster (2020). ISBN 978-1476793054.

See also[edit]

  • 1964, a documentary about the political, social and cultural events that marked the United States in 1964.


  1. ^ "Rick Perlstein." Contemporary Authors Online. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale, 2015. Retrieved via Biography in Context database, 2017-05-03.
  2. ^ a b Coolican, J. Patrick (2008-05-15). "Historian bridges left-right divide". Politico. Retrieved 2015-11-05.
  3. ^ Packer, George (2014-08-11). "The Uses of Division: Rick Perlstein chronicles the fall of the American consensus and the rise of the right". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2017-05-03.
  4. ^ "Book Prizes – 2001 Los Angeles Times Book Prizes Winners". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 2015-11-21. Retrieved 2015-11-04.
  5. ^ Perlstein, Rick (2012-05-02). "On the Crisis of Zionism". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2015-12-23.
  6. ^ "Obituary: Jerold Irving Perlstein | SummitDaily.com". The Summit Daily. Retrieved 2015-11-05.
  7. ^ "Perlstein planned, traveled and pursued everything he loved". www.jsonline.com. Retrieved 2015-11-05.
  8. ^ Saltoun-Ebin, Jason (2014-08-05). "'The Invisible Bridge': 10 or So Questions with Rick Perlstein". The Huffington Post. Updated 2014-10-05. Retrieved 2015-11-04.
  9. ^ Perlstein, Rick (2012-03-16). "Why Conservatives Are Still Crazy After All These Years. Rolling Stone. rollingstone.com. Retrieved 2017-05-04.
  10. ^ "Rick Perlstein". Huffpost. huffingtonpost.com. Retrieved 2015-11-04.
  11. ^ "The New York Times Magazine College Essay Contest". New York Times. Retrieved 2015-11-04.
  12. ^ Steininger, Judith. "Books – Mequon native Rick Perlstein". Greater Milwaukee Today. www.gmtoday.com. Retrieved 2015-11-04.
  13. ^ a b Adams, Lucas (2014-06-20). "Reagan Rising: Rick Perlstein". Publishers Weekly. publishersweekly.com. Retrieved 2015-11-04.
  14. ^ Perlstein, Rick (1996-03-04). "Infinite Jest". The Nation. Archived from the original on 2016-02-22. Retrieved 2015-11-04 – via HighBeam Research. highbeam.com.
  15. ^ Perlstein, Rick (1997-11-05). "Boston vs. Austin". Slate. ISSN 1091-2339. Retrieved 2015-11-05.
  16. ^ Warren, James (1996-05-24). "Historians Duke It Out Over The '60s". Chicago Tribune. chicagotribune.com. Retrieved 2015-11-04.
  17. ^ Kristol, William (April 1, 2001). "In His Heart, He Knew He Was Right". The New York Times. Retrieved November 5, 2015.
  18. ^ "Book Prizes – Los Angeles Times Festival of Books» Winners By Award". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 2013-04-05. Retrieved 2015-11-05.
  19. ^ Rick Perlstein Biography, Huffington Post
  20. ^ Biography, Campaign for America's Future
  21. ^ Henderson, Harold (2016). "Sympathy for the Devil?". Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. 55 (6): 525. doi:10.1016/j.jaac.2015.11.017. PMID 27238073. Retrieved 2015-11-05.
  22. ^ Packer, George (May 19, 2008). "The Fall of Conservatism". The New Yorker. Retrieved November 5, 2015.
  23. ^ "Our favorite books of 2008". The AV Club. Retrieved 2015-11-05.
  24. ^ Wernecke, Ellen. "Rick Perlstein: Nixonland". The AV Club. Retrieved 2015-11-05.
  25. ^ Douthat, Ross. "E Pluribus Nixonw". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2015-11-05.
  26. ^ "A Nation Divided In 'Nixonland'". NPR.org. Retrieved 2015-11-05.
  27. ^ Sugrue, Thomas J. (August 13, 2008). "Rick Perlstein's 'Nixonland': A Gripping Look at the Nixon Era". The Nation. ISSN 0027-8378. Retrieved November 5, 2015.
  28. ^ Will, George F. (2008-05-11). "Bring Us Apart". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2015-11-05.
  29. ^ "100 Notable Books of 2008". The New York Times. 2008-12-07. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2015-11-05.
  30. ^ "The best books of the '00s". The AV Club. Retrieved 2015-11-05.
  31. ^ Rich, Frank (2014-07-31). "'The Invisible Bridge,' by Rick Perlstein". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2015-11-05.
  32. ^ Perlstein, Rick (2020-08-18). Reaganland. ISBN 978-1-4767-9305-4.
  33. ^ Gardner, John S. "Reaganland review: Rick Perlstein on Carter's fall and the rise of the right". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 September 2021.
  34. ^ Metcalf, Stephen. "Review: How Reagan and the finance bros gave us Trump". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 26 September 2021.
  35. ^ Iber, Patrick. "How the GOP Became the Party of Resentment". The New Republic. Retrieved 26 September 2021.
  36. ^ "100 Notable Books of 2020". The New York Times. Retrieved 26 September 2021.
  37. ^ Hayward, Steven F. (2020-10-19). "No Perls of Wisdom". Commentary. Retrieved 2021-04-05.
  38. ^ Alter, Alexandra (August 4, 2014). "Reagan Book Sets Off Debate". The New York Times. Retrieved July 17, 2019.
  39. ^ Sullivan, Margaret (August 12, 2014). "Was an Accusation of Plagiarism Really a Political Attack?". The New York Times. Retrieved July 17, 2019.
  40. ^ Geiger, Timothy. "Reagan Biographer Claims 'Copyright Infringement' Because Another Biographer Used The Same Facts". Techdirt. Retrieved 2019-07-17.
  41. ^ Kurson, Ken (August 8, 2014). "The Paris Review Toasts Rick Perlstein's New Book, The Invisible Bridge". Observer. Retrieved 2015-11-05.

External links[edit]