Fault Lines: A History of the United States Since 1974 by Kevin Kruse and Julian Zelizer

Fault Lines: A History of the United States Since 1974 by Kevin Kruse and Julian ZelizerSummary: A recent history from 1974 focusing on the increasing polarization as a result of four ‘Fault Lines’, income inequality, racial division, changing gender roles and change sexual norms.

History and the tools of the historian are important to understanding both history and how we got to the place where we are. Kruse and Zelizer are writing a recent history with their tools as historians. I was born in 1973, the year before this really starts and so it was a helpful, especially for the first 20-25 years old where I have some memory but not as much context as I do about the more recent history.

Fault Lines is a brief overview of the past 45 years focusing on the polarization that is a result of increasing diversity and increasing cultural and political power of women, racial minorities and LGBT people and the backlash against those changes. That framing I think is helpful, but incomplete. But I am also not sure how to be more complete without the book ballooning to a thousand pages.

I think there can be disagreement with where the authors start. There fault lines cited certainly didn’t start in 1974. Racial and gender issues were definitely earlier. Sexual mores have long been changing. Income inequality did start spiking around that time, but did fuel previous political issues. But 1974 was a reasonable starting place.

There is lots of information that I had either forgotten or did not know. But this is a fairly introductory overview.  From what I understand, it is based on an undergrad class that the authors teach at Princeton. In areas where I have a bit more knowledge the gloss I think is a bit superficial in places. For instance the blame for the 2007 financial crisis was placed on subprime loans, which were a contributing factor, but there was actually more money lost from middle class borrowers that over extended their credit than from low income subprime borrowers that defaulted. The complexity of the discussion gets better as the further it goes, but that initial explanation I think was actually wrong, not just incomplete.

What I appreciate is both the readability and the role that pop culture and tech play in the history. The pop culture and tech are not fluff, they really do play an important role in politics and history of the late 20th and early 21st century and Fault Lines both cites them for their political and historical influence and I think to give human interest to the story.

I also appreciate that Fault Lines is working at giving a complex picture of the subjects of the book. Few characters are presented in a solely positive or negative light. In particular I think Carter and Bush Sr are given more credit for their roles, which I think is where historians generally are moving. And Reagan and Clinton are approached more critically. It does make me want to read more about the Carter and Bush Sr presidencies. (I picked up President Carter: The White House Years last week when it was on sale and will read eventually.)

I listened to Fault Lines on audiobook and the narration was fine. But the narrator kept trying to almost do voice impressions of well known politicians. The impressions were close enough to be annoying but not enough to be really accurate. I would have preferred that the quotes have been read straight.

Fault Lines: A History of the United States Since 1974 by Kevin Kruse and Julian Zelizer Purchase Links: Hardcover, Kindle Edition, Audible.com Audiobook 

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