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The World Turned Inside Out

American Thought and Culture at the End of the 20th Century

James Livingston

The World Turned Inside Out explores American thought and culture in the formative moment of the late twentieth century in the aftermath of the fabled Sixties. The overall argument here is that the tendencies and sensibilities we associate with that earlier moment of upheaval decisively shaped intellectual agendas and cultural practices—from the all-volunteer Army to the cartoon politics of Disney movies—in the 1980s and 90s.

By this accounting, the so-called Reagan Revolution was not only, or even mainly, a conservative event. By the same accounting, the Left, having seized the commanding heights of higher education, was never in danger of losing the so-called culture wars. At the end of the twentieth century, the argument goes, the United States was much less conservative than it had been in 1975.

The book takes supply-side economics and South Park equally seriously. It treats Freddy Krueger, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Ronald Reagan as comparable cultural icons.
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Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
Pages: 226Size: 6 x 9
978-0-7425-3541-1 • Hardback • December 2009 • $53.00 • (£37.95)
978-0-7425-3542-8 • Paperback • December 2011 • $29.00 • (£19.95)
978-1-4422-0117-0 • eBook • December 2009 • $27.00 • (£17.95)
James Livingston is professor of history at Rutgers University. He is the author of, most recently, Pragmatism and the Political Economy of Cultural Revolution, 1850–1940 and Pragmatism, Feminism, and Democracy: Rethinking the Politics of American History.
Preface: The World Elsewhere is Not
Chapter 1: "From Dusk to Dawn": Origins and Effects of the Reagan Revolution

Chapter 2: "Tenured Radicals" in the Ivory Tower/The Great Transformation of Higher Education
Chapter 3: The Creators and Constituents of the "Postmodern Condition"
Chapter 4: "Signs of Signs": Watching the "End of Modernity" at the Cineplex

Chapter 5: "Angels in America": Technologies of Desire and Recognition
Chapter 6: The Ending of the "American Century"
Coda: Keep Arguing
Appendix: Their Great Depression and Ours

Bibliographic Essay
Written in a sprightly, punchy, and thoroughly enjoyable style that wears its considerable learning lightly, The World Turned Inside Out presents a fair and scrupulous presentation of a panoply of contemporary thought from leading neoconservative thinkers to academic feminists and popular culture.
Ross Posnock, Columbia University

At the heart of James Livingston's new book lies a powerful discovery of correspondence between the world imagined by radical academics and the world experienced in extreme reaches of popular culture, in horror and sci-fi films, and heavy metal rock music. One of the most gifted and original of his generation of American historians, Livingston is at ease parsing the discourses of political economy and cultural theory, and equally so in analyzing music and popular song. An argument on behalf of a number of surprising cases—the nation more liberal after Reagan than before?—the book impressively presents itself as a model of historical thinking and analysis. It's a brilliant piece of work.
Alan Trachtenberg, Yale University

Livingston presents a stunning display of scholarly discourse, drawing provocative conclusions about where America has been and where it might be going.


How refreshing that a distinguished intellectual historian has chosen to emphasize popular culture! . . . Moving beyond the hackneyed arguments between 'sixtophobes' and 'sixtophiles,' the author argues cogently that what once had been a feminist slogan—the personal is the political—became the enduring legacy of the late-20th-century cultural revolution. Highly recommended.


A major historian offers a scintillating analysis that will help all students of American literature think about why cartoons may prove the great art of our time.

Jonathan Arac, University of Pittsburgh

If you pick up this book, you will not be bored. And you certainly will not stop arguing.
History News Network

To people like myself who came of age during the sixties, the period that followed seemed like a gray epilogue to that colorful decade. But Jim Livingston's book, The World Turned Inside Out, has convinced me otherwise. It's one of the first things I have read that really makes sense of the cultural and political changes of the last forty years—and does so in a vivid, energetic prose. I recommend it to anyone interested in what we Americans are all about.
John B. Judis, senior editor, The New Republic