THE EIGHTIES by Gilbert T. Sewall


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 Gathering articles and book excepts by the likes of Allan Bloom, Irving Kristol, and P.J. O'Rourke, Sewall, an authority on school curricula and textbooks at the Center for Education Studies, assembles an ultraconservative primer on an ultraconservative era. For those who would rather not remember what they were doing during the '80s, these essays are reminder about the era of yuppies, conspicuous consumption, Drexel Burnham, identity politics, cultural neoconservatism, etc. Opening with late '70s cultural critiques by Christopher Lasch (from The Culture of Narcissism) and Ben Stein (from The View from Sunset Boulevard), the anthology has little specific to say about the social corollaries of, for instance, the New Right's politics, Reaganomics, the drug wars, or the beginning of the end of the Cold War--much less about MTV or Madonna. Instead, Sewall focuses mainly on the culture wars, academic debates over the canon, and the resurgent concept of virtue, offering pieces by E.D. Hirsch Jr., Christiana Hoff Summers, and others. Articles from the New York Times about the early diagnosis of AIDS, subway panhandlers, and Limelight, the Manhattan church-turned-disco, provide some color, along with lighter, satirical pieces by Eric Bogosian on how to pitch a sitcom and by Tom Wolfe on quasi-religious culture vultures. The liberal perspective is (meagerly) represented by a few self-critical editorials from the New Republic. Racial matters are touched on by Richard Rodriguez and Shelby Steele. Many selections (Irving Kristol on the intelligentsia's discontent with America and Western civilization; Louis Menand on critical legal studies; Hilton Kramer on the death of Andy Warhol) make the '80s seem mostly like a delayed reaction to the '60s. The '80s may be history, but Sewall's The Eighties tells only a part of that history.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-201-77240-X
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Addison-Wesley
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 1997